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Changing People's Minds 
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Post Changing People's Minds
Facts Don't Change Minds

James Clear is one of my favourite new writers, for his scientific focus on the psychology of habits. He writes a highly informative blog on topics such as good habits, motivation and persuasion. His book due out in October, Atomic Habits, promises to be superb https://jamesclear.com/atomic-habits

This blog post, Facts Don’t Change Minds provides a simple explanation of why people are so irrational, and why changing people's minds is so hard. Basically, you can only convince somebody of something if they are already predisposed to trust your opinions.

James Clear makes the point that the human desire to belong to a community constrains our willingness to listen to others, because connection is more useful than truth, as Stephen Pinker has explained. Changing minds can mean changing tribes, showing that friendship is the basis for convincing anyone of anything.

His key argument in the blog linked above is that
James Clear wrote:
“The people who are most likely to change our minds are the ones we agree with on 98 percent of topics. If someone you know, like, and trust believes a radical idea, you are more likely to give it merit, weight, or consideration. You already agree with them in most areas of life. Maybe you should change your mind on this one too. But if someone wildly different than you proposes the same radical idea, well, it's easy to dismiss them.”

Reflecting on this point leads me to an insight on politics. My basic view is that climate change is the primary security problem facing our planet, but the people who most need to be influenced on this are not those who are already active on climate change.

Think of the population divided into seven social groups along the political spectrum. One way to present this might be 1 Radical Left, 2 Reformist Left, 3 Centre Left, 4 Centre, 5 Centre Right, 6 Reformist Right, 7 Radical Right. I will use these numbers as shorthand for these social groups. It would be possible to expand this typology through description of each group, assuming they fit along a statistical bell curve.

On this spectrum, Clear says people will only listen to views that are in their part of the spectrum, on their number or adjacent.

Against this social framework, my view is that the most important change of thinking on climate security needs to occur in groups 4-6, not groups 1-2. My reason for this targeting is that the strategy advocated by groups 1 and 2, decarbonising the economy, has no hope of delivering climate security, whereas the more practical solution, removing carbon from the air, can be accepted by the political right if presented by people they trust.

That analysis means climate security must be completely separated from radical politics, in order to present climate action as a safe and incremental and affordable practical reform with no hidden agendas.

It is precisely because I think climate security is so important, based on the science which is agreed by the left, that it is essential to present these arguments in ways that the right can trust and engage, that is within the framework of a conservative view of economics and society. Accepting the primacy of the market over the state, celebrating achievement, respecting traditional morality, are ideas that many left wing climate activists are sceptical about. Perhaps an attitude that proposes climate action from within these values could gain more political traction?

James Clear’s 98% rule means that when you target an audience and aim to change their view, you must first validate and support most of their opinions. Change can only occur if you are just trying to open a conversation about something that makes sense in that context.

Evolution only happens in small steps, not big jumps. The Darwinian law of cumulative adaptation applies to memes just as much as to genes. In this context this law of evolution means a political reform has to be broken down into components, so that proposed changes can be understood and accepted, applied incrementally building on precedent.


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DWill
Mon Sep 24, 2018 6:59 pm
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Post Re: Changing People's Minds
Some interesting observations. This makes sense to me.

There are people out there carrying on a campaign of direct discussion with those who are not really dug in on climate change but who don't understand the issue. I think that approach makes sense - even though they may not share 98 percent of their opinions, they can still establish a human connection and understand concern for one's children.

It seems to me the hardest part is to have answers for technical questions without getting lost in the scientific specializations. Here's a simple one that has come up in my efforts to explain to friends: how do we know the warming we see is due to GHG's and not some other cause, like cyclical variations in the tilt of the earth's axis?



