"A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone.”

Henry D. Thoreau



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Upgrades and Pay-back Time

by David Dawson

It’s a funny thing. People will spend thousands of dollars on upgrading their kitchen with new cupboards, fancy granite countertops, Italian taps, lighting, hardwood floors etc etc. Or similarly they renovate their bathroom with new everything, but those same people will not spend their money on putting solar panels on their roof. For some reason the idea of ‘pay-back time’ is applied to solar panels, whereas ‘pay-back time’ is not even a consideration with kitchen, bathroom or other upgrades.

So, why do we treat these two expenditures so differently? You would think that because there is a monetary return, solar panels would be more attractive than new kitchen cupboards. Is it because the monetary return itself brings solar panels in our minds into the ‘investment’ category rather than the ‘lifestyle’ category?

This subject was discussed at a recent SETI event. It was concluded that installing solar panels, as well as other climate fighting actions, should be considered as moral or ethical decisions rather than income generating investments. Steinbach and area is renowned for its charity giving generosity, which is a similar moral investment, with no financial gain expected. Charity donations attract a tax receipt, and that might be the incentive that encourages such generous charitable donations. Perhaps we need to switch away from tax receipts on charitable donations to tax receipts on climate fighting expenditures. Politicians please take note.

Denial of Reality

Another little conundrum that is often discussed by the regulars in SETI is what is called ‘denial of reality’. We live in the information age and the age of science, and we want evidence before we believe in anything. Generally we don’t believe in ghosts, leprechauns, fairies or witches flying on broomsticks because there is no visible or tangible evidence for such things. Suspicion has been replaced by cold hard facts – at least that is the theory until you come to global warming. The evidence is all around us and on the news almost every day but for some reason many people refuse to accept the facts. This is what is called ‘denial of reality’ and it is re-enforced by what is called the ‘backfire effect’.

The backfire effect is where the more evidence someone in a state of denial of reality receives, the more entrenched they become in their refusal to accept the facts. A perfect example is the belief amongst some people that vaccination causes autism. The doctor who originally stated this later admitted that he had made it up, and numerous studies worldwide have proved beyond doubt that there is absolutely no connection whatsoever. But all these new studies just make some people more stubborn in accepting the truth. That is the backfire effect. Certainly social change is often a slow process but in this fact-oriented age, where the evidence of climate change is undeniable, the denial of the reality of climate change re-enforced with the backfire effect is a serious problem. The question we ask at SETI is how do we convince these deniers to accept the truth without triggering the backfire effect.