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Willful Ignorance Fuels Lack of Mitigation

People decide to ignore the evidence.

Mitigation is the one phase of emergency management that can help to lessen the impacts of disasters. It and disaster recovery are the two phases we spend the least amount of time on as emergency managers. 

When it comes to climate change, many of our elected leaders are choosing the path of willful ignorance. People choose to not be informed. They look for alternative messaging that gives them something to hold on to — instead of the facts. Snow in Washington, D.C., or a record cold temperature in International Falls, Minn., "prove" that global warming is a hoax. There are even misstatement of the facts, "The majority of scientists do not believe in climate change!" 

Sometimes this behavior is tied to a political party or belief system. Many times, it is otherwise smart people who choose to ignore information that, if acted on, will have a negative impact on themselves or their community: realtors, developers, builders, construction workers and chambers of commerce. Within a city or county, these people have great local political clout. 

Many people just choose to be uninformed. They get their news from single media outlets that espouse a specific political philosophy and don't provide a range of opinions or choices in whom to believe. They are cozy in their small and limited intellectual cocoon. 

Translate this all to the emergency management community and we can be hamstrung on what we can do as individuals or single agencies since we don't set the agenda or appropriate the funds. 

Sometimes our only choice is to be well-informed on the issues and contribute our best staff advice to the decision-makers. However, I'll tell you from my personal experience, people don't like hearing the truth when it contradicts what they want to do. But, now nearer the end of my career than the beginning, I sleep well at night knowing I've done what I could, when I could, to be loyal to my bosses by giving them the best facts I could garner and my recommendations — even when I knew in advance that they didn't want to get information that opposed their plans. 

Eric Holdeman is a contributing writer for Emergency Management magazine and is the former director of the King County, Wash., Office of Emergency Management.