I recently stayed out of an Facebook argument about climate change, unusual, because I usually go to the mat on this issue.

I don’t fight every battle.  Life is too short, and those who insist on fighting every issue to win often live alone. Don’t laugh; I know more than one individual, very strong, who must win at all costs and wonders why they are unmarried.  If there are three words that define a good marriage, I’d pick friendship, respect, and love.  If there are eight more I would be allowed to use in two phrases:, I would pick “yield right of way” and “I could be wrong.” (“You might be right” may be substituted.)

Before I get to the climate issue, here are some rules I learned from my father, which I call Dad’s Rules:

  1. Don’t get into a pissing contest with a skunk.
  2. Don’t argue with those who buy their ink by the barrel; to those of us who are old enough, don’t argue with the press.
  3. If it is a matter of faith, don’t argue.  It’s impolite, and you won’t change their mind.
  4. If it is a matter of fact, but nothing you say will change the other person’s mind, walk away, even if you are called a coward.

I have walked away from debating climate change with two people whom I simply cannot stand–Dad’s Rule #1–at a medical society meeting.  One of the two had immense power, despite promulgating intelligent design, vaccine harm, beneficial effects of low dose radiation, as well as denying climate change. I was an invited columnist; she got 2/3s my space with her letters.  The best way I handled her occurred when she once complained about the government’s decision to regulate physician laboratories:  I replied quietly, “Because my side won the Civil War.”  She literally sputtered and fell silent.  On another occasion, she had attributed a word to me I don’t use, and I quietly called her out on it:  “I don’t believe I used that particular word.  Did anybody else hear me say that?”  The room was quiet.  My detractor was not used to being called out on her words.

The reason I didn’t go to the mat on climate change is that the individual on Facebook once quoted a magazine that I checked and found both inaccurate and extremely biased.  He is unlikely to be influenced by anything I happen to say (Dad’s Rule #4 above).  He is not scientifically trained, quotes articles inaccurately, and his posts attack people.

There is a German organization devoted to helping abused Islamic women. I once supported it strongly, until it quoted this same magazine.  I posted a strong objection then quietly disappeared.  In my view, they had gone beyond the pale; they had pushed Christianity, rather than staying on message, and a woman who screened their Facebook posts frankly insulted me by sending me articles that I reviewed and felt to be biased, inaccurate and impolite.  She is a Christian; I am a “none.”  Go figure.  I couldn’t.

So, what is my view on climate change?

Based on the peer-reviewed data I have seen published and analyzed, I am highly confident that manmade climate change is altering the Earth. The changes not only have already occurred, but will likely affect life as we know it in ways that while we cannot yet know, are likely to be harmful.

Notice my choice of phrases: “peer-reviewed data,” “analyzed,” rather than “this scientist says.”  I use “highly confident,” not “certain”; “altering,” not “ruining”; “life as we know it,” not “everything on the planet,”; ”likely,” not “definitely”; “in ways that we don’t yet know”; not “it is completely clear”; “are likely to be harmful,” not “will definitely harm everybody.”

Notice what I didn’t do in the paragraph:  attack  individuals, political beliefs or companies.  I didn’t state my case with certainty, because that would require my being completely certain I can accurately predict the outcome of a dynamic system, whose complexity and interactions among the variables are not fully known.

Understanding climate is science, the same science that forced Steve Jobs to change the location of an antenna on the iPhone to a place where it would work properly.  Names don’t matter; laws of nature do.  Prayers don’t turn around hurricanes; getting accurate information on their path to people matters.  That is science.  I have nothing against religion; I have seen parents devastated by the death of their daughter be comforted by their belief she was in heaven.  Religion has the ability to provide a road map how to live what we consider a good life.  Religion offers an explanation for how we got here; however, I disagree, because the explanation is testable, and religion fails the test. Science, however, can’t measure faith, hope, love, or charity, which religion promulgates.  Science has, however, measured the consequences of greed, knows consequences to the developing brain if children are malnourished before age 5, shows that educated women past 5th grade have fewer children than uneducated women, measures annual ocean rise to the nearest millimeter, and has reduced the uncertainty of hurricane forecasts about 75%.

I live a scientific life with a lot of spirituality, which may be found in my posts on wilderness.  While to me this melds both well, I could be wrong, and both sides might well say I am a hypocrite.  I am willing to discuss that.

Here are my four requirements to debate climate change (and my possible hypocrisy):

  1. No personal attacks, and that is difficult.  It is why I didn’t mention the name of either the magazine or the German organization, but the latter’s behavior was fact.  I have the emails and articles sent me.
  2. Statement of conclusions using statistical terminology, such as confidence intervals, which cannot never be 100% for a complex system.  A confidence interval is a statistician’s way of saying, “I could be wrong,” something every person should say at least once.  See above on using it to help a relationship.
  3. Verifiable predictions of global climate conditions in the next 5, 10, and 50 years.
  4. Statement of consequences should one be wrong.

I have never gotten past Rule 1 with anybody, and realize now my Facebook post violated Dad’s Rules #1 and #4.  Unfortunately, Dad’s Rule #1 trumped my climate change debate Rule 1.  I’m not perfect.

I wish a few on the other side could say that, too.  The world would be a better place.

Dad, age 90, in Nebraska, viewing the Lesser Sandhill Crane migration.  He lived to see this wonderful spectacle.

Dad, age 90, in Nebraska, viewing the Lesser Sandhill Crane migration. He lived to see this wonderful spectacle.

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2 Responses to “DAD’S RULES”

  1. Dennis Says:

    I have an alternative (Oklahoma) version of Rules 1 and 2: “Never get in a hissing contest with a snake.”

  2. Mike Says:

    That works just fine. 🙂

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