2009-03-02 22:22:03 UTC
taught in several universities and colleges, worked launching
rockets in the aerospace industry and as an interpreter in the
United States Federal Courts. He is the editor of 'Climaticide
Chronicles' (http://climaticidechronicles.org/). He has some
interesting thoughts about climate denialists.
A recent post by Joe Romm over at Climate Progress, "The deniers
are winning, especially with the GOP", in which he cited a Pew Poll
showing that 13% fewer Republicans believe in global warming now
than did a year ago, drew a huge number of denialist responses.
After reading them all (groan) it struck me that it might be useful to
analyze who climate denialists are and why they behave as they do.
Anyone who has tried to discuss Climaticide with a climate change
denialist knows just how frustrating it can be. No matter how well
informed you are, no matter how many peer-reviewed studies you cite,
or how many times you point out the overwhelming agreement based
on the evidence that exists among climate scientists that global
warming is real and is principally caused by human fossil fuel use,
you will get nowhere. Your adversary will deny the facts, cherry pick
the scientific evidence for bits of data that, taken out of context,
support his/her denialist view, or drag out long-debunked
counter-arguments in the hope that they are unfamiliar to you
and that you will not be able to refute them. If you succeed in
countering all of his arguments he will most likely reword them
and start all over again.
After a couple of hours of this, you end up frustrated, angry and
confused. You give up and storm off vowing to study and learn
even more so that next time you will be better prepared and able to
convince the denialist of the error of his/her ways. But despite all
your efforts, the next time you fare no better. What, you wonder, am I
The answer is simply that you are operating off of a mistaken premise.
You think that the question of whether or not climate change is real
and has an anthropogenic (human) cause is a question to be answered
by application of an open mind, research, facts, and critical
thinking. Isn't that how scientists approach these problems? They're
skeptical and critique each others work, discarding ideas which fail
to stand up to scrutiny by their colleagues and replacing them with
ones that better describe the facts.
Denialists, however, have no interest in facts except as weapons in
an ideological struggle. They don't even care if "facts" are correct
or not since their intention is not to establish that something is
true or false, but rather to win a battle in an ideological war. If
they can stump you or confuse you with a lie, well that works just
as well for their purposes as does the truth.
When I speak about denialists, mind you, I'm not talking about people
who are skeptical only because they are uninformed about the issue.
Nor am I talking about scientists who disagree with other scientists
over the details of global warming, i.e. What will the earth's
temperature be if we allow CO2 to reach 550 parts per million,
twice the pre-industrial level (so-called climate sensitivity)?
No, the true climate change denialist is an ideologue. Understanding
this fact is key to comprehending the denialist mentality and to
knowing how to respond to denialist arguments.
Ideologues are adherents of closed, ideological systems, in which
all problems are ultimately attributed to a single cause: original sin
(Christianity), the accumulation of private property (Communism),
restrictions imposed on a superior race by inferior ones (Fascism),
the destruction of "freedom" by "Big Government"
(Conservative/Libertarian). These are all a priori systems. Once
the initial conclusion is reached (often after a long, complicated
chain of deductive reasoning - Marx's Capital, the writings of Ayn
Rand, etc.) that factor X is the source of all of society's ills, all
debate outside the ideology's framework ends. One may deduce
new positions from the ideology's fundamental principles, but the
fundamental principles can not be questioned because such questioning
might undermine the entire ideological system and the psychological
security that it provides, leaving the true believer in that most
urgently to be avoided of states: UNCERTAINTY. Ideology is thus,
inevitably, by its very nature, anti-empirical.
An ideologue doesn't believe that he needs to know the details of an
issue in order to make policy decisions, because his ideology provides
him with a ready formula for solving all problems. Where ideologues
run into difficulties however, is when the real world throws up
problems that don't fit the ideology's problem categories.
For conservative/libertarian ideologues who compose the
overwhelming majority of denialists, Climaticide is just such a case.
If a conservative/libertarian ideologue were to accept global warming
as real then he/she would be forced to admit that the problem is so
big and so complex that government action is required to deal with it.
But for a conservative/libertarian ideologue that is impossible
because he/she believes that government is the cause of ALL
problems and that the solution to all problems is "freedom".
Denialists frequently make this attitude explicit when they accuse the
"liberals" concerned about climate change of having invented it as an
excuse to expand government. The latest version of this tactic that
I've encountered is that none of the science in support of global
warming need to be taken seriously because it is the product of
government-paid scientists who are only doing their bureaucratic
Witness a denialist response to the assertion that most scientists
believe in the reality of global warming from the Climate Progress
blog I referenced above:
<quote>This is actual (sic) a very small group of people. It doesn't
include the millions of other scientist (sic) and engineers who have
training in physics and chemistry and are quite capable of
understaning (sic) the phony balony (sic) being tauted (sic) by the
IPCC and its affilliated (sic) white-coated welfare queens. <unquote>
Government science is corrupt science because it's government
science. "Scientists" in the pay of the oil and gas industries on the
other hand are free of this corruption because they are doing science
for the capitalist heroes who defend our "freedom".
The Soviets understood this way of thinking perfectly because Marxism
too is an ideology, only in Marxism the great enemy is not the State
but private capital. It's no accident that in the former Soviet Union
a clear distinction was made between bourgeois science and Soviet
science. According to this view there are no facts, only political
points of view.
That there are no facts outside the "truths" of one's ideology is a
basic, if not always publicly expressed, tenet, of all ideologues - be
they religious zealots, communists, fascists or
Arguing with such people is a waste of time because they only listen
to facts in order to desperately compose counter arguments. I say
desperately because ideologues find psychological safety from an
uncertain world in the certainties of their ideology. What you think
of as an argument about global warming, they perceive as an attack
on their entire world view. And they're right of course, even though
it's not your intention.
So how does one talk to a climate denialist?
In short, one should generally ignore the denialists and concentrate
on persuading the open minded. They are the ones you should be trying
to reach. The denialists are already beyond the pale. They will only
be convinced once all the sea ice and polar bears are gone, it's a 130
degrees in the shade in a drought-stricken Las Vegas and we have
suffered multiple large scale disasters on our own territory, if then.
Now lest I be accused of simplifying reality myself, let me add a few
words about what I perceive as the 4 basic categories of Climaticide
denialists and their relationship to ideology. The categories are:
3. Literate conservative/libertarian ideologues
4. The right-wing booboisie
For the plutocrats, ideology is mostly a cover for their greed and a
thin salve for whatever conscience they have left. For the shills
(scientists and academics paid by the plutocrats to deny global
warming), ideology is an indispensable tool, required by their
corporate masters, and useful in providing intellectual ammunition to
categories 3 and 4 and for bamboozling the uninformed public at large.
For the literate ideologues, their ideology is central to their
political views and to their world view. I suspect that there are many
engineers and other technical professionals in this category along
with much of the business class. The right-wing booboisie, (the Rush
Limbaugh fanatics et.al) have also bought the conservative/libertarian
ideological view, but they purchased it in the alley at the back door,
since they would never be allowed into the store through the front
door. These are the resentful poor and poorly educated who have bought
the culture wars frame or who, because of their social conservatism
have embraced the ideology of the Robber Barons in a fight against
mythical elites who keep them enslaved by driving Volvos, drinking
lattes and removing their 10-commandment plaques from public
For those of us in the reality-based community, understanding the
role that conservative/libertarian ideology plays in determining
Climaticide denialist behavior, whether sincere or simulated, can
be very useful in making sense of the denialist position, a position
which, ultimately, is rooted not in facts and critical thinking, but
in political and psychological needs.
Hi-Yo, Silver! Away!