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Tue Sep 25, 2018 8:49 am
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Post Re: Changing People's Minds
When it comes to engaging with others who are two or more political rungs away from us, the job will be even more difficult, obviously, and hopes of changing minds on any specific issue might not be realistic. But what about the concern with general loss of comity that we say defines our times more and more, especially since the last election in the U.S.? That fight against social, if not political, polarization is still important, so we see efforts like Better Angels attempting to foster real discussion between blue and red. The basis of those efforts may sound cliched at this point, that what unites us is always more powerful than what divides us, but the sentiment is valid. I look at it this way: there are no reds and blues in foxholes, altering the claim about atheists under fire. When we need to face what really matters, our political differences vanish. And we can try out the same mindset outside of the foxhole. It's idealistic but not impractical. A less dramatic example is someone who's ardent about Trump, but you like him more than some of your anti-Trump friends.

We recently moved to a Virginia town outside of the DC sphere. It's southern, complete with two confederate soldier statues. Trump voters, at least 70%. Eastward over the Blue Ridge is a liberal pocket with a Unitarian group whose services we attend. I put my name in for a Better Angels workshop this fall, so I'll be able to see how that process works. Here in town, there's a large neglected cemetery that a Lutheran group is organizing to renovate and research the genealogies of the interred. The only people who have ever kept up the cemetery is the United Daughters of the Confederacy. There are about 110 confederates buried there. The UDC is the important partner in the project. I'm sure that its attitudes about the Lost Cause are much different from mine, but the reasons for the emotional attachment don't all fit the "deplorable" label. There's not as much basis for the moral superiority of Northerners as we often think. We have differing views, but we can work together whether from an interest in history, honoring the South, or from feelings for family members buried there. Minds may not be changed from any of this, but attitudes could be.



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Harry Marks, Robert Tulip
Tue Sep 25, 2018 11:19 am
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Post Re: Changing People's Minds
Harry Marks wrote:
It seems to me the hardest part is to have answers for technical questions without getting lost in the scientific specializations. Here's a simple one that has come up in my efforts to explain to friends: how do we know the warming we see is due to GHG's and not some other cause, like cyclical variations in the tilt of the earth's axis?

I find this question disturbing, because to me asking why warming is due to greenhouse gasses is equivalent to asking if the earth is flat or round, since the causality is equally simple. It only requires simple technical knowledge to appreciate that CO2 lets light in but does not let heat out, functioning to trap heat like a blanket on a bed, as proved 200 years ago. The graph of CO2 level over geological time span shows CO2 constrained to a narrow band until humans start burning fossil fuels, at which point CO2 jumps above the previous level and warming starts. This so blatantly refutes the denialist language about CO2 as harmless that I am astounded how people fall for the political deception involved.

This graph is objective data from NASA, showing CO2 over 400,000 years. There is a close correlation between CO2 level and the orbital factors driving warming until we started burning fossil fuels at scale last century, at which point the line goes off the chart. The anthropogenic factors have now taken over, but this will eventually generate a different geostability, possibly not including humans.

My interest here is that critics associate belief in global warming with a large number of other liberal leftist political views. They disagree politically on all those other topics, and since climate change is such a big part of politics, they need to also disagree on that.

Conservatives construct a false criticism of global warming in order to maintain a false coherence with their criticism of a range of common leftist views on politics, economics, culture, sexuality, religion, education and society. My suspicion is that agreeing with conservatives on these other topics may be a way to get them to listen to scientific information about climate change.

Religion could be the trickiest factor, since climate denial involves a similar mentality as fundamentalist faith, and getting people to value evidence and logic above faith seems to me to be the biggest moral challenge facing the world. I still think though that it is possible to reform Christianity to retain its traditions while nudging movement away from the core myth that it all happened as described in the Bible, toward a greater focus on what the stories mean for us today.


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Last edited by Robert Tulip on Tue Sep 25, 2018 4:08 pm, edited 1 time in total.



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DWill, Harry Marks
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Post Re: Changing People's Minds
Robert Tulip wrote:
My interest here is that critics associate belief in global warming with a large number of other liberal leftist political views. They disagree politically on all those other topics, and since climate change is such a big part of politics, they need to also disagree on that.

