Friday, January 5

Polarizing The Issues

Jonathan Adler's The Volokh Conspiracy recently noted the New York Times article pointing out that there is much more to the climate change than "believers" and "heretics" in the debate about global warming. After presenting what he calls a great step toward the "middle ground," the post spirals away into 90 comments that are largely polarized on this issue once again. It's a shame because polarization is non-communication and it's all too common in the United States.

Regardless of the issue, any time two sides become too firmly entrenched in their views and opinions, screaming that they are right and all dissenters are wrong, any potential action on this becomes paralyzed. And unless things change, the debate is already pointless because nobody is listening anyway.

It's the same same in any group environment, whether individual, political, or commercial. If an argument becomes a battle of wills in the household, community, business, or industry, then the debate is already over. And, once labels are attached to the opposing sides, there is hardly ever any room for the middle ground.

Although what author Andrew Revkin calls a "third stance" emerging that "challenges both poles of the debate" hardly seems like a third view to me (suggesting that since we're unwilling to fix the problem we may as well invest in disaster preparedness), a more tangible third view is unlikely to surface as long as the polar views are willing to drown out new voices. As I said, non-communication.

Perhaps with a hint of sarcasm, I blame Al Gore. He had an opportunity to share facts in “An Inconvenient Truth" and mostly he did, with exception to several moments of political bitterness. One would think, after running for president, he would have learned by now to stay on message. If it was about global warming, then maybe that would be enough.

The American media could use a shot in the arm on this issue and others too. Do we always need two talking heads taking the polar position on each and every view? Sure, I appreciate "controversy" is one of a dozen or so definitions of news, but I dare say the public is becoming addicted to rubbernecking accident scenes. Based on blog searches alone, controversies seem to rule the day.

Meanwhile, as we play polarization in the United States, the British government announced a 100 million pound fund to help the National Health Service in the battle to beat the global warming crisis. The fund is intended to help hospitals and other health sector buildings cut carbon dioxide emissions, increase energy efficiency and reduce energy consumption.

"Whilst there is much more we need to understand - both in science and economics - we know enough now to be clear about the magnitude of the risks, the time-scale for action and how to act effectively," Sir Nicholas said, who recently released a review that global warming could shrink the global economy by 20 percent.

It's a global review that is gaining traction elsewhere in the world, even if it is not so in the United States. The only reason it is over there and not here, in my opinion, is because the the British, although they too disagree, seem less addicted to polarization to such a degree that politicians will actually switch positions on an issue once they learn it is embraced by an opponent or opposite party. Sure, contrast messages work in politics, but not so much when they are fabricated for the sake of contrast.

From a communication observation that can be applied anywhere, keep in mind that polarization is non-communication. Whether it is a small issue like "should blogs allow anonymous comments or not" to very big issues like "should we store nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain" or not.

In conclusion, on the issue of global warming, the debate is over. Everybody lost. Now that it is over, can we please get to the business of saving people from global warming, because it seems to me that people will need more saving than the planet.


Rich on 1/15/07, 11:43 AM said...

Famous First Words:

Noted writer and blogger Liz Strauss captures the essence of this post in featured piece at The Blog Herald, which has led several to post worthwhile comments. Well done Liz!


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