Of all the fascinating ideas from Catherine Flowers’ visit on Thursday, the two things which have stuck in my mind the firmest are her use of anecdotes and her response to Joe’s question about how she addresses people who do not believe in climate change. I was extremely impressed by her ability to find common ground with people despite vast differences in personal values and perspectives. It was in her descriptions of her conversations with climate change deniers that she demonstrated her ability to use anecdotes, rather than statistics or science, to show how climate change was affecting everyday life in Lowndes County.
This particularly interested me for two reasons, the first of which being that I usually look for harder evidence than anecdotes to support claims, because my education has emphasized the value of empirical and causal data. Catherine Flowers’ intentional use of anecdotes in lieu of reports and numbers illustrates something that is perhaps obvious but also profound; people who deny climate change often haven’t been trained to analyze claims in this fashion. This isn’t to say they are unintelligent, but rather often share a skepticism for what they cannot see for themselves. Anecdotes appeal to them exactly because they are part of their own experience.
The second reason is because her use of appeal to common ground reminded me of the failure of the Democratic Party to do so leading up to and after the presidential election. Many Democrats were so outraged and stunned that they turned to hurling insults and denouncements. Cross-party attacks are perhaps to be expected, but the vernacular after this election was of a different sort, largely asserting that everyone who voted for Trump were ‘lost causes’, racists, bigots, misogynists, and so many of the other things that came to be associated with Trump. Trump’s campaign certainly came to represent many of those attributes and his election emboldened those who possessed them. But not all the roughly 63 million people who voted for Trump did so because of some prejudice, and to convict them as such does nothing to change their minds about who they voted for. The ability to first relate with someone (despite what may be overwhelming differences) is valuable in all contexts, and is critical to issues as contentious as politics and climate change.