Conservatives construct a false criticism of global warming in order to maintain a false coherence with their criticism of a range of common leftist views on politics, economics, culture, sexuality, religion, education and society. My suspicion is that agreeing with conservatives on these other topics may be a way to get them to listen to scientific information about climate change.

Well, of course it's true that in the U.S. the percentage of Democratic candidates listing climate change as their issue would far outweigh Republicans who do. Whether the right really denies the science or simply wants to avoid the issue because it finds any of the proposed fixes unthinkable, is hard to say. I believe that you yourself agree with the right's criticism of the solutions that are commonly proposed. So it might not matter, as far as mobilizing for action, if conservatives listened to the science.
Quote:
Religion could be the trickiest factor, since climate denial involves a similar mentality as fundamentalist faith, and getting people to value evidence and logic above faith seems to me to be the biggest moral challenge facing the world. I still think though that it is possible to reform Christianity to retain its traditions while nudging movement away from the core myth that it all happened as described in the Bible, toward a greater focus on what the stories mean for us today.

I tend to think that faith propositions are less a factor than another belief that goes along with religious conservatism, namely that governments shouldn't be butting into our economic lives. Of course, libertarian agnostics have the same belief.



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Tue Sep 25, 2018 9:57 pm
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Post Re: Changing People's Minds
Robert Tulip wrote:
Harry Marks wrote:
how do we know the warming we see is due to GHG's and not some other cause, like cyclical variations in the tilt of the earth's axis?

I find this question disturbing, because to me asking why warming is due to greenhouse gasses is equivalent to asking if the earth is flat or round, since the causality is equally simple. It only requires simple technical knowledge to appreciate that CO2 lets light in but does not let heat out, functioning to trap heat like a blanket on a bed, as proved 200 years ago.
It's disturbing allright. What it says about the corruption of the right wing media and political establishment is frightening. What it says about apathy of voters, when the one most important thing they could do is inform themselves, is frightening. What it says about the mindsets of environmentalists and scientists is at least a little bit scary, since they never felt there was any need to actually persuade people, and to understand where they are coming from. In a way I sympathize: their job is to get the facts and get them right, and their credibility is undermined by paid hacks and greedy corporate pirates, as well as "journalists" aggressively undermining truth because they make a nice income that way. Why would today's young people trust markets when they see incessant behavior straight out of the Robber Baron age?

In addition to the straightforward science in "An Inconvenient Truth" we have the cooling of the upper atmosphere and the fact that the greatest amount of warming has come at night, both of them signatures of the GHG "blanket" that would not result from increased solar radiation (which, of course, is also just not happening).
Robert Tulip wrote:
This so blatantly refutes the denialist language about CO2 as harmless that I am astounded how people fall for the political deception involved.
I took it this is the point of your initial post on the thread. Those of us who care need to be aware of how much people form their opinions based on the pronouncements of people who think and talk like them. We might prefer to sit at home sneering along with Stephen Colbert, but in its way that is as big an abdication of responsibility as those who take their views from Talk Radio and Fox News.

Robert Tulip wrote:
My interest here is that critics associate belief in global warming with a large number of other liberal leftist political views. They disagree politically on all those other topics, and since climate change is such a big part of politics, they need to also disagree on that.
Clearly true. The flip side is that many liberals are one-issue deciders. Point out to environmentalists that nuclear power might be a big help limiting GHG's and they will turn red in the face and their eyes will bulge out with the effort to restrain themselves from tearing you limb from limb. The closest we have come to a popular reaction to climate change was in Washington State (aka "Ecotopia") where activists for low-income residents joined in turning down the carbon tax because it would disproportionately cost those who are poor.

Robert Tulip wrote:
Conservatives construct a false criticism of global warming in order to maintain a false coherence with their criticism of a range of common leftist views on politics, economics, culture, sexuality, religion, education and society. My suspicion is that agreeing with conservatives on these other topics may be a way to get them to listen to scientific information about climate change.
You might be right, but the day when responsible conservatives could find an audience is past. George Shultz took the lead in promoting a carbon tax or tradeable permit approach, both ideas that came from conservatives interested in harnessing the positive powers of market methods, and got labeled a RINO (Republican in Name Only).



