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Climate Science Disinformers Are Nothing Like Holocaust Deniers

By Joe Romm on May 21, 2012 at 12:30 pm

"Climate Science Disinformers Are Nothing Like Holocaust Deniers"

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Since I lost many relatives in the Holocaust, I understand all too well the unique nature of that catastrophe. The Holocaust is not an analogue to global warming, which is an utterly different kind of catastrophe, and, obviously, one whose worst impacts are yet to come.

I have explained this many times, including a 2008 post (“PLEASE stop calling them skeptics“) and in my 2009 post, “Anti-science conservatives are stuck in denial but for climate science activists, the reverse is true,” which I’ll excerpt in this post.

Over the years, I have explained why “denier” is not my preferred term. I tried to coin the terms “delayer” and “disinformer” for those who make a living spreading disinformation about climate science — and I still use the term ‘disinformer.’  But coining terms is nearly impossible, and the fact is that almost everybody has embraced the term “deniers” – including many, many disinformers.

As the National Center for Science Education explains in their 2012 post, “Why Is It Called Denial?

“Denial” is the term preferred even by many deniers. “I actually like ‘denier.’ That’s closer than skeptic,” says MIT’s Richard Lindzen, one of the most prominent deniers. Minnesotans for Global Warming and other major denier groups go so far as to sing, “I’m a Denier!”.

Heck, even disinformers associated with the hard-core extremists at the Heartland Institute like the term:

So clearly, using the term ‘denier’ doesn’t inherently mