Trump advisor Peter Thiel proves that just because you are a tech billionaire doesn’t mean you know how science works or what the primary cause of climate change is.
“Even if climate change is quite as bad as people think it is,” said the PayPal cofounder and Facebook investor at a global energy conference Tuesday, “if we groupthink we’re more likely to misdiagnose the problem. Maybe it’s methane emissions, and the real problem is eating steak.”
That’s a lot of nonsense to pack into two sentences.
Let’s take his first concern, about groupthink. “Groupthink refers to a deterioration of mental efficiency, reality testing, and moral judgment that results from in-group pressures,” as Irving Janis, the social psychologist who coined the term in 1972, put it.
Science is the most powerful antidote to groupthink ever devised because it is a systematic and efficient process for testing ideas and hypotheses against reality. Scientists have known for a very long time that carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels is the primary source of human-caused climate change.
So groupthink actually describes people like Thiel and Trump — people who deny or ignore climate science. They are the ones rejecting “reality testing,” i.e., science. That’s why they misdiagnose the problem or, in Trump’s case, call it a hoax.
No one who understands the least bit about science would dispute the fact that human-caused CO2 is the biggest driver of global warming.
But, as for Thiel’s second suggestion, it’s true that human-caused methane emissions play a role in global warming. The EPA website has the breakdown of total US greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in 2014 (above), which shows methane is about 11 percent of total U.S. GHG emissions.
We know — again, from science — that cattle and livestock are responsible for a portion of methane emissions, because of their digestive process (enteric fermentation) and their manure. Here again, the EPA website provides the data.
Yes, changing your diet to eat less meat will certainly lower your personal carbon footprint and make you healthier. But it’s not the main problem for climate change.
Ironically — and tragically — Thiel and fellow groupthinkers like Trump, want more fracking for natural gas and petroleum. Not only are those fossil fuels primary sources of CO2, the main source of human-caused climate change, they are, as the chart above shows, a bigger source of methane than cattle.
So why would Thiel single out steak? Apparently he has long wanted people to stop eating it. As CNBC reported in 2012, “eccentric billionaire Peter Thiel’s biotech foundation announced an eyebrow-raising investment in a start-up that makes 3D printed meat.”
Finally, Thiel and Trump would do well to read, “Groupthink: Psychological Studies of Policy Decisions and Fiascoes,” the book that coined the term. They would learn that Janis diagnosed the problem by studying such “fiascos” as the escalation of the war in Vietnam and Watergate.
Janis was very worried that leaders who were prone to groupthink — who surround themselves with “yes-men” who don’t challenge their ideas or plans — would lead the country into future fiascos.
Good thing we don’t elect leaders like that any more.