Extending an Olive Branch to a Climate Change Advesary

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I will never forget my mentor Steve telling me, “There is only one way can deal with your enemies, you engage them.”

His point was ignoring people never inspires them to change.  The best way to reach your adversaries is through conversation.  My friends have huge debates how to engage those who reject the science of climate change and spread misinformation.  Some friends like to engage them in a vigorous debate.  Other friends, citing evidence of prominent reports such as Global Warming’s 6 Americas Report in May 2011 and The Psychology of Climate Change Communication, point out that it can be a huge waste of time to engage people who are completely dismissive of the science of climate change.

I agree more with those who say it is a waste of time to chat with people who are so hostile to the message of climate change.  I have even said so many times myself: The hardest substance in the universe is the human mind.  Once a mind is made up, it can be impossible to change it.”  Thus, I try not to engage closed minded skeptics about climate change.  I have had little success changing their minds.
However, last Sunday evening, I saw an opening to engage my enemies that hopefully would make Steve proud.  I read Brian Merchant’s article from May 12, 2011, “Do Climate Skeptics change their mind?”  In the article, Brian asked Anthony Watts, the meteorologist who runs a very popular climate-skeptic blog, Watts Up With That, what could lead him to accept climate science. A “starting point for the process,” he said, wouldn’t begin with more facts but instead with a public apology from the high profile scientists who have labeled him and his colleagues “deniers.”

Below is the letter I sent to Anthony on his website.  I never did hear back from Anthony.  No surprise.  That did not bother me.  He probably receives plenty of e-mails.  Or, he could have been suspicious about the intent of my e-mail.  That’s his judgment call.

The only disappointing response was when I posted the letter on the Facebook page “Global Warming Fact of the Day.”  Overall, the feedback was very negative from the group about my attempts to reach out to Mr. Watts.  I received responses, such as “No reason to believe that ‘nice’ might work with psychopaths,” “Abandon “denier”? OK, sure. I’ll try to consistently use “denialist” instead,” “(Anthony Watts) is a hack, as well as a cultist who is a clear and present danger to civilization.” and “Walks like a denier; talks like a denier; quacks like a …”

Somehow, they thought I had grand delusions I could change Anthony’s mind over night.  Nope.  I even expressed that in the letter.  However, I saw an opportunity to extend an olive branch.  Anthony stated in the article that he could be more open to the science if prominent people apologized for using the term “Deniers.”  I decided to call his bluff on this.  Anthony decided not to take up my challenge.  Oh, well.  Life goes on.  There was no harm in trying.

I think Steve would be proud of me also for taking this action.  I did an engage an enemy, in a peaceful way with an open heart.  I remember Steve once telling me when it comes to doing the right thing and saving nature, that “At the very least, you have to try.”  Steve, I salute you for teaching me to be a peaceful warrior for the planet.

Mr. Watts:
I just read the article from Slate by Brian Merchant, “Do Climate Skeptics Change Their Minds?” from May 12, 2011. I really enjoyed the article. In the article, the author, Brian Merchant, I asked you what could lead you to accept climate science. Your response: ‘A “starting point for the process wouldn’t begin with more facts but instead with a public apology from the high profile scientists who have labeled you and your colleagues ‘deniers.'”
I thought this was very intriguing. I really try hard not to use this term, since you and your colleagues do find the term so offensive. I am extremely concerned about climate change and I do speak out in the St. Louis area about this issue. I recently went to AGU this past December and met so many top climate change communicators and scientists. I really enjoyed getting to know them. Any chance that if I approached them about dropping the term “deniers” and apologizing to you for using it, would you be more open to hearing about the science of climate change?
Unfortunately, there seems to be an incredible amount of animosity between you and the other side. They may need you to apologize for some things said also. Any chance you are willing to meet them halfway if they are willing to drop the term “deniers”?
I am extremely concerned about the health of the planet with burning so much greenhouse gases. I really do not like all the pollution it creates for the cities and rural areas. I am really concerned about the future of the planet we are leaving behind for my nieces & nephews, the children of the planet, indigenous people across the world, and poor people living at sea level by all of us dumping such copious amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. I am very skeptical we can maintain civilization as we know it by our heavy reliance of fossil fuels. As I heard Dr. Richard Alley say in ‘Earth the Operator’s Manual, “We are burning through fossil fuels a million times faster than nature created them for us. Sooner or later they are going to run out.”
I just ask that you read this letter with an open mind and heart. I realize you have invested a lot of time and energy in ‘WattsUpWithThat.’ For the sake of my nieces & nephews, the children across the world, indigenous people across the world, and folks in poverty who may be in biggest harm’s way to the consequences of climate change, I ask you for a more civil and open dialogue for those you disagree with about climate change. I am more than willing to help you with these efforts, starting with not using the term “deniers” myself and encouraging others I know not to use that term also.
I wish you peace.
Brian Ettling

One thought on “Extending an Olive Branch to a Climate Change Advesary

  1. steve reed

    That's just a tribalist response to you reaching out across the aisle. Like Dems and Republicans sitting on opposite sides in the House. Baboons throwing shit at the other baboon clan. It's what we humans do.
    By the way, what term did he prefer to "denier" ?
    Skeptic ?

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