Climate Skeptic - Climate Change Denier

George Marshall and co-author Mark Lynas published the first reference to “climate denier” in the English-language press in a 2003 op-ed they wrote for the left-leaning magazine The New Statesman. The term was intended to “sting,” Ralph Benko writes. He cites Jean Chemnick as summarizing, “In politics, there was ‘Holocaust denial,’ ‘moon-landing denial’ and ‘evolution denial’ — all flowing from Freud, with its implications not only of untruth but of mental illness. And now the word’s in the center ring of the global warming fight: ‘climate denial.’”

More broadly, a climate skeptic refers to someone who is not yet convinced by the evidence for human-induced global warming.  The phrase "climate denial" is a comparison to "holocaust denial" - casting those who question in a light of willfully denying what is happening.

Meanwhile, many of the climate scientists who are accused of being “deniers” by progressive organizations are actually convinced that humans are, in fact, changing the climate through carbon emissions, but they do not believe the current policy urgency is justified.  Thus Richard Lindzen, Judith Curry, Roger Pielke, Sr., and other credible scientists whose work is sometimes cited by right-leaning organizations to justify delaying climate policy may be more accurately described as “lukewarmers” or uncertain.

“Climate change has always been a kind of a framing war,” said George Marshall, founder of the Climate Outreach Information Network - “If you can get out there and you can get your language inserted into the discourse, it’s your ideas that dominate.”

For those on the right, this has created an atmosphere that is increasingly punishing and hostile to dissent. For instance, John Carpenter, writing in the the Chicago Tribune, says that Al Gore has spoken of the need to “punish climate-change deniers, saying politicians should pay a price for rejecting ‘accepted science.’” President Obama has encouraged Americans to “Find the deniers near you—and call them out today.One petition was submitted to a major newspaper bearing more than 110,000 signatures - demanding a ban on any article questioning global warming.

For those convinced of the reality and urgency of climate change, any validity the “denier” point of view might have deserved has been underminedby (what they believe have been) concerted efforts by energy companies and their allies to rebut evidence of climate change that they know is legitimate, solely for their financial protection (akin to the cigarette industry’s long attempts to hide evidence of harm without regard for people’s welfare). They point to large sums of money having been invested in developing “experts” and “science” that they believe are inherently corrupted, in order to persuade the public to discount warnings and findings about climate change.

Without denying the possible influence of industry funds, climate skeptics argue that the influence of money and power can be seen on the other side as well - arguably shaping many of the conclusions about climate concern. If that is true, the argument goes, in neither case should the context of power and money be used to stifle legitimate, genuine questions or critique - or be used as justification to shut the conversation down. Thus, a primary concern of climate skeptics is simply having the space to continue to still raise concern, dissent, and questions in an open public conversation.

QUESTIONS TO PLAY WITH:

- Do you find this term – climate change denier – helpful or unhelpful?  Explain your answer.

- Do you believe this term opens or shuts down conversation?  If the latter, then do you believe people are using it with a deliberate intention to silence?   

- When society faces an issue this serious, with such potentially huge impacts (from climate change and/or efforts to reduce it), how to we get the “facts” on the table to be considered when there is so little trust in “the other side’s” description of reality?

Contributors: 

Michael Strong, Mary Jacksteit, Jacob Hess

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