Date with a climate-change denier

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He was tall and cute and the perfect amount of awkward. Our first date was on a balmy Tucson evening in January. I scootched back in my chair and crossed my legs beneath my sundress as he asked, "What do you write about?"

"Right now, I'm writing a lot about food."

"Oooh!" he said. "Like restaurant reviews?"

"Well, sort of. I'm interested in how our food systems affect the climate."

He nodded and thought this over. "Do you think this whole climate change thing is going to catch on?"

"What do you mean?"

"You know, 'global warming'?" His voice wore italics and, though his hands didn't leave the table, his fingers became bobbing quotation marks.

I opened my mouth and paused. He smiled that uncomfortable first-date smile and took a sip of his beer.

Hmm, I thought. Yes. The climate is changing, has changed, and humans are central to the story. Sheets of ice are cleaving away from glaciers and more and more carbon dioxide and methane molecules are swarming through the atmosphere, heating it up, and they will continue to do so whether or not the "idea" of global warming, you know, "catches on."

My date took another sip of beer and stared at me with the blue eyes that had prompted me to give him my phone number in the first place.

"I think climate change already has caught on?" I said, hating how my voice rose into a question mark. "I think it's happening? And I think a lot of people agree that, um, it's a … big deal," I said.

"Hmm," he said, and nodded, considering this. He smiled, and in a teasing, flirtatious tone, said, "So you're all into that, the global warming stuff?"

Some believe that the climate deniers will just die out. Not many in my generation get riled up about interracial marriage, for instance -- it is, for most of us, entirely a non-issue -- and many say that attitudes toward climate change could similarly shift with time. The academic term for old ideas dying along with old people is called "cohort replacement," and according to this logic, all we have to do is wait.

According to this logic, however, an eligible young woman does not find herself on a date with a very cute 28-year-old man who puts "global warming" in quotation marks.

"Well … I sort of don't think climate change is something to be believed in," I said haltingly. "I mean, it kind of … is." I hesitated, wondering, should I go further?

He changed the subject. "So you said you work at the UA?" he asked. "What do you do?"

I chuckled. "I work in the University's Office of Sustainability."

"Sweet! What do you do there? What exactly is sustainability?" he asked, all blinking blue eyes and lanky curiosity.

Finally, the date ended. I called my sister as I biked home across campus to tell her about my foray back into dating. We laughed -- how did I find these people? He was 6-foot-4 to my 6-foot-1: a rare find. He was sweet and courteous: so much potential. He had a college degree!

"How did you meet him?" my sister asked.

"A coffee shop."

"Climate deniers drink coffee?"

"Evidently."

"You need a better screening process," she said.

"How do you screen for 'acceptance of climate change'?" I asked.

I rolled through the dust and heat of a 70-degree winter's evening and wondered how I should have responded to his question. How do we talk about something as big as global warming on something so small as a first date? And yet -- how can we not? For those of us that live in the desert Southwest -- indeed, for all of those that live in extreme climates around the world -- it is impossible to ignore the fact that annual temperatures and precipitation levels have already swerved far away from the norm.

What can I say? Yes, climate change is a big and scary idea, but there are all sorts of things we -- no, I'm sorry, I'm afraid there will be no "we" after tonight -- there are all sorts of things you can and should do to help work towards a solution.

The problem is that "believing" in climate change is not as simple as learning the facts. Psychologists have found that people absorb information selectively, picking and choosing those facts that fit into their already-established worldviews. Yet psychologists have also found that familiarity breeds fondness: Repeated exposure to a new idea leads to progressively lower fear and avoidance and even, eventually, sometimes, to acceptance.

Perhaps my Friday evening offered my blinking blue-eyed date the chance to ease his mind into the idea -- the very big, scary idea -- that our world is warming rapidly and we'd better do something about it. But somebody else would have to offer him a second exposure to the concept.


Megan Kimble runs, hikes and bikes around Tucson, where she's a student in University of Arizona's MFA program for creative nonfiction.

Nik Lobachevski
Nik Lobachevski
Dec 10, 2012 12:41 PM
It’s a pity, Ms. Kimble, that your adherence to your global warming religion does not permit association with those who are not also practitioners. Perhaps if you were a bit more tolerant and open-minded, you might learn something and/or discover an otherwise compatible person. (Or are your beliefs so insecure that you fear an exchange of beliefs/data/analysis?)

BTW, the reason why a glacier calves ice into an ocean is because the ice upstream is GROWING and pushing the edge of the glacier off of the land mass on which the glacier rests.
Sapient Fridge
Sapient Fridge
Dec 11, 2012 04:11 AM
Nik Lobachevski - How do explain the 4.3 trillion tons of ice which has gone missing in the last 8 years if the ice is growing? Your information sources are misinforming you.

http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.php?release=2012-036
Roger Gagne
Roger Gagne
Dec 11, 2012 05:19 PM
Hi Nik Lobachevski,

It's a pity that your adherence to global warming denial does not allow you to deal with facts and reality. Your obvious intelligence would function more effectively if you did so.

