Ever wonder why you’ve never seen a coherent alternative to the anthropogenic greenhouse gas hypothesis? The answer is simple: there isn’t one.
Carbon dioxide traps heat, and humans have been putting more of it into the atmosphere for about 200 years. As it builds, average temperatures rise. Species migrate to cooler latitudes and altitudes, the ocean absorbs more CO2 and becomes less alkaline, and 100-year storms pop up every couple of years.
Denials of these facts generally fall into two categories: piecemeal quibbles and ad hominem attacks. It could be bad data, or for sure it’s that pied-piper Al Gore hoodwinking the gullible greenies.
The tone of climate change denial varies from fatuous superiority to smug scorn. Why is that? It’s because the impulse to deny evidence is childish. Most deniers know at some deep if unacknowledged level that the changing climate is as real as the meltwater on the ice fields of Greenland and as man-made as the waste heat emanating from their computers. They just don’t want it to be true because they don’t like the implications.
Who does? But facts don’t change because someone denies them. Thinking otherwise is a child’s reaction.
One of those implications is personal responsibility. No one wants to feel bad for engaging in social norms, and nothing is more normal in our culture than burning fossil fuels. “Conservatives” think of themselves as good people, and are angered by the suggestion that they’re not. Most of them are good people. They just want to cocoon within their innocence. In other words, they are thoughtless in a literal sense, like a child. And like a child, they lack introspection. (And they’re not conservative, but something else entirely, which I’ll post about soon.)
Another is that they’ll have to change that “normal” way of life. (Kids hate change.) Worse, it’ll involve organized effort, led by—you guessed it—the government (mean Mommy and Daddy), which is the only social organ with the capacity to institute the broad and rapid changes we need to make.
Ironically, some climate action advocates engage in another form of denial. Such changes aren’t necessary, they say. We have the technology; it’s just a matter of finding the political will.
Yes, we have the technology. Yes, we need the political will. But thinking we can overcome 200 years of fossil-fueled inertia and rebuild our physical, economic, and cultural infrastructure without serious dislocations is pure utopianism. As we pull 5%+ of the fossil fuel out of this economy every year for the next 20 years, the standard of living for most of us is going to fall and the way we get around and interact is going to change. A lot. It’ll take that entire transition time and then some before we find a new equilibrium.
The real deniers, though—the ones whose attitudes could destroy civilization as we know it—are backpedaling, if only a little. A recent Associated Press-GfK poll finds that “Even most people who say they don’t trust scientists on the environment say temperatures are rising.” Seventy-eight percent of those polled believe the earth is warming, compared to 75 percent three years ago. Maybe the evidence is getting too overwhelming.
Likewise, some recent commentary I’ve seen concedes the empirical evidence of higher temperatures, while professing climate change agnosticism. But saying “it can’t be known” is still denial. It’s just a subtler form. The deniers may try to equate it to religious agnosticism, but to be agnostic in the face of evidence (the existence of climate change) is not the same thing as to be agnostic in the absence of evidence (the existence of God). It is the opposite.
Of course climate change is real. How many smokers with lung cancer do you have to know before admitting that smoking causes lung cancer?
If you’ve never checked out the debunking of the classic denier arguments at Skeptical Science, take a look.
Meanwhile, the climate will further destabilize despite what any of us thinks or says about it until enough of us recognize the facts and agree to stop it.