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The psychology of climate change: Why people deny the evidence

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This week, representatives from more than 150 countries are meeting in Katowice, Poland, for COP 24, or the 24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate.

Their goal: to find ways to reduce carbon emissions in order to combat the effects of climate change.

Last week, the United States released its National Climate Assessment, which was largely buried in the news as a result of its release over the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday. Its conclusions were in line with those of the UN and other climate organizations: global climate is changing, and “the global warming of the past 50 years is primarily due to human activities, predominantly the burning of fossil fuels.”

That same day, U.S. President Donald Trump said he doesn’t believe the report.

On Thursday, the UN World Meteorological Organization said global temperatures are headed for a rise of 3 to 5 C this century, far above the target of 1.5 to 2 C. 

The message seems to be clear: Earth’s climate is rapidly changing as a result of human activity. So how is it that some people are still reluctant to acknowledge it?

Temperatures soared to 40 C in the Tokyo metropolitan area in July as a heat wave swept throughout Japan, according to the Meteorological Agency. (Shizuo Kambayashi/Associated Press)

According to some psychologists, there are a number of reasons, including the prevalence of deceptive or erroneous information about the topic.

“But you’re also getting a lot of misinformation, what we call agnotology — misleading information and false information — from vested interests,” said Michael Ranney, professor of education the University of California, Berkeley’s Department of Psycholog. “And the internet, for decades, has been offering information that is misleading.”

And some recent studies suggest that false news spreads faster than true or objective news.

One of the reasons people might be sharing that information — which they may not recognize as false —  is that it represents their worldview — a phenomenon called confirmation bias.

‘Information deficit’

Another important thing to consider, Ranney says, is decreasing “information deficit,” or lack of knowledge. To this end, he created the website How Global Warming Works, which provides short videos explaining the mechanisms of global warming. And that, he believes, makes a difference with some people.

“Even in places like Berkeley, we almost tripled their understanding of the mechanisms of global warming, and that increased their acceptance of global warming,” Ranney says of one study conducted at his university.

“One high school, the students knew so little about global warming, we increased their knowledge 17 times … and they also increased their acceptance.”

But Canadian Matto Mildenberger, an assistant professor of political science at the University of California, Santa Barbara, doesn’t place that much faith in the “information deficit” theory.

“Information deficit may matter at the margins,” says Mildenberger, who also who contributes to Yale University’s Program on Climate Change Communication.

“It’s not that information doesn’t matter, but it strikes me that the way in which we need to solve the problem of climate communication is primarily by having trusted individuals —  and by that, I don’t mean scientists. I mean people in local communities — be climate advocates and climate messengers to their communities.”

What motivates denial?

There’s something else that may be at play at the subconscious level that allows us to disregard the evidence that’s in front of us.

“A big part isn’t the experience; it’s the motivation,” said Paul Thagard, professor emeritus at the University of Waterloo’s Department of Philosophy, who specializes in cognitive science.

“Psychologists talk a lot about ‘motivated inference’ … when people have strong motivations, they’re very selective in the sort of evidence they look for.”

Even though there is consensus that climate change is occurring and that humans are exacerbating it, there are still people — including politicians — who refuse to acknowledge the evidence.

Protesters demonstrate ahead of the start of last year’s COP 23 UN climate change conference, held in Bonn, Germany. COP 24 begins Sunday in Katowice, Poland. (Wolfgang Rattay/Reuters)

“The motivations vary depending on who you are,” says Thagard. “If you’re a conservative politician, you just don’t want to believe [in climate change], because if there really is climate change caused by human activity, then there has to be government actions to stop the disastrous results that are probably going to come down the line in 20 or 30 years.”

There are other fears: people whose livelihood is dependent on, say, the oil industry, might fear acknowledging climate change will threaten their jobs. Others might resent government taking money out of their pockets in the form of public spending on carbon mitigation efforts.

“But that gets in the way of appreciating the overwhelming scientific evidence that really bad times are coming,” Thagard said.

Changing communication

Mildenberger say that, while there is a lot of climate change information out there, communicating it in an effective way is key. 

And it’s not about painting a doom-and-gloom scenario.

“If you overwhelm people, there’s some evidence that they can end up in some fatalistic mindset and feel unempowered,” Mildenberger said.

“The trick is to communicate the seriousness of the climate threat … with a sense of empowering people to take action.”

A sense of empowerment is something that Ranney cites as well when it comes to acceptance of climate change.

“It’s going to become more and more obvious to everyone that global warming is occurring and that it’s scary and yet something that we can fix, and should,” he said. 

“This is not a time to be passive and allow this calamity to happen to us. We can fix this, and we can fix this now.”

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The ‘Maple Majestic’ wants to be Canada’s homegrown Tesla

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Look out Tesla, Canada has a homegrown electric sedan on the way. Well, that’s if AK International Motor Corporation can drum up enough investment to make its EV a reality. Dubbed the “Maple Majestic,” the vehicle is a battery-electric designed to “excel in extreme climate performance without adversely affecting the climate, as befits a vehicle from Canada,” according to its website.

What’s in a name? — The company says the maple leaf is a “symbol of Canada’s warmth and friendliness towards all cultures,” while “majestic” refers to the country’s “status as a Constitutional Monarchy.”

