Sunday, February 16, 2014

Noah and Climate Change's Proud Deniers

What with the severe winter, the climate change deniers are out in force, scoffing as Arctic cold swirls around much of the country.

Nothing new here. While back, Senator James Inhofe (R-Okla) said he was “proud” to be a climate change denier, and his colleague Tom Coburn (R-Okla) gladly says any idea humans are contributing to the change is "malarky." 

Denial is so brave!

Denial is really cool in a great many circles these days, asserting black is white with relish, and sometimes a smirk.

+ Denial in the face of small island nations preparing to lose their homeland as the rising ocean erodes beaches, infiltrates the water table, and kills beachfront vegetation: climate change scaremongers!

+ Denial fracking's widespread ruination of the water table and degradation of land while helpless property-owners demonstrate how their faucets catch fire: isolated cases! we need to be energy self-sufficient!

+ Denial that polar bears are threatened by receding ice caps: they’re actually thriving!

It’s all about protecting the economy, of course, and “our blessed way" of high-on-the-hog lifestyle which resists the changes necessary for its own long term well-being.

The ancient Hebrew storytellers long ago noted the dynamics of denial. They told stories, and created their own interpretations of how denial happens. Jewish midrash—the interpretative storytelling of the rabbis—says that God postponed the Flood for 153 of Noah's preaching because God really, really wanted humanity to have a chance. But the more Noah warned them, the more stubborn they became in their resistance. 

Reverse Confirmation Bias

This is the phenomenon of "belief disconfirmation syndrome" in which hearing facts that undercut your beliefs makes you hold onto them harder. (2) Biblical writers ascribe this stubbornness to spiritual sources: if you persist in rejecting facts, you’ll be “sent a strong delusion” (1) that traps you in your denial until you and your world hit bottom. The preaching of the prophets becomes the very thing that seals your doom. "How long shall I preach?” says Isaiah; “Till cities are in ruins and fields lie ravaged” says the Lord. (3)

While I don’t believe God sends such delusion, the writers saw the phenomenon itself clearly. We can see it in addicts, dogmatically religious people, radicals of all kinds, left and right, and in the halls of state and national legislatures every day. Change isn’t worth the pain it will cost, even if greater pain may ensue. We’re great at dismissing, demeaning, and ridiculing ideas and facts that don’t fit our preconceptions, even as we slide deeper into danger.

In the ancient story the oceans rise anyway. Inhofe’s pride and Coburn’s politically convenient denial won’t change any aspect of global climate change, except to make it worse by forestalling action.

But enough people who resist denial, accept reality, challenge the deniers, and foster conversation about how we can improve our lifestyle by changing it may save us from the worst possibilities of our own impending Flood.


1.   2 Thessalonians 2:11
2.   For information about the brain as a "belief organ" resisting change, see Andrew Newberg,                Born to Believe: God, Science and the Origin of Ordinary and Extraordinary Beliefs
3.   Isaiah 6:9-12 

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