2018 OFFICIAL PUBLICATION OF THE MONTANA PETROLEUM ASSOCIATION
Two questions that will make you ten times as persuasive
Imagine you get into a discussion
about fracking, which you support
THEM: How can you support
fracking? Don’t you care about
people having safe drinking water?
YOU: Actually, there’s no evidence
that fracking harms water.
at’s just a myth.
THEM: Are you kidding? I saw
Josh Fox’s documentary. And
there was just this Rolling Stone
article about the health risks of
fracking. We should be getting o
dirty energy the way places like Germany and Denmark are, not
using more of it.
YOU: (frustrated) Yeah, and how did you get here? On a horse?
Conversations like this are common. ey take forever, they go nowhere,
and they convince no one. But why?
e root problem is what I call “the context chasm.” All persuasion
is a matter of bridging contexts. You want to move people from where
they are (their context) to where you are (your context). But when it
comes to fossil fuels, non-supporters have a vast context of beliefs
that leads them to oppose fossil fuels.
Take someone who opposes fracking. Here are just a few of the
hundreds of beliefs behind their conclusion:
• Fracking harms water
• Fracking causes earthquakes
• Fracking wastes water
• Fracking releases lots of methane
• Climate change threatens the planet
• ere have been amazing breakthroughs in solar and wind
• We’re experiencing a lot of storms and they’re getting worse
• Pipelines are dangerous
What usually happens in a conversation is that you try to deal with
one of those issues and it leads nowhere. Even if you do manage to
change their mind about a single issue, you’ve done almost nothing
to bridge the chasm.
is seems like an unsolvable problem. But you can bridge that
chasm if you understand why it exists. e reason people oppose fossil
fuels is not simply that they’ve learned a bunch of non-facts—the
fundamental reason is that they’ve learned a framework that causes
them to underestimate the bene ts of fossil fuels and overestimate
As a philosopher I am extremely focused on the framework behind
thinking and conversation. One reason I started researching energy
eleven years ago was because I found the popular framework for
thinking about energy issues to be biased and anti-human.
Bias. To make good decisions, we can’t be biased. We need to look
at the pros and cons of every alternative so we can choose the option
with the best cost/bene t mix. But with certain forms of energy (fossil
fuels, nuclear, hydro), people only look at the negatives and with
others (wind, solar) they only look at the positives.
For example, whenever there’s an oil spill we hear about how many
birds were killed, but we almost never hear about how wind turbines
kill far more birds. at doesn’t prove wind turbines are bad, but it
does mean that our discussion is biased—and if we’re biased, we’re
going to make the wrong choices.
Anti-human. Not only are people biased—but that bias is always
directed against fossil fuels and not solar and wind. Why?
Every decision-making process involves a goal, and when it comes
to energy, most people accept the goal of being as natural as possible.
ey oppose fossil fuels, not because fossil fuels are bad for human
beings, but because they change nature too much.
at’s why many of the same people who say that fossil fuels are
making the planet uninhabitable are also unwilling to dam a river
or split an atom. eir goal is not for us to use the energy that will
make human beings better o —it’s to stop human beings from using
energy to change nature.
But prioritizing unchanged nature over human beings is an anti
human goal. So long as our aim is “being green,” we’re going to
make decisions that are bad for human beings.
e bad news is that this biased and anti-human framework is
nearly universal, which is why almost everyone accepts the narrative
that the fossil fuel industry is destroying the planet and the renewable
industry is rescuing us. But the good news is that this framework is
also indefensible and replaceable.
Le to their own devices, people will tend to be biased and anti-human
in their thinking. But if you make the issue explicit and o er
a better framework—one that is unbiased and pro-human—almost
founder of the
and the other person opposes. It
might go something like this: