Those who walk in darkness

Isaiah surely had something else in mind when he said, “The people who walk in darkness have seen a great light.”  And that’s fine.

An Old Testament prophet would be concerned with those who had turned their backs on a creed they once believed, commandments they once obeyed, rites they once observed.  

For me – a secular humanist struggling to make the world slightly more civilized – this passage sheds light on a different group:  People who choose not to see the light – to remain deliberately ignorant, because ignorance suits them better than changing long-held beliefs.

To be sure, we’re all guilty of deliberate ignorance at time.  In my case, for example, there’s a tendency to put off medical tests.

Or use one of those handy online calculators to find out how much I should have saved up in order to live out my golden years in comfort.

Or step onto my bathroom scale.

But – at least when it comes to the great issues confronting my nation and my planet – I try to avoid ignorance.  And I find that, as I get older, I have less and less patience with those who choose to walk in darkness with respect to such things.

One of these great issues is global climate change.  To my mind, it will be the biggest challenge confronting America, and humanity, in this century.  

I didn’t always believe that.  I didn’t want to.  My personal and intellectual bent is to think in terms of human progress – the spread of freedom, constitutionalism, education, opportunity, and tolerance to more and more of humanity.

And space travel, of course.  

It goes against the grain to think that the great challenge of my lifetime will not involve spreading enlightenment and landing on Mars – but hunkering down to avoid human extinction.

But over time, I’ve learned too much to deny the threat of climate change.  I’m worried.  I think we should all be worried.

And I’m getting seriously annoyed with those strident know-nothings who insist that global climate change is a hoax, or part of a natural cycle, or something to do with sunspots.  

Now, here’s the moment where I could say some pretty harsh things about climate change deniers.  The temptation is great.

But I started this column with Isaiah, not Jeremiah – so let’s take a different tack.

Because the fact is that climate change deniers are not really the problem.  They’re a vocal, but ever-so-slowly dwindling, minority in this country.  

In a study or public opinion released by Yale and George Mason universities – “Global Warming’s Six Americas” – the two groups labeled “Dismissive” and “Doubtful” make up only 10 percent and 15 percent of the American population, respectively.  

And that’s not nearly enough to stop America from taking serious action – if the rest of us are determined to do so.

On climate change, the key group, as always, are the undecideds.  The Yale/GMU study labeled this group “Cautious”.  These folks – a whopping 29 percent – are the ones who really matter in the climate change debate.

Convince them, and the doubters and deniers are marginalized.  Fail to convince them, and nothing much gets done.  

So rather than lash the deniers, let me instead appeal to those on my side of the issue – the “Alarmed” and “Concerned” who make up 13 and 26 percent of the population, respectively.  

We’re the ones who’re pretty sure that global climate change is real; that it’s serious; that it’s the product of human activity; that there’s something we can – and must – do about it.  

The problem is that most of us don’t really have a firm grasp of the science, or the public policy options available for dealing with the threat.

We need to educate ourselves – and then educate our friends and loved ones who are still “Cautious”.  If we do that, the doubters and deniers can go whistle.

This summer, I took a ten-week, college-level on global climate change, taught by two professors from the University of British Columbia.  It was called “Climate Literacy:  Navigating Climate Change Conversations,” and it included short lectures, reading materials, interactive workshops, and other good things.

All completely free.

Starting September 30, it will be offered again.  I hope you’ll sign up for it.

To be sure, it’s a serious undertaking.  It’s not hard, but it will require a commitment of three or four hours a week for ten weeks.  

If you stick to it, you’ll learn a lot.  I urge you sign up – if possible, with a few friends.

From my experience, the one weakness of MOOCs is that they lack direct, human interaction.  If you convince a few friends to take the course – and meet once a week to discuss it over coffee – that problem would be alleviated.

You’d probably learn more, too.  

Climate change is important.

It’s time to stop walking in darkness, don’t you think?


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