Feed on


When I was studying science at Dalhousie, one of my professors was Gordon Ogden who was publishing regularly in scientific journals to warn about the dangers of acid rain. At one lecture, he explained that the pristine lakes and rivers in Nova Scotia — we had a multimillion dollar sport fishery at the time — would die in a generation if more wasn’t done to curb air pollution.

Well, it didn’t take a generation, just a decade. Our lakes and rivers still have fish, but they are few and far between. The acid rain shifted the pH downward by just a smidgen here and there, and now very few Atlantic salmon and trout eggs actually hatch. We no longer have much of a sport fishery, and people in Nova Scotia eat farmed salmon and trout.

We can’t even be blamed for soiling our own nest, as the pollution that killed our lakes and rivers originated in the Ohio industrial belt. But the saddest truth is that we can’t turn back the clock. Reclaiming our lakes and rivers would take more money than our government possesses.

Science is often that lighthouse at the edge the rocky shore. Thousands upon thousands of peer-reviewed studies offer proof that global warming is here, and that it’s likely to roll over us if we don’t get our shit together.

And yet there is an entire industry based on denying the science of climate change, and thousands of bloggers have taken up the charge. We can’t call them skeptics, because they’re not, for skeptics are supposed to have an open mind. Skeptics can be convinced by the evidence.

The folks who inhabit the Denialosphere cannot be convinced by any metric. They cling to long-refuted doctrines and seem to believe that all climate scientists are in cahoots, and falsifying data to secure funding.

It’s absurd!

But what to call them? I thought about that this week as I answered a critic who took issue with an earlier post. And later in the day, I came across these two editorials at The Guardian.

From James Randerson.

How do you sum up an intellectual stance that has a pre-conceived position that is unyielding to the most compelling evidence; ignores mounting and alarming data from numerous scientific fields backing up the opposing position; and clutches at the most ephemeral of straws that can be twisted to support its arguments? How to capture the sheer head-in-the-sand-fingers-in-the-ears bloody mindedness?

Let me give you just one example of this mindset. When The Guardian broke the story in December that 2008 would be a relatively cool year by recent standards, the response was predictable and depressing. Wilfully ignoring the fact that this was the tenth hottest year on record and a scorcher by the standards of Charles Dickens’ era, many commentators leapt on the data as incontrovertible proof that climate change has gone into reverse. That was despite the calm words from climate scientists that they had expected 2008 to be a colder blip in the warming trend because of a short term climate phenomenon called La Niña.

How on Earth do we sum up such dim-witted obstinacy in a single phrase?

Climate change fact-ignorers? A little too cumbersome I think. Climate obfuscators? Better, but still not quite right. Climate change creationists. A suggestion from a friend that I believe sums them up perfectly. Although people have linked the two groups before, as far as I can see no one has used the phrase before.

From George Monbiot:

I use the term deniers not because I am seeking to make a link with the Holocaust, but because I can’t think what else to call them. They describe themselves as sceptics, but this is plainly wrong, as they will believe any old rubbish that suits their cause. They will argue, for example, that a single weather event in one part of the world is evidence of global cooling; that the earth is warming up because of cosmic rays and that the Antarctic is melting as a result of volcanoes under the ice. No explanation is too bonkers for them, as long as it delivers the goods.

The OED defines a sceptic as, “A seeker after truth; an inquirer who has not yet arrived at definite conclusions.” This is the opposite of what people like Booker, Bellamy and Tomlinson are. They have their definite conclusion and will defend it against all comers, however many inconvenient truths might stand in the way.

There is another class of people, whose materials these independent deniers often use: those who are paid by corporations to defend definite conclusions. I have documented this trade extensively (see also my book Heat). But many of these people still masquerade as free thinkers. Earlier this month, for example, the Guardian’s Comment is Free site published an article by Patrick Michaels. The Guardian described him as “a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and author of Climate of Extremes“. What it didn’t say is that he has been paid extremely well in the recent past to promote the views he expressed here by interests which, as far as I can discover, he has never voluntarily disclosed.

Take a look at this leaked memo circulated by the Intermountain Rural Electric Association (IREA) in 2006. IREA transmits electricity – most of which is produced by coal-burning power stations – across the US midwest.

The memo reveals that IREA was about to start buying electricity from a new coal-fired plant, replacing some of the gas production it was using before. But the cost advantages would be wiped out if a carbon tax were imposed. In the hope of averting this prospect, IREA had:

decided to support Dr Patrick Michaels and his group (New Hope Environmental Services, Inc). Dr Michaels has been supported by electric cooperatives in the past and also receives financial support from other sources … In February of this year IREA alone contributed $100,000 to Dr Michaels. In addition we have contacted all the G&T’s [generators and transmitters of electricity] in the United States and as of the writing of this letter, we have obtained additional contributions and pledges for Dr Michaels group.

I posted this information up in the comment thread following Dr Michaels’s article, but it was deleted by the moderator. I’m not sure why.

Whether we’re talking about people who are paid to deny that climate change is happening, or those who use the materials these flacks produce, denial is a precise and concise description of what they do. Their attempt to wriggle out of it by insisting that – by calling them what they are – we are somehow debasing the Holocaust is as contrived as all the other positions they take. We shouldn’t fall for it.

One Response to “Climate Change Fundamentalism”

  1. I try to tell non-believers in climate change that it is better to be safe than sorry. Years from now if they turn out to be wrong, it is too late. It certainly can’t hurt to try and recycle, use less energy, conserve gas, etc. These things can actually save people money. Sometimes if you tell people what’s in it for them, they will change their habits.