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Post Re: Changing People's Minds
Robert Tulip wrote:
My interest here is that critics associate belief in global warming with a large number of other liberal leftist political views. They disagree politically on all those other topics, and since climate change is such a big part of politics, they need to also disagree on that.

This is confirmed by polling that actually looked at the reasoning of conservatives.
https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/28/opin ... hange.html

Robert Tulip wrote:
Conservatives construct a false criticism of global warming in order to maintain a false coherence with their criticism of a range of common leftist views on politics, economics, culture, sexuality, religion, education and society. My suspicion is that agreeing with conservatives on these other topics may be a way to get them to listen to scientific information about climate change.
I don't think it makes sense to talk about agreeing with them. But one can set aside the differences and respectfully acknowledge the points that support their position. On Kavanaugh, for example, one might join in being concerned about vulnerability of the political process to sham attacks, as well as the inevitability that people will disagree about who they believe, without changing one's view about how it all shakes out for the bottom line.

The amazingly influential work of the Harvard Negotiation Project, summarized in the book "Getting to Yes" which brought "win-win" to the public eye, begins by insisting that negotiators focus on interests, not positions. Positions are about what outcome we are looking for from the situation. Interests are about what really matters to our side, and it is necessary to understand the interests of the other parties before being able to find the common, "win-win," ground.

Reflecting on how to explain this, I was struck by the similarity to the "I-Thou" and "I-It" distinction. If we treat the rest of the world as just a means to an end, we not only don't go to the trouble to understand their perspective but we tend to view unethical means, such as violence or deceit, as just a normal part of the interaction. Coming to a negotiation attached to a position, as to what number will be granted for pay raises, for example, is a kind of short-cut approach that turns the negotiation into a battle and forces me to regard the other as an adversary. The real tragedy of this narcissist approach is that there are in fact great common interests (e.g. between employers and employees) which can be identified and realized if the two sides look for common interests. We are seeing this play out with trade policy driven by fixation on the trade deficit, which in fact says precisely nothing about the extent of mutual gain or "taking advantage" of others.

Sorry, that's pretty far afield, but I do think ordinary voters are starved for both respect and a sense that their leaders can be trusted. It isn't all that difficult to fulfill both of those expectations, despite all the pressures of hardball politics.
DWill wrote:
Well, of course it's true that in the U.S. the percentage of Democratic candidates listing climate change as their issue would far outweigh Republicans who do. Whether the right really denies the science or simply wants to avoid the issue because it finds any of the proposed fixes unthinkable, is hard to say. I believe that you yourself agree with the right's criticism of the solutions that are commonly proposed. So it might not matter, as far as mobilizing for action, if conservatives listened to the science.
That is pretty much the import of the NY Times piece I cited above. Since the time of Rush Limbaugh's ascendancy, the views of conservatives in the U.S. have been more and more influenced by resentment and victimhood narratives. Of course it is feeding off of older and nastier worldviews, which never went away but did back off quite a bit as the advantages of modern living became more evident. It doesn't surprise me that our nation's second-longest and second-deepest recession in the last 120 years has brought out the fear and loathing, but it is still tragic that we elected an NPD wannabe-dictator out of that agony.

DWill wrote:
I tend to think that faith propositions are less a factor than another belief that goes along with religious conservatism, namely that governments shouldn't be butting into our economic lives. Of course, libertarian agnostics have the same belief.
I agree. I just have not seen much expression of the religious line of opposition. Most fundamentalist/evangelical preachers don't seem to feel called on to comment on the climate issue. The anti-government streak of modern conservatism, on the other hand, plays a big role in feeding denialism.