"The average temperature across land and ocean surfaces during October was 14.63°C (58.23°F). This is 0.63°C (1.13°F) above the 20th century average and ties with 2008 as the fifth warmest October on record. The record warmest October occurred in 2003 and the record coldest October occurred in 1912. This is the 332nd consecutive month with an above-average temperature. The last below-average month was February 1985. The last October with a below-average temperature was 1976."
http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/sotc/global/2012/10
Rob Ranf
Rob Ranf Subscriber
Dec 11, 2012 08:28 PM
Climate change denier or not, the guy sounds like a bit of a "mimbo."
Adam Neff
Adam Neff Subscriber
Dec 11, 2012 10:01 PM
Well, I just commend you for not telling the guy to "get a f-ing clue" and wish him unsuccessful breeding as you bike away.
James Rea
James Rea Subscriber
Dec 11, 2012 10:26 PM
I don't think calling people names advances the cause of convincing people the climate is changing. The fact that the climate is changing is clear, the reasons maybe not so clear. My partners son, who is a biology professor at the University of British Columbia, tells me the concern among many scientists is not warming itself, which has happened time and time again throughout the history of the planet, but rather the rate of change. A question I have never gotten a satisfactory answer to is; when Greenland was colonized by the Danes, it was an agricultural colony, clearly with a significantly warmer climate. Nobody is growing much in the way of commercial crops in Greenland today. So, this would lead me to believe that the climate, at least in Greenland,changed and became much cooler in historical times, and now is presumably warming again. Why is that, maybe someone reading this has a plausible answer for me? I don't deny the climate is changing, and the rate of change certainly is disturbing. I am not confident that the change is man caused and I doubt any of us will be alive to find out. Having said all that,in the mean time it doesn't make sense to "shit the bed".
Robb Cadwell
Robb Cadwell Subscriber
Dec 12, 2012 09:12 AM
What about you Megan? Have any unscientific but firmly held beliefs more grounded in politics than true science? Maybe you could get back together with that hunk and agree that he won't talk about climate change and you won't talk about lead bullets. Many issues environmental have become litmus tests for where we stand politically. A huge section of the public has what I believe to be a skewed viewpoint on climate change, and it isn't doing us much good legislatively. Maybe he has cute eyes.
Robert Doak
Robert Doak
Dec 12, 2012 10:55 AM
If James Carville and Mary Matalin can hit it off Maybe you can too. Give him another chance. Ask him if he is a birther. That could be a deal breaker.
Charles Fox
Charles Fox Subscriber
Dec 12, 2012 11:54 AM
Their not just climate deniers, they're evidence deniers. It must take a lot of energy and mental twisting to get up every day and deny the obvious. Of course there's help in the form of t.v. and radio.

You're better off avoiding evidence deniers of any stripe. These people will bring you down.
Stephen Koenigsberg
Stephen Koenigsberg
Dec 12, 2012 12:48 PM
BTW, the real Nikolai Lobachevsky was a Russian mathematician hailed as the "Copernicus of Geometry." He inspired others to challenge 'axioms' or accepted 'truths'and would likely be among the earliest proponents of "An Incovenient Truth." I think whoever is using Lobachevsky's name is doing the master a great disservice and would be better to pick a moniker more appropriate.
Linda D Paul
Linda D Paul Subscriber
Dec 14, 2012 10:01 AM
I loved Megan Kimble’s essay, “Date With a Denier,” until the final paragraph in which she speculates that her blue-eyed date may be able to “ease his mind into the idea. . .that our world is warming rapidly and we’d better do something about it.”
We are so beyond being able to “do something about” global warming. I suspect that the very concept of the human race sticking it’s collective foot out to slow the beast of change does disservice to this issue. What we need now, is to focus on changing and adapting to a new world. Things will not continue as they always have. We are no longer be able to rely upon staples growing where they always have, animals living where we expect them to and water being available for everything we’ve come to rely upon it for. We will either learn how to live with less or we will die a slow, agonizing and painful death, as other species before us already have. It is not global warming we need to do something about. It is our behavior and expectations that we need to do something about.
Lisa Cole
Lisa Cole
Dec 20, 2012 04:03 PM
If you like him, don't give up on him. I have successfully converted two boyfriends and one husband with some gentle persuasion. Show him that you're nothing like the stereotype that right wing news expounds. The best way to overcome a bias is exposure to people who believe differently.
j kelly
j kelly
Jan 01, 2013 09:32 PM
Knowing the climate is always changing on this planet, the real question for us, is man causing the change? the knowledge that co2 is 4% off the "air" around the planet. And that man is responsible for about 4% of co2 in the "air". How can human be THE responsible cause of the changing climate? The belief that we can effect the changing temperature by what, limiting our use of fossil fuel, is persilly. To change our life style for a theory, is foolish. There is by far little conclusive evidence of man's fault. Using wind power? Solar? Let us explore these option. But to spend 3,4,9 times more in energy cost to solve a potential non problem is expensive. To mandate it is also wrong. So for you to not want to date him because you believe he is so far "out there", really shows your short comings, not his. He was probably laughing with his friends about "this crazy date " he had. ha ha
j kelly
j kelly
Jan 01, 2013 09:54 PM