The three forms of climate change denial

Climate change denial is a serious problem when trying to deal with global warming.

The problem is that the three different forms of climate denial often require different responses. While generally most, if not all, of the forms of denial do not stand up to any reasoned argument, they continue to be raised even by people who in other fields show a high level of intelligence. Few, however, are as all over the place as to use all three forms of denial.

  1. “There is no global warming: there’s no data, there’s not enough data or the data is not conclusive”. This first one, while one that many people use, does not stand up to any scrutiny. There are mountains of data and while locally in places it might not show global warming, when one looks carefully at an entire dataset the conclusion that global warming is occurring is unavoidable. This is generally the the lazy answer, because it shows that the issue has not been looked into as a full subject. The data is unmistakable, quite apart from all the detailed data, the warmest 10 years have all occurred since the turn of the millennium.
  2. “Global warming may well be caused by CO2 emissions rising but 90% of the emissions are not to do with humans and therefore there’s nothing we can do about it and even if there was it’s unwise to fiddle”. This again is an argument that is often used but there’s a little relevance to the real world – scientists are well aware that CO2 emissions are released in nature but they are also removed from the atmosphere in nature. This balance was maintained perfectly adequately for millions of years (ice cores allow us to check CO2 concentrations going back around 1.5 million years, though we have only drilled to depths of 750,000 years). It is only in the last 150 years that we have seen the concentrations of CO2 rising, coincidentally the point when humans started burning fossil fuels. 
  3. “Even if it is humans fault it’s impossible for us to do anything about it anyway”. This argument I understand the least. It is not generally used in isolation but with the two above, but its own argument does not hold up. If one agrees that global warming is occurring and that humans are causing it just saying that we can’t do anything about it and therefore we shouldn’t try is just a ridiculous situation. It is true that most people recognise it is likely to cost a very large amount of money and change the way many of us live, but surely this is a small price to pay to leave a survivable home for our descendants.

The scientific community is virtually at a unanimous agreement that global warming is occurring. Some would say shouldn’t we hold out until we have 100% agreement, however many of the world’s leaps forward would not have occurred if we had done this. There is still a minor but significant portion of the population who believe the world is flat. The arguments put forward for this are many and range from wilfully stupid to simply lacking understanding of the basic concept, but basically rely upon the principle “I do not feel like I am on a ball therefore I am not”. Some of these attempts to prove that the world is flat are quite funny, but the point is is that if we were still waiting for 100% agreement that the world was round and we would not have gone on journeys to find America or Australia.

All of the assessments show show that the cost of the the world transitioning to a low carbon market will be far less than the costs that extreme global warming will bring to the world. All three of these forms of climate change denial are used a different times or several in a conversation, but that is irrelevant they are are all wrong and need to be treated as such and not given the time to be debated. 

Donald Trump’s argument that there should be a “red team blue team” debate to settle once and for all whether global warming is true is ridiculous for many reasons, but the main one is that this is essentially how science moves forwards all the time. A new argument is put forward and then it is tested and either rejected or accepted. Global warming was first posited in a academic paper back in the 50s or 60s (incidentally some of these earliest papers came out of oil companies even if they then spent several decades trying to hide the results) and it has been weighed and tested against huge reams of data by tens of thousands of scientists over the intervening 50 years. 

We are unlikely to arrive as a world where everyone agrees that global warming is happening, in the same way that 400 years after Columbus sailed to America there are a significant number of people who are still arguing that the world is flat. We need to move on and start working out what to do about it. It is perhaps unfortunate though that in a number of countries around the world people who deny climate change of managed to be elected into senior roles – the absurdity of their position must simply be made so clear as to make it impossible for them to continue with the same argument.

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