As an economist I have to say this is not entirely stupid. The people who did the numbers after Kyoto to see whether the benefits were worth the costs, of restricting carbon emissions and fighting climate change, found a deeply ambiguous picture. Essentially the argument comes down to whether it makes more sense to keep generating capital with our money, so that we have even more capacity to respond when the sea level rises, or whether we should instead manage the environmental impact. The answer depends heavily on how much you count things that will happen 50 years out and more, which in traditional financial calculations are negligible, but also on how fast capital is accumulating. Ironically, the ones arguing for counting the distant impacts, led by Nicholas Stern, were probably wrong on the narrow technical issue of what discount rate to use, but were completely justified in their approach by uncertainty and the dependence of the result on public goods. Essentially, if you opt for less government involvement in the economy now, you are implying much more involvement later (as hurricanes Katrina, Harvey and Maria showed)

As time has gone on, and the policy response remained fairly negligible, we have been able to see that the uncertainty bands have tightened around a truly disastrous pathway, which was approximately the projected path if nothing was done. The amounts of money that will be needed by governments to cope in 20 years will be on the scale of fighting major wars, and that's if no major wars come out of it, a kind of wishful thinking given what the drought in the Middle East has already done.



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Post Re: Changing People's Minds
Harry Marks wrote:
DWill wrote:
I tend to think that faith propositions are less a factor than another belief that goes along with religious conservatism, namely that governments shouldn't be butting into our economic lives. Of course, libertarian agnostics have the same belief.
I agree. I just have not seen much expression of the religious line of opposition. Most fundamentalist/evangelical preachers don't seem to feel called on to comment on the climate issue. The anti-government streak of modern conservatism, on the other hand, plays a big role in feeding denialism.

As an economist I have to say this is not entirely stupid. The people who did the numbers after Kyoto to see whether the benefits were worth the costs, of restricting carbon emissions and fighting climate change, found a deeply ambiguous picture. Essentially the argument comes down to whether it makes more sense to keep generating capital with our money, so that we have even more capacity to respond when the sea level rises, or whether we should instead manage the environmental impact. The answer depends heavily on how much you count things that will happen 50 years out and more, which in traditional financial calculations are negligible, but also on how fast capital is accumulating. Ironically, the ones arguing for counting the distant impacts, led by Nicholas Stern, were probably wrong on the narrow technical issue of what discount rate to use, but were completely justified in their approach by uncertainty and the dependence of the result on public goods. Essentially, if you opt for less government involvement in the economy now, you are implying much more involvement later (as hurricanes Katrina, Harvey and Maria showed)

As time has gone on, and the policy response remained fairly negligible, we have been able to see that the uncertainty bands have tightened around a truly disastrous pathway, which was approximately the projected path if nothing was done. The amounts of money that will be needed by governments to cope in 20 years will be on the scale of fighting major wars, and that's if no major wars come out of it, a kind of wishful thinking given what the drought in the Middle East has already done.

Bjorn Lomborg's major drive is to persuade the world that predicting apocalypse from climate change will lead to diverting money from urgent problems that are more fixable, such as lack of drinking water and malnutrition. Lomborg first of all disagrees that climate change is quite so disastrous, and second believes that it will be better for the world if we address other human needs while spending on defenses against rising seas. What he advocates is happening anyway on the defense front, if not on the others. Engineering solutions are exactly what humans are so good at, the kind of focused actions that do not require us to change basic behavior. Of course, these solutions, if they even work for a wealthy country like the U.S., aren't available for one like Bangladesh without massive help from us and other rich nations. Small chance of that happening. There remains the question of the other effects of climate change, such as drought, that Lomborg perhaps doesn't address.

It has stuck with me something you said in a different context, that the benign actions of individuals can produce large problems in the aggregate. That's the tragedy I see with climate and with all other environmental problems. If a homeless person in the U.S. has twice the energy footprint of the world average citizen, what will be the result when/if we succeed in getting all of the world to a middle-class standard of living? We definitely should want that for others, but will it be for nothing if the natural world then "rejects" us?



