“Climate Denier”? or “Those Who Reject Mainstream Climate Science?”

September 26, 2015

Should we call climate deniers “climate deniers”? or something else.

Surprising sparks fly as the Associated Press’ Seth Borenstein is pressed by NPR “On the Media”s  Bob Garfield as to whether it makes sense to call a denier a denier.

I made this decision when I launched the Climate Denial Crock of the Week series in 2009.  At that time, I was being cautioned against using the “D” word, since, number one, it has the automatic association with “Holocaust Denier”.  It’s said this serves climate denier’s natural tendency to play the victim card.

But at that time, having met enough “skeptics” first hand, and having them lie baldly right in front of me, I felt that only “denier” could capture the true essence.  Now it’s standard usage for Obama, so I think that horse, no matter how hard AP may try, is out of the barn.


27 Responses to ““Climate Denier”? or “Those Who Reject Mainstream Climate Science?””

  1. How about convenience-prostitute? It is clear that many who reject mainstream science do so because it’s inconvenient to their political standing or world view, and generally do not grasp (and have no intention of understanding) the elemental physics involved. I believe these are usually the kind we call deniers.

    A distinction will have to be done with those who do accept the physics involved but have not yet come to terms with the severity of the issue. Those are at face value simply climate-optimists – hoping it’s not really that serious, that the results will be on the positive side of the spectrum. I guess we call these luke-warmers. But a vast majority of people are simply wearing a luke-warmer mask, concealing a convenience-prostitute attitude, or just one accepting a higher risk.

    There is a disconnect to how some people perceive risk, where the amount of optimism rises exponentially with the amount of recklessness.

    • otter17 Says:

      And at this point, the recklessness is very high, for sure.

      Do you know of any psychology literature that finds the relationship between perceived risk optimism and the severity of the recklessness in the risk?

      I have been collecting psychology tid bits lately that are applicable to this issue. It helps understand the mindset, for sure.

      • Well, there is the idea of “when there is no hope, what’s left is to hope”. I am not familiar with the psychology or the terms used but it’s easy to observe that at one point people leave rational thinking in favour of hoping (or praying if they are religious). Some do this when they are about to embark on risky behaviour and in some sense have to leave the rational mind in order to build courage to do the irrational. A lot of people who are sitting on the fence about the climate change problem are quite likely in this camp where they try to shake of the unpleasant facts and science in the hope that they might have over-estimated or “new science” will prove it wrong. It’s not that they deny the current science, it just doesn’t fit with a busy daily schedule to start going all altruistic and worry about the planet. In some sense perfectly understandable as a survival instinct in the short term, but also a sign that there are social ties and acceptance in “the pack” that clouds the issue. “Stop being such a doomer…” etc. – Worrying about it generally doesn’t impress the ladies. For many that’s all it takes to turn off the rational mind.

        If only more could see that it’s a sign of strength to want to change the world to something better, and in this case take on what seems like an impossible task.

      • dumboldguy Says:

        There’s a lot of “psych literature” out there that’s pertinent, if perhaps not as narrow as “the relationship between perceived risk optimism and the severity of the recklessness in the risk” Peter has posted some of it on Crock. I’ve read a lot but haven’t cataloged it, so I can’t help you much. Have you read The Republican Brain? And here’s one I just came across that has some relevance.


  2. Gingerbaker Says:

    Dave Roberts has suggested “climate truthers”.

  3. otter17 Says:


    “A contrarian is a person who takes up a contrary position, especially a position that is opposed to that of the majority, regardless of how unpopular it may be.[1] Contrarian styles of argument and disagreement have historically been associated with radicalism and dissent.”


    Now, Borenstein may be making the case that allows the AP to avoid rocking any boats, no matter how appeasing that may be to a segment of the population that is just flat wrong on a vast majority of the subject. Borenstein may be right on Dr. Christy from Huntsville, and I wouldn’t call him a denier by any stretch, since there is a range. Christy is a contrarian or doubter, or “one who rejects mainstream climate science”.

    Those that are so obviously biased by solution aversion, conflict of interest, etc, that they don’t think the rise in CO2 concentrations is due to fossil fuels, or that the Earth hasn’t warmed, or that the sun has caused the warming, or whatever are certainly deniers and those traits have obvious parallels with Holocaust deniers in the complete bypassing of facts to rationalize an immoral point of view. In the case of Holocaust deniers, they generally have some bias against those hurt by the Holocaust or a bias to protect those that perpetrated it. In the case of climate deniers, they generally have some bias against the proposed solutions or a bias that protects their own financial interests no matter what may happen to somebody else.

    Denier is an exceedingly accurate term for some segment of those that reject mainstream climate science. Use contrarian or doubter for those that can at least muster the gumption to agree that the planet is warming due to fossil fuel emissions. With how much we have known over the past two decades, the luke warmers are the actual doubters and contrarians. Deniers are those that feel it is ok to play planetary russian roulette.

    • Similarly, I think there is a range in the knowledge of understanding the ramifications of failing to zero greenhouse gas emissions. I sometimes wonder, nay, I know that some of this is propaganda from policymakers as well-respected as the UNFCCC.

      In particular, I think there’s a fear, perhaps justified, that if people think zeroing emissions won’t have a beneficial effect, that will disincentivize people from doing it. But, in fact, the research on the matter suggests that all zeroing will do is _keep_ _it_ _from_ _getting_ _worse_. Moreover, I don’t think many policymakers understand the concept of _lags_, in the sense that they occur in lumpy, linear systems (and certainly in non-linear ones), and in the sense of phase shifts. And I daresay a lot of the public does not.

      Then, too, there are other kinds of optimists, ranging from people who believe it is realistic, if improbable, that economies can reduce their energy consumption to the point of sustainability, however powerful that is combined with rollouts of zero Carbon energy, to people who argue that managing forests or agriculture just the right way can not only stop CO2 buildup in atmosphere, but reverse it. Recent work has even suggested that even when CO2 emissions _are_ zeroed, a program of withdrawing CO2 from atmosphere more aggressively than natural processes won’t have much effect upon planetary temperatures, for several centuries. (This is, as I understand it, due to equilibration with heat stored in oceans, which is known to require many thousands of years to release.) But I don’t know if people have courage to emphasize this, or whether it is simply realism to think all these findings are simply discouraging.

      Obama practically admits in the last episode of first seasons of _Years_ _of_ _Living_ _Dangerously_, that democracies and, in particular, the U.S. Constitution is incapable of solving this problem as fast as is needed. And his process is based more upon hope and faith in it than evidence. And, while the zero Carbon energy sector has made remarkable strides in efficiency and rollout, which I very much believe we should pursue, that market mechanism, with or without government help, won’t achieve where we need to be to keep from the +3 degree C zone.

      Seems to me that this is an echo of the problem Pericles had in Athens, per Thucydides, compounded by the lack of respect and scientific education in the populace, and extreme empowerment of individuals which things like the Internet help provide. None of those are killers in themselves, but they are a toxic brew.

      “Planetary russian roulette” indeed. But more like dicing with critters from the world of Lyapunov, http://www.efg2.com/Lab/FractalsAndChaos/Lyapunov.htm.

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