Why deny climate change?
MOST PROMINENT CLIMATE DENIERS ARE ON THE FOSSIL-FUEL TAKE.
The Trump administration is, it goes without saying, deeply anti-science. In fact, it is antiobjective reality. But its control of the government remains limited; it didn’t extend far enough to prevent the release of the latest National Climate Assessment, which details current and expected future impacts of global warming on the United States.
The assessment basically confirms, with a great deal of additional detail, what anyone following climate science already knew: Climate change poses a major threat to the nation, and some of its adverse effects are already being felt. For example, the report highlights the growing risks of wildfire in the Southwest; global warming, not failure to rake the leaves, is why wildfires are getting ever bigger and more dangerous.
But the Trump administration and its allies in Congress will, of course, ignore this analysis. Denying climate change, no matter what the evidence, has become a core Republican princi- ple. And it’s worth trying to understand both how that happened and the sheer depravity involved in being a denialist at this point.
Wait, isn’t depravity too strong a term? Aren’t people allowed to disagree with conventional wisdom, even if that wisdom is supported by overwhelming scientific consensus?
Yes, they are – as long as their arguments are made in good faith. But there are almost no good-faith climatechange deniers. And denying science for profit, political advantage or ego satisfaction is not OK; when failure to act on the science may have terrible consequences, denial is, as I said, depraved.
The best recent book I’ve read on all this is “The Madhouse Effect” by Michael E. Mann, a leading climate scientist, with cartoons by Tom Toles. As Mann explains, climate denial actually follows in the footsteps of earlier science denial, beginning with the long campaign by tobacco companies to confuse the public about the dangers of smoking.
The shocking truth is that by the 1950s, these companies knew that smoking caused lung cancer; but they spent large sums propping up the appearance that there was a real controversy about this link.
In many ways, climate denialism resembles cancer denialism. Businesses with a financial interest in confusing the public – in this case, fossil-fuel companies – are prime movers. As far as I can tell, every one of the handful of wellknown scientists who have expressed climate skepticism has received large sums of money from these companies or from dark money conduits like DonorsTrust.
But climate denial has sunk deeper political roots than cancer denial ever did. In practice, you can’t be a modern Republican in good standing unless you deny the reality of global warming, assert that it has natural causes or insist that nothing can be done about it without destroying the economy.
Why would anyone go along with such things? Money is still the main answer: Almost all prominent climate deniers are on the fossil-fuel take. However, ideology is also a factor: If you take environmental issues seriously, you are led to the need for government regulation of some kind, so rigid free-market ideologues don’t want to believe that environmental concerns are real.
And these motives matter. If important players opposed climate action out of good-faith disagreement with the science, that would be a shame but not a sin, calling for better efforts at persuasion. As it is, however, climate denial is rooted in greed, opportunism, and ego.
Climate change isn’t just killing people; it may well kill civilization. Trying to confuse the public about that is evil on a whole different level. Don’t some of these people have children?
And let’s be clear: While Donald Trump is a prime example of the depravity of climate denial, this is an issue on which his whole party went over to the dark side years ago. Republicans don’t just have bad ideas; at this point, they are, necessarily, bad people.