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Why I’m Sceptical About Climate Change Sceptics

November 27, 2009

An under discussed topic, to my mind at least, is the sheer exuberance with which stupid people strive to innovate new and better ways of being unspeakably annoying.

Generally, there are two levels of achievement which stupid people can strive for; primarily being so annoying they make you want to poke their eyes out and, for the high achievers, being so annoying they make you want to poke your own eyes out.

In the first category fall the majority of reality TV stars, people who think Dan Brown is a literary genius, and people who insist on saying place names in over accentuated tongue in order to display their sophistication. We all know there is a sh sound in Budapest and if Greek people don’t feel the need to call it Athena when speaking in English, than neither should you.

As the world grows fecund with stupidity, the bar for getting into the second category continues to rise. Entrants need to attain a persistent level of blood curdling aggravation in their stupidity in order to succeed. Past luminaries include George Bush, all of my ex-boyfriends, anyone associated with Fox news, and last but by no means least, climate change sceptics.

Very few things leave me speechless but climate change sceptics frequently leave me gagging for air in sheer disbelief. I really, really, just don’t understand. I am completely happy for people to disagree about the policy prescriptions but who in their right minds can honestly believe that billions and billions of people driving billions of miles and burning billions of tonnes of coal year after year after year will have absolutely no effect on our lovely little planet? This is modesty for the clinically insane.

But then again climate sceptics do seem to have a slightly altered perception of scale. The recent hacking into the email accounts of the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit was billed by climate sceptics as unearthing the greatest scandal in modern science. Well Charles Darwin must be rolling in his grave. The poor man had to completely upend science, history and religion as we knew it in order to create a proper scandal. Now we are being told that a few sentences taken out of context is all it takes. Honestly standards just aren’t what they used to be. Back when I was young we had to get up before we went to bed, spend 27 hours a day creating scandal by writing blasphemies backwards in our own blood on the skin of our grandmothers while being whipped by circus bears. And we were lucky.

However, the thing that I really struggle with about climate change sceptics is not actually their denial of climate change and their desperate attempts to discredit anyone or any fact to do with it. It is the implied logic that follows. Climate change is bogus so we should continue behaving just as we are. Sceptics tend to get most riled up over topics such as moving away from coal and oil or from limiting consumption or industry because they believe that human activity doesn’t affect the climate. Ok fine, whateverz; let’s take that suggestion on board for a moment. Anthropogenic climate change off the table. But tell me kind deniers, what do you suggest we do about peak oil? Where do you suggest we get the resources for ten billion people to have plasma TVs and triple ply toilet paper? Exactly how much of the Amazon are you hoping to have cut down? All of it or would you like a little greenery left around the hotels so the tourists can get a nice photo or two?

My question for climate change sceptics is this? Why are you bothering? What possible positive benefit do you see yourself having on humanity? In all genuine curiosity what drives your passion and spluttering outrage? Because god knows you seem to have some.

Now I know this might be over thinking the issue and we could just put it down to them all being crackpots. But the more interesting question is not are they crack pots, but why are they crack pots and what drives all this crackpottery? Unlike say, fascists or hipsters, I don’t believe climate change sceptics are intrinsically bad people. I think they truly believe that human driven climate change isn’t happening and that it is of desperate importance that the truth of the matter be heard and acted upon. But even if climate change is a big old hoax cooked up by scientific collusion and power-hungry politicians, explain the down side to me? The most anyone is seriously suggesting we do is be a little bit more thoughtful about how we live our lives and a little less wasteful. What would make a person so obsessed with opposing this?

Vaclav Klaus who, by the way, considers himself to be the “the most important ‘denier’ in the world” says that concern about climate change is a “new wave of dangerous indoctrination of the whole world” and that “global-warming alarmism is challenging our freedom, and Al Gore is a leader of that movement.” Sorry, what? I know he is running a competition with Silvio Berlusconi for most ridiculous leader of a European country but seriously, this is a man who lived through the great big freedom fest that was soviet communism. You remember, iron curtain, NKVD, ice picks to the skull. Well I suppose people do frequently say Al Gore, “Just like Stalin only less facial hair”.

