Three Shades of Deniers

I wish I had a better name for deniers of climate change.

I don’t like the association with deniers of the Holocaust for reasons that I have mentioned before (May 14 blog) where I have tried to make the case that the analogy exists with the pre-1933 period but not with the post-1945 period. I also don’t like the designation of “skeptics” (August 20 blog) for the reason that the refutability requirement of the Popperian description of the scientific method makes most of us skeptics (that’s probably the reason that most climate change deniers prefer this designation).

I will try to develop something different here and hopefully can do so without unnecessarily offending anybody.

From my own limited experience, I can divide climate change deniers to three different groups that mostly do not communicate with each other:

(1) Deniers of the science. This group basically states that the science is wrong, so there is no need to do anything to counter the impact that scientists predict. Their general tactic is to disagree with some specific piece of the data and then use that as “proof” that the science is wrong in its entirety.

(2) The fatalists. This group fully agrees with both the science and its predicted impact, but believes that since the task of preventing it is so enormous as to be practically undoable, they might as well enjoy life for as long as it lasts. Unfortunately, many in this group are good scientists.

(3) The NIMBY group. I discussed the NIMBY and BANANA phenomena in my last blog. Again, this group believes the science and the predicted impact, but does not want to take responsibility for the steps necessary to mitigate the problem, preferring to pass the task off onto others.

The common denominator in all three groups is the unwillingness to do anything to reduce the likelihood of the predicted impact. In that regard, I suggest we refer to the group using the term DNN, which stands for “Do Nothing Now” (my invention). This is, of course, not to be confused with the “Know Nothing” party of 1850, which doesn’t enjoy a stellar reputation. My only hope is that the term DNNers will not be associated with anything else, so I can use the term until something better comes along.

Among all the DNNers that I am familiar with, the emphasis is not on the science but on the action necessary in order to mitigate the consequences, and the time frame in which that must happen (ie, never, it’s already too late, or now, as long as someone else does it).

One of my favorite exam questions for my courses on climate change reads as follows:

The argument has been made (Dissenting voice in that since the projections say that future generations will be much richer than ours, they should pay for the future impacts of climate change. Argue for and against this position.

I don’t ask students to demonstrate any preference, requiring only that they present detailed argument for and against both positions; however, most students show preference against postponing action. The main reason that students provide is that most of the actions possible are time dependent, and the feasibility of remediation quickly decreases the longer we wait.

One of the most famous DNNers, who managed to make a career out of skepticism, is Bjorn Lomborg, author of the The Skeptical Environmentalist. When the book, Taking Sides: Clashing Views on Environmental Issues poses the question “Is Global Warming a Catastrophe That Warrants Immediate Action?” Lomborg’s answer is a definite no. He agrees that climate change is a problem, but adds that he does not see it as the end of the world. He argues that the impact, such as sea level rise, will not be as severe as some have projected and that society can deal with that impact as it comes (I will discuss adaptation in future blogs). He further argues that:

Neither a tax nor Kyoto nor draconian proposals for future cuts move us closer toward finding better options for the future… Instead, we need to find a way that allows us to ‘develop the science and technology in a beneficial way,’ a way that enables us to provide alternative energy technologies at reasonable prices.

In future blogs, I will try to comment on the concept of “energy at reasonable prices,” with the understanding that the concept of “reasonable” in the US is very different from that of “reasonable” in India and other developing countries.

One of the best analogies that I have read about prioritizing remedies came from an address by Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the former (2003-2010) president of Brazil, in a reported comment on the European fiscal crisis: “Let’s be frank: if Germany had resolved the Greek problem years ago, it wouldn’t have worsened like this. I’ve seen people die of gangrene because they didn’t care for a problematic toenail.”

In my upcoming blogs, I plan to discuss how we can care for our “problematic toenails” through the development of alternative energy sources, so that we can prevent the spread of gangrene in the form of uncontrolled global climate change.

About climatechangefork

Micha Tomkiewicz, Ph.D., is a professor of physics in the Department of Physics, Brooklyn College, the City University of New York. He is also a professor of physics and chemistry in the School for Graduate Studies of the City University of New York. In addition, he is the founding-director of the Environmental Studies Program at Brooklyn College as well as director of the Electrochemistry Institute at that same institution.
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14 Responses to Three Shades of Deniers

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  6. Alexandra Gillis says:

    In your blog post “Three Shades of Deniers” you talk about the different types of climate change deniers in three different categories: those who do not believe the science, those who see climate change as inevitable and those who recognize climate change but don’t want to take responsibility for their contribution. The melting and collapsing of icebergs in West Antarctica has gotten recent media attention (1.) and shone a new light on each of these different types of climate deniers. I have seen the transition between climate discussions from “this is going to happen” to “this is happening”; believers and skeptics have both witnessed this transition, but the journey of the skeptic has been from cloudiness to clarity. Just the other day on Fox News, the most conservative and climate skeptic news network on basic cable, Shepard Smith was reporting on the issue and said ““We’ve passed the point of no return. Climate change: It is real, the science is true.” (2.) This statement shows a clear shift in the point of view of the first shade of denier (the deniers of the science). More catastrophic events will also put this type of denial into perspective. But what do we do about the other two “shades of deniers”? Reports on the West Antarctic ice sheets using words like “unstoppable” certainly doesn’t help the perspective of the fatalist but it’s important for this media attention to emphasize that there is more we can do, and that there is a range of potential damage based on our efforts to change our ways as soon as possible.
    It is unfortunate that we have to reach the “this is happening” phase to have both sides of our constantly battling bipartisan system see eye to eye, but here we are.


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  12. sailrick says:

    I think we know who the fraudsters are.

    Mark Boslough, a physicist at Sandia National Laboratories, says it well

    “Denialists have attempted to call the science into question by writing articles that include fabricated data. They’ve improperly graphed data using tricks to hide evidence that contradicts their beliefs. They chronically misrepresent the careful published work of scientists, distorting all logic and meaning in an organized misinformation campaign. To an uncritical media and gullible non-scientists, this ongoing conflict has had the intended effect: it gives the appearance of a scientific controversy and seems to contradict climate researchers who have stated that the scientific debate over the reality of human-caused climate change is over (statements that have been distorted by denialists to imply the ridiculous claim that in all respects the science is settled).”

  13. Scrooge says:

    I guess its fitting that the first comment belongs to the first group.

  14. Zalman says:

    Have you already forgotten the scandal with the scientists/ fraudsters and what they wrote in their emails?

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