That patriotism carries over into Maple Majestic’s parent company’s lofty goals. AK Motor founder Arkadiusz Kaminski says he wants the company, which he founded in 2012, to become “Canada’s first multi-brand automotive OEM,” and that the “Maple Majestic is intended to be Canada’s flagship brand of automobiles on the world stage.”

Partnerships are key — “We acknowledge that the best chance for the Maple Majestic brand to succeed, lies in continuing to build the relationship with Canada’s parts suppliers and technological innovators, whether they be academic institutions, corporations, or individual inventors,” the company explains. “We are currently seeking partners in automotive engineering, parts manufacturing, automotive assembly, electric propulsion technology, battery technology, autonomous technology, and hybrid power generation technology.”

In other words, don’t expect to be able to buy a Maple Majestic any time soon… and don’t expect to pour over 0-60 mph times, power output, range, or other key stats, because those don’t currently exist. For now, all we have are pictures and a short video clip. But at least those are arresting.

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PE-backed Quorum Software to merge with Canadian energy tech firm

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Houston-based energy technology company Quorum Software will merge with a Canadian tech firm to bolster its presence in oil and gas services.

Quorum announced Feb. 15 it plans to merge with Calgary, Alberta-based Aucerna, a global provider of planning, execution and reserves software for the energy sector. The combined firm will operate under the Quorum Software brand.

Gene Austin, CEO of Quorum Software, will continue in his capacity as chief executive of the combined firm. Austin, former CEO of Austin-based marketing tech firm Bazaarvoice Inc., became CEO of Quorum in December 2018.

Aucerna co-founder and CEO Wayne Sim will be appointed to the Quorum Software board of directors. Both companies are backed by San Francisco- and Chicago-based private equity firm Thoma Bravo.

“Over the last 20 years, Quorum has become the leading innovator of software deployed by North American energy companies,” said Austin. “Today, Quorum is expanding the scope of our technology and expertise to all energy-producing regions of the globe. Customers everywhere will have access to a cloud technology ecosystem that connects decision-ready data from operations to the boardroom.”

In addition to the merger announcement, Quorum Software announced it had entered into an agreement with Finnish IT firm TietoEvry to purchase TietoEvry’s entire oil and gas business. The agreement, which includes hydrocarbon management, personnel and material logistics software and related services, is valued at 155 million euros, or $188 million, according to a statement from TietoEvry.

“Our three organizations complement each other — from the software that our great people design to the energy markets where we operate,” said Sim. “Our new company will be able to deliver value to our stakeholders, while accelerating the growth of our combined business and the energy industry’s software transformation.”

The combined company will serve over 1,800 energy companies in 55 countries, according to the announcement. With its headquarters in Houston, Quorum will continue to have a significant presence in Calgary and in Norway, the headquarters for TietoEvry’s oil and gas software business. Quorum will have other offices throughout North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

As of Sept. 30, 2020, private equity firm Thoma Bravo had more than $73 billion in assets under management. In late December 2020, Thoma Bravo agreed to acquire Richardson, Texas-based tech firm RealPage in a roughly $10 billion acquisition.

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Piece of Kitchener technology lands on Mars on Perseverance rover

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KITCHENER — A piece of Kitchener technology has landed on Mars, thanks to NASA’s Perseverance rover.

The rover settled on the planet’s surface on Thursday afternoon. It’s been travelling through space since it was launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. in July.

“The whole idea of being on a device that we’re sending to another plant with the express mission of looking for traces of past life, it’s pretty mind boggling actually,” said Rafal Pawluczyk, chief technical officer for FiberTech Optica.

The Kitchener-based company made fibre optic cables for the rover’s SuperCam that will examine samples with a camera, laser and spectrometers.

“The cables that we built take the light from that multiplexer and deliver it to each spectrograph,” Pawluczyk said.

The cables connect a device on the rover to the SuperCam, which will be used to examine rock and soil samples, to spectrometers. They’ll relay information from one device to another.

The project started four years ago with a connection to Los Alamos National Lab, where the instruments connected to the cables were developed.

“We could actually demonstrate we can design something that will meet their really hard engineering requirements,” Pawluczyk said.

The Jezero Crater is where the Perseverance rover, with FiberTech Optica’s technology onboard, landed Thursday. Scientists believe it was once flooded with water and is the best bet for finding any evidence of life. FiberTech’s cables will help that in that search.

Ioannis Haranas, an astrophysicist and professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, said the rover isn’t looking for “green men.”

“They’re looking for microbial, single-cell life, any type of fossils and stuff like that,” Haranas said. “That’s why they chose a special landing site. This could be very fertile land for that.”

“It’s very ambitious,” said Ralf Gellert, a physics professor at the University of Guelph.

Gellert helped with previous rover missions and said it’s the first time a Mars rover has landed without a piece of Guelph technology on it. While he’s not part of Perseverance’s mission, he said the possibilities are exciting.

“Every new landing site is a new piece of the puzzle that you can put together with the new results that we have from the other landing sites,” he said.

“It’s scientifically very interesting because, even though we don’t have an instrument on that rover, we can compare what the new rover Perseverance finds at this new landing site,” he said.

Now that Perseverance has landed on Mars, FiberTech is looking ahead to its next possible mission into space.

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