Sunday, May 24, 2009

Skeptic or krank? The climate change denial phenomenon.

My Dad is a "Climate change skeptic". I was shocked by this (although he did vote for John Howard on occasion) but he is not the only person to shock me with such an opinion.

To me, not believing in human-caused climate change is a bit like denying the theory of relativity or claiming the earth is 6000 years old - it is just not science. The word "skeptic" (as opposed to "denier" which we know from phrases like "Holocaust denier") creates a false impression of intellectualism. If you dont believe in human-induced global warming then you are, frankly, a crank.

One has to ask: why do people, sometimes quite educated people, turn their back on science with this particular issue?

I have some theories on this.

My Dad is an optimist. "Things always balance out" is one of his catchphrases, which is very soothing and mostly true if you are white male and middleclass. I have to admit, if we look at the history of humanity, people who claimed the end was nigh tended to be nutbags. In a way, those were the nutbags who cried wolf and have now ruined it for the proper scientists who are now correct in saying the end or at least major catastrophe is nigh.

Shame and you, nutbags!

I think at the end of the day accepting that global warming is happening is just too confronting for many people - too inconveient a truth, to quote Al Gore. A much more comforting option is to hope it is a conspiracy of some highly organized global group of scientists. Anyone who knows a scientist, though, also knows that the phrases "highly organised" and "scientist" dont belong in the same sentence.

Scientific knowledge is created and checked and attacked and defended by a process of anonymous peer review. This fact convinces me more than any argument or graph watered down for the layperson. It takes just a quick google search on skeptics such as Bob Carter to find out that none of their theories have been published in scientific journals. Hmmmm, why?

The media, on the other hand, works on infotainment, i.e. feeding the readers the panacea of climate change conspiracy, without bothering to do simple checks for scientific validity of its sources.

My father is an intelligent man who is lapping up this panacea; unfortunately he is not alone.

1 comment:

psychopompous said...

I think psychologically the phenomenon is exactly the same as Holocaust denial, or Armenian-genocide denial (if you're a right-wing Turk), or 911 conspiracy theories blaming the attacks on the CIA (so very popular among anti-American Muslim extremists). It's wishful thinking, at its most impressively irrational. In those cases it's people wanting desperately to believe that their movement/cause was not responsible for some hideous megacrime that it clearly was responsible for, because they find the reality simply too hard to deal with. Ditto climate change for your "sceptics".

Admittedly climate change denial is a lot more popular than most of the others - it's practically mainstream. But then so is Armenian-genocide denial in Turkey - I think it's actually illegal NOT to deny it, in fact. At least things aren't quite that bad with the climate change thing...