Commentary: Why do climate deniers deny?

During many talks on climate science, I’ve answered innumerable denials of the reality of human-caused climate change. Examining the reasons underlying these denials, one thing is clear: It’s never an objective examination of the science.

What is it? Occasionally it’s based on religious beliefs — it’s foreordained that the “elements shall be melted with heat, and the earth, …shall be burnt up.” More frequently, “it’s too costly to deal with.” Or, “I like my lifestyle and won’t change it.”

But most frequently it’s ideological: A good example was the overwrought column in the Feb. 1st Atascadero News: “A pretense to save the planet.” We read that the agenda by “Progressives/Democrats” in combating climate change is “redistribution of wealth and the elimination of free-market capitalism” and replacing it with socialism.

Actually, concern about human-induced climate change arises from a discipline called science. Aside from a brief reference to hurricanes and “thousands of scientists who strongly object to misuse of their work” (what work?; published in what journals?) scientific evidence is ignored, as is typical of deniers with this mindset.

See my website for an extended version of this column, including references and figures and a link to the Feb. 1 column.  Those genuinely interested in the evidence assembled by climate scientists should read it. I predict no denier will, or if they do, will rummage through denier websites to produce factoids that are incorrect or totally misleading. My website post provides an example from a previous column by the Feb. 1 author.

A climate scientist I consulted has 42 peer-reviewed publications in professional journals between 2015 and January 2019. The comparable publication record for the “scientist” referenced in the Feb. 1 column, Joe Bastardi, is — zero. A typical statement from Mr. Bastardi, “CO2 cannot cause global warming…it doesn’t mix well with the atmosphere…” The real climate scientist above commented, “Utter rubbish. Sorry to be so direct, but that is just the case.” Indeed, it is. My 11-year old granddaughter knows better.

About hurricanes: their formation and intensity depend on complex competing processes which vary from year to year, making detection of a trend difficult. Here is an email from a leading hurricane expert.

“There has certainly been an increase in Atlantic hurricane activity since the early 1980s, but …that may be due to diminishing [human produced particulates] rather than increasing greenhouse gases. But the theory and modeling of hurricanes points robustly towards an increase in…high-intensity storms and in hurricane rainfall… we expect that signal to become robust …within the next few decades. [What we see already is] consistent with our expectation…” My website post discusses ‘signal-to-noise.’

Other measures of climate change, however, are already very robust. The annual loss of ice from Antarctica is now six times greater than in 1980-1990. Sea level is rising at an accelerating rate, fueled by ice loss from Greenland and Antarctica. It is likely to rise 3 feet, possibly 6 feet, by 2100. Oceans are heating up at an accelerating pace, setting temperature records in 2018. In 140 years of instrument surface temperatures, the hottest five all occurred since 2014. This and other evidence point with certainty “beyond a reasonable doubt” to a strong warming trend with no viable scientific explanation except the human-caused increase in greenhouse gases.

The Feb. 1 column suggests fossil fuels are “moral.” Jared Diamond’s book “Guns, Germs and Steel” describes what led to the western world’s dominance in technology. That technology enabled the extraction of fossil fuel energy and increased living standards. But abundant energy per se is the key — whether its energy from coal, solar, wind or nuclear. But their impacts aren’t equal. There is nothing “moral” about mercury poisoning, ruined streams, foul air, and black lung disease from coal, or from catastrophic oil spills. 

Is such an energy transition a “job-killer?” In many locations, solar and wind out-compete coal and compete with natural gas in cost. In 2017 solar energy employed more people in power generation than coal, gas and oil combined. We absolutely need investment in better batteries for electric vehicles, improved electrical storage, and modernized electrical grids. Should there be financial incentives for this energy transition? A group including Republicans Henry Paulson, George Shultz and James Baker proposed a carbon tax for such incentives. Recently, so did 45 leading economists from across the political spectrum, and in The Wall Street Journal! Are they all closeted members of a fevered group of socialists bent on destroying capitalism and imposing socialism?

It’s ironic to fret about replacing capitalism, given the current Administration’s policy to prop up coal that can’t compete on the free market, most recently by exerting pressure on the Tennessee Valley Authority to keep open a costly, uneconomical coal plant.

If either ignorance of the observational evidence or the basic laws of physics that underlie the urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions were due to lack of intellect, it might be excused. But that isn’t the case. The columnist in question is intelligent but obsessed with the notion that dealing with climate change must lead to a socialist society. Columns such as those aren’t just wrong, they are deeply irresponsible.


More In Opinion