My post on the NASA data revision and Hansen’s emails resulted in a tremendous amount of new visitors who provided thoughtful comments on both sides.
Many expressed doubts about the threat posed by global warming because: 1) the warming won’t be very severe, and/or 2) the planet is just going through a “natural” warming cycle, and/or 3) humans can’t do much to change things (because either we aren’t the main cause or the kind of emissions reductions needed are beyond the world’s capability). I won’t rebut those views here — that is the goal of this blog and my book.
These doubters don’t like being called names, especialy Denier/Denyer — and who can blame them? I am trying in this post to be clear about my terms. [Note, I use Denyer with a ‘y’ because that’s what my publisher recommended for my book.]
I do not consider the vast majority of those doubters to be Denyers, and I doubt Hansen considers them “court jesters.” The Denyers are people who actively spread misinformation or disinformation, sometimes with funding from fossil fuel companies, but who in any case do so for a living and/or who do know better — or should.
Obviously, that latter point is a judgment call, but as my many posts about, say, the Denyers at Planet Gore demonstrate, these folks just make stuff up or willfully misinterpret the facts or the research. Michael Crichton, as a professional writer of persuasive fiction(s), is perhaps the archetypal Denyer. Indeed, I would say the defining characteristic of Denyers is that they repeat arguments/fictions that have long been debunked. For them, no amount of scientific evidence is persuasive.
For me, you are a definitely a professional Denyer if you work to obfuscate the climate change issue for an organization that has taken money from ExxonMobil. Another clue is if you follow the detailed rhetorical strategy laid out by conservative message guru Frank Luntz in his infamous memo on the environment.
Most people — including most doubters — are not in a position to render scientific judgments on climate change. They must decide whom they trust. In general, Denyers are conservatives or libertarians from places like the Competitive Enterprise Institute. So it is no surprise that doubters, who are also typically conservatives or libertarians, are more willing to put their trust in the Denyers.
Also, a point I make in my book is that because the solution to global warming requires strong government-led efforts — to put in place a carbon dioxide cap-and-trade system and efficiency standards — people who don’t believe in strong government are much less predisposed to believe in a problem that requires such a solution.
Most of the doubters have gravitated to whatever arguments/myths from the Denyers that strike a chord with them (e.g. natural cycles, Mars is warming, it’s all solar activity, and so on). Most doubters strike me as reasonable people who, unfortunately, are probably beyond persuasion, at least for now.
That may change over the next decade, if one recent prediction — that we are going to warm a remarkable 0.3°C between 2004 and 2014 — comes true, and if that results in dramatic impacts by 2020, such as the Arctic going ice free in the summer or the rate of sea level rise doubling. Sadly, though, even that will not persuade many doubters, since they believe this is just natural planetary warming.
In any case, I just wanted to make clear that I don’t consider someone a Denyer just because they don’t believe human-caused global warming is a serious, but solvable, problem. Denyer is a strong term and should be reserved for professional misinformers and disinformers.
I also sometimes use the term Delayer, for those professional misinformers shrewd enough to concede human-caused global warming is occurring — because the scientific evidence for that is now overwhelming — but who say we can’t act now because we don’t yet have the necessary technologies — I have a whole chapter in my book, Hell and High Water, on this “technology trap.”
I hope some of the doubters who visited in the last few days will stick around. Global warming is the defining issue of our time — and long after people have forgotten about Iraq, historians and our children will judge us harshly — will curse our names — if, as Hansen says, “tipping points are passed, if we, in effect, destroy Creation, passing on to our children, grandchildren, and the unborn a situation out of their control.”