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Post Re: Changing People's Minds
DWill wrote:
Bjorn Lomborg's major drive is to persuade the world that predicting apocalypse from climate change will lead to diverting money from urgent problems that are more fixable, such as lack of drinking water and malnutrition. Lomborg first of all disagrees that climate change is quite so disastrous, and second believes that it will be better for the world if we address other human needs while spending on defenses against rising seas.
I have a lot of respect for Bjorn Lomborg, but he's just wrong about this. The urgency of other spending is undeniable. The tradeoff with action against GHG's is poorly considered, bordering on stupid. By providing incentives to adopt more sensible technologies (as opposed to the command and control approach to which the Obama administration was reduced by McConnell's intransigent approach) a revenue-neutral carbon tax would have imposed very light burdens on the industrialized economies and quite possibly no burden at all. To somehow insist that the money had to come out of action for clean water in developing countries is, to say the least, contrary to standard economic analysis.

DWill wrote:
What he advocates is happening anyway on the defense front, if not on the others. Engineering solutions are exactly what humans are so good at, the kind of focused actions that do not require us to change basic behavior. Of course, these solutions, if they even work for a wealthy country like the U.S., aren't available for one like Bangladesh without massive help from us and other rich nations. Small chance of that happening. There remains the question of the other effects of climate change, such as drought, that Lomborg perhaps doesn't address.
Last I heard the good people of Norfolk are not too happy being stuck "adapting" to rising sea levels. The military has to make its adjustments, but one by one voters are waking up to the con game that has been played on them.

When asked about the question, Kasich turned to victim-think by arguing that our international agreements "allow China and India to keep belching" and polluting. Now, if you generously interpret this as an argument that all countries need to use incentives against GHG emissions, you might say it was a sensible comment. But of course it was really an "America First" knee-jerk effort to convey climate response as another effort to rip off Americans at the world's expense. That the idea of "comparable cuts" imposes inability to drive cars on today's poor countries is not an acceptable part of the Fox News discussion.

If someone whose brain functioned like a leader had been elected, including either Kasich or Clinton, we could easily have combined action against climate change with action against Chinese cheating on trade agreements (which is vastly exaggerated in the post-Trump discussion, I assure you.) There is a serious danger of manufacturing production moving to countries with less restrictive carbon regimes (the "race to the bottom" issue environmentalists always worry about). Voila! a reason to insist on a level playing field of carbon incentives while negotiating a trade agreement that slows the shift of manufacturing to China.

DWill wrote:
It has stuck with me something you said in a different context, that the benign actions of individuals can produce large problems in the aggregate. That's the tragedy I see with climate and with all other environmental problems. If a homeless person in the U.S. has twice the energy footprint of the world average citizen, what will be the result when/if we succeed in getting all of the world to a middle-class standard of living? We definitely should want that for others, but will it be for nothing if the natural world then "rejects" us?
The answer is that it is quite manageable. Energy use is mainly for three things - transport, heating and cooling of buildings, and industry. All three could be much more efficient and could switch essentially entirely away from fossil fuels, but it requires a strong combination of incentives with what Robert wishes, which is backing of technologies to better address the issues (including carbon storage and carbon farming to loosen the overall constraint and avoid the catastrophe already implied by todays GHG levels).

But yes, sustainability comes up over and over in many different contexts. I was pleased for many reasons to see William Nordhaus selected one of the Nobel Prize winners in Economics yesterday, for addressing the climate change issue more in the context of sustainability and the move toward it than in some specious cost-benefit calculation. Nordhaus actually pioneered building sustainability calculations into GDP adjustments, which we teach in introductory economics.

He also rejects the Nicholas Stern adoption of a zero discount rate on future costs. I think he correctly saw it as a fudge, avoiding the harder issue of explicitly addressing the ways tradeoffs get addressed rather than calculating an aggregate cost and an aggregate savings of future costs.

What will we do about all the future challenges to the global environment being stored up in the population growth of today? I'm not sure, but the climate issue doesn't bode well for our ability to grasp the bull by the horns. Maybe we will learn from a very unpleasant experience, but maybe not, too.



Mon Oct 08, 2018 8:41 am
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