Did You Hear That One About Climate Change?



Big news! Finally –FINALLY – there is overwhelming, irrefutable proof that mankind is a principal player in the precipitation of climate change! Five distinct groups of researchers studied last year’s severe and prolonged heat wave in Australia and the results, quoth the New York Times, are “perhaps the most definitive statement climate scientists have made tying a specific weather eve –“

Oh, who am I kidding? It’s not going to change anything.

Not because the news isn’t ominous – it is, but we knew that already – but because it has the unfortunate distinction of being true.

Yup. The New York Times also points to Emergent, an online tool that tracks the spread of rumors via the internet and finds that unfounded rumors spread faster than truth, and faster still than follow-up reports that debunk the rumor as a hoax, scam, or simply “false.”


To cite just one recent example, Emergent ogled – I mean, looked at – the highly implausible tale about the woman who had a third breast surgically implanted, to ward off men.

See? You knew about it, right?

Even though – “extra breast /turning off men” is almost an oxymoron.

Reports that purported the story to be true were shared online more than three times as often as the follow-up story exposing it as a “falsie.”

It’s the equivalent of a Page One headline turning out to be untrue, and the retraction being relegated to page 47.

It’s not hard to figure out why rumors spread faster than truth. It’s fun to read about a three-breasted woman. Wa-aayyyy more entertaining than learning that authorities uncovered a prosthetic breast in the two-breasted woman’s luggage.

Time and again, unfounded claims were shared online with a speed and frequency that its “true” counterparts could only envy.

It’s the social media equivalent of the quote widely attributed to Mark Twain, “A lie can travel halfway around the globe while the truth puts its shoes on.

Want proof? Do you like your proof laced with irony? Mark Twain isn’t the author of the quote!

I choose to believe the Emergent findings despite the fact that they’re “true.”

At least, I think they are.

Which brings us back to the Australia climate-change heat wave story.

The different teams of researchers ran dozens of computer simulations, both with and without human behavior in the mix. Sans man, the simulations couldn’t reproduce the heat wave. But as soon as the magic ingredient – “us” was added – Voila! Instant Baked Australia!

And being true, the one thing we can be assured of is: it won’t be changing many minds.

Because there is already pretty close to unanimity among climatologists about humankind’s “contribution” in this area, and roughly half the US population still resolutely stuffs their collective index fingers into their ears and bleats “LALALALALA!”

With some polls showing that the percentage of unbelievers is rising.

If you put your ear to the ever-warming ground, you can hear confounded climatologists snarling,

Curses! Foiled again, by the humdrum drumbeat of veracity!”

It’s not so much that we can’t handle the truth, we’re just not particularly enthusiastic about it.

On top of all there that, there’s our innate tendency towards confirmation bias, aka, the persistence of discredited beliefs, which means that often, when we’re presented with overwhelmingly compelling evidence that our viewpoint is erroneous, instead of abandoning said belief, we become more firmly entrenched to it!

It’s like removing the pillars of the Coliseum and instead of the structure crumbling in a heap, the Coliseum not only remains standing, but adds extra seats!

Which is why shrewd political consultants advise their candidates to define their opponent before he/she has a chance to define him/herself. Because first – and false – impressions are difficult to overcome.

So to wrap this all up in a neat, if massively depressing bow: we eagerly and shamelessly share sham stories, barely pay attention when the truth comes down the pike to set us straight, and later on, when indisputable proof comes along that makes that false belief untenable, we cling even more tenaciously to the fabrication.

In other words, the planet ain’t got a snowball’s chance in Australia.


About Stan Sinberg

Stan is an award-winning newspaper columnist, radio commentator, and features writer whose humor has appeared in everything from the NY Times to WSJ and MAD Magazine. Stan is a native New Yorker living on the west coast. His website is www.stansinberg.com and you can email him at stan@stansinberg.com or follow him on Twitter @ssinberg1
Posted in: Society