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I’m someone who believes there is an alarming prospect that contemporary humanity will modify the world’s climate in a disastrous way.
I plan to set out the kernel of the case, as I see it, in a separate article. In essence, my key concerns haven’t changed for 20 years. But that’s for another day.
Right now – as someone who believes climate change IS a real concern – I want to dicuss the growing use of terms such as ‘Climate Change Deniers’ and ‘Climate Change Denial’.
These quite new expressions are being bandied around with increasing abandon by some of our most prominent ‘public intellectuals’, such as the highly topical Dr Clive Hamilton. It’s time they stopped.
No case that’s based on evidence and logic need vanquish opponents by ‘framing’ the terms of debate in an unfair manner.
If the threat of rapid climate change is real – as I believe it is – we can win the argument fair and square. And we shall.
A little humour might help. Let’s lighten up!
Of course it would be nice to win the debate sooner. But there’s a process we must go through to get there. It’s called rational debate in a complex modern society.
Nothing could be more damaging to achieving a consensus (or near-consensus) on climate change policy than an attempt to force the issue, by seeking to delegitimize those who hold opposing views.
That’s not to say that anyone – in this debate or others – gets a free pass. If arguments are specious or misleading, that should be pointed out. If there’s evidence that opinions are tainted by pecuniary interest and/or corporate influence, that should be aired too.
But people are entitled to disagree. They are entitled to have their views heard. They are entitled to have questions answered. Often, indeed, there is at least some legitimacy in an opponent’s position.
Setting up a categorical distinction between ‘Climate Change Deniers’ and those who ‘Believe’, is problematic for at least three reasons.
First, it’s simply unfair, in debate, to posit a ‘victor’ and a ‘loser’, then use terms to denote the ‘losing’ argument that are loaded and rather derogatory. It’s sneaky and it may sometimes work. But it’s not fair debate. In fair debate, winner and loser are not pre-selected and each side debates the case on its merits, without employing ad hominem slurs..
Second, it oversimplifies. There are more than two perspectives in the debate about climate change. There are many. We should avoid simplistic categorical distinctions that risk polarizing and stultifying a complex discussion.
Third, it unnecessarily provokes a paranoid response.
Few in the western world are unfamiliar with the common fate of another group of people for whom the term ‘Denier’ is used in mainstream discourse. When used in the context of the climate change debate, the sub-text is clear. If you are a ‘Climate Change Denier’, you might be just one step away from extradition, imprisonment, losing your home, suffering intimidation, copping a vicious physical assault or being assassinated.
Understandably, this not so subtle implied threat does nothing to persuade those who hold doubts about the case for rapid action on climate change. People don’t like being marginalized in a threatening way. It’s undemocratic.
20 years ago, when I first began lobbying for action on greenhouse gas emissions, life was not so rosy for people of my persuasion. Contrary to popular myth, for many years there was easy money to be made parroting a corporate ‘there is no problem’ line and/or ‘my industry is not the problem’ line – but relatively little for activists who believe we have a serious problem.
It’s true that balance has shifted over time. It’s an indication that those of us who believe the problem is real are (slowly) winning the worldwide public debate. The evidence has been coming in, bit by bit. A mainstream scientific consensus is developing, step by step. While massive uncertainties remain in modelling and prediction, Governments and corporations have started to take notice of the issue. Some have taken real and effective action to reduce emissions. Many continue to drag their heels.
We don’t need to posit a ‘Climate Change Believer’ v ‘Climate Change Denial’ paradigm to help skew the current debate. It’s unfair, simplistic and likely to be counter-productive. The last thing we need is for progress on climate change policy to be stalled by futile attempts at control freakery.
As proponents of action on climate change, we should be fair and rational with our intellectual opponents. That’s how we turn them into allies.
After all, nobody wants a ruined planet. So let’s look at the evidence together. There’s no need to shout.
And leave heresy out of the discussion. It’s not useful.