Most of us don’t change our minds. Whether the issue at hand is the repeal of net neutrality in the US or Brexit, we avoid information that might shift our viewpoints, assuming that our opponents are simply dumber than we are.
But recently, I had a change of heart about an important issue—and it showed me that it can be detrimental to stick too closely to our convictions.
For the past year, I’ve been investigating the controversial technology of “clean coal”—more accurately known as carbon capture and storage—which allows us to burn fossil fuels without almost any emissions. Many vocal environmentalists oppose any use of fossil fuels. Meanwhile, Donald Trump’s cronies—many of whom seem actively opposed to environmental protection—have thrown their weight behind carbon capture. And so the case seemed clear to me: Carbon capture likely does more harm than good.
At the same time, I couldn’t ignore a nagging doubt. My training in chemistry and chemical engineering told me the technology wasn’t scientifically bunk. And more importantly, some of the foremost climate bodies, such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, included carbon capture in almost every economically feasible pathway to avoid catastrophic climate change. Who should I believe?
As I began to report on the technology, it became clear I hadn’t looked beyond my own information bubble and may have been overtly suspicious of carbon-capture technology. By meeting dispassionate experts and visiting sites, for the first time, I began to grasp the enormity of the environmental challenge facing us and to look at the problem in a new light.
More than 80% of the world’s energy still comes from fossil fuels—as it did in the 1970s. Both the nuclear-power revolution and the renewable-energy revolution have yet to make a serious dent in cutting emissions. With the deadline to reach net-zero emissions to avoid dangerous global warming approaching within decades, there is no way to reach the goal without deploying carbon-capture technology. I now believe carbon capture is both vital and viable.
It’s my job as a journalist to seek out counterpoints. But rarely have those counterpoints led to a complete reversal of my stance. In order to form an accurate view of the world, we have to be skeptical toward others’ claims. We also have to be open-minded enough to really listen to them. It’s a tricky balance to strike. But the world would be a better place if we tried.