Honestly, the mind boggles.

Are these people living in a different reality? Well that is an interesting question. And the answer may actually be yes. A recent report noted that people over 65 are much more likely to be climate deniers than any other age group. This is odd, because as any young person would know, old people love going on about how much they know and how true understanding is the purview of only the grey and the wrinkly.  Is it possible that actually this lauded wisdom and clarity which age brings has a slightly unexpected effect? For example, illustrating the prospects of the future with such terrifying clarity that it causes a repression of such severity it forces the sufferer to create an equally powerful opposite understanding or reality? Now stay with me here.

As absurd as it sounds, Ernest Becker proposed something similar to this in his theory of “vital lies”. He said that the idea of dying could be so horrifying that people would lie to themselves about it. Vital lies are psychological phenomena which “undermine any conscious and subjective knowledge of what we fear”. They are the ways in which we essentially alter our perception of reality in order to make it more palatable. Studies have shown that when people are reminded of death they respond by entrenching their ideologies and rejecting anything or anyone that contradicts or threatens it.  Is it possible that climate change sceptics had such a strong vision of death and destruction wrought by climate change that they promptly repressed and opposed it?

Slavoj Zizek once noted that “a conservative, as if he were afraid of the new medium, has a much better grasp of its uncanny radical potentials.” What he meant was that all the people who railed against the impending doom that was coming from industrialisation and cars, and planes, and the television and the internet, had a far better understanding of the momentous changes  these technologies would bring than the people who embraced them. Climate deniers would seem to have only a clear idea of the terror of unbridled environmentalists, but what if this is actually a Freudian manifestation of a deeper fear of climate change?

What if indeed. What good does this actually do for anyone actually hoping to effect any tiny positive change on the environment? Well, not much really.

But here is a parting thought. Perhaps climate change deniers are actually one of the most important aspects to finding a solution to climate change. Last week I wrote my first letter to my local member of parliament, not because she had done anything particularly noteworthy but because I was so incensed by the opposition parties ranting about climate change being a hoax. Vigorous debate, in science, in politics and in real life is often lauded for its ability to point out the flaws in our opinions which allows us to evolve and improve them. But opposition, especially the stupid and vituperative kinds, also serves another purpose – it galvanises us, it fortifies our beliefs and spurs us to action. So the next time your glance accidently falls onto an open Daily Mail, or you inadvertently flick on to Fox news, don’t avert your eyes, embrace the bile and say your blessings to the universe for giving us stupid people.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. StrangeGlobal permalink
    December 6, 2009 11:28 pm

    Fantastic post. I’m so glad I found this blog!

  2. December 7, 2009 4:24 am

    Wonderfully conceived piece….that gives slight pause. Speaking as a member of a culture feeling variously duped by government/banking duplicity, I suspect for some, anything so touted by those self same people is tainted….unfortunately, your subject at hand being a case in point.

    Would that Carl Sagan had survived to shepherd the cause. Your anger at the complacency will, with hope, settle to a cold analysis leading to intelligent courses of action.

    Nothing like a good rant to blow out the intakes…now let’s move on.

  3. einsteinsdreams permalink*
    December 8, 2009 1:12 am

    I have been musing on your comment and I cant say that I entirely disagree with your logic. That the bungling and slightly sinister Australian Liberal party has taken up the idea of nuclear energy as a climate change policy has suddenly made it seem a great deal less appealing by association.

    However as the enlightened rational beings that we like to believe we are, surely we should be able to rise above ephemera and focus on the science? What good are our faculties of logic, rationality and independent thought, if they are slaves to our emotional responses?

    Governments and banks have certainly done an excellent job of losing our trust, but surely we are foolish creatures indeed if we are unable to analyse each issue as it comes and judge them by their own merits?

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