airplane cockpit

Trust Your Instruments and Climate Change

William A. Liggett — Nov 11, 2016

“Trust your instruments” is an expression all airplane pilots are taught during their training. My flight instructors would say this often when I got my private pilot’s license. It sounds like common sense, but it’s sometimes ignored with disastrous and often fatal results—the crash by John F. Kennedy Jr. is a well-known example.

When flying an aircraft, pilots occasionally encounter conditions caused by the light, clouds, wind, and water that confuse their senses. They think they’re flying straight when they’re actually flying in circles. They think they’re right side up when they’re actually upside down. Inside a cloud, they lack the visual cues they need. Even the physical cues our bodies detect, normally coming from the steady pull of gravity, no longer apply in flight.

So what does “trust your instruments” have to do with climate change? Our “instruments” in this case include physical instruments that range from thermometers to tools for measuring the chemical composition in the atmosphere to a variety of weather instruments for documenting the effects of a changing climate on the day-to-day weather variation.

Our “instruments” for providing feedback on the changing climate also include scientists and their collective bodies, which publish the results of their studies. Often these publications aren’t easily accessible, so other channels of communication, such as newspapers, television, and magazines, provide summaries for the public.

So if these “instruments” are available to us, why do so many people not rely on them, preferring to fly by the seat of their pants? The answer, in a word, is denial.

If the instruments and the data they produce are considered untrustworthy, why pay attention to them? If the data and derived messages are deemed “a hoax,” then they certainly can’t be trusted.

If people don’t see themselves as “pilots” flying this planet earth, but passengers instead, they can ignore the instrument panel altogether and cruise along just fine (they think).

Of course, we can trust our instruments and still may not know where the controls are and how to use them to “fly” the desired course. This seems to be the case for many of us now. Stay tuned for a future blog with some suggested actions we can all take reduce our carbon footprint.

Do you trust the science regarding climate change? If not, what are your reasons? If you do, what can we, as individuals do about it?

Bill Liggett writes fiction that blends behavioral and earth sciences in the new literary genre “cli-fi,” or climate fiction. In Watermelon Snow, his first novel, a long-frozen virus melts from a glacier, threatening a pandemic. His second novel, Panic Peak, (in process) entails a plot to geoengineer the earth’s climate. The planned third novel in the trilogy paints a hopeful future, based on solutions to global warming.

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Laurel Kallenbach
December 12, 2016 2:55 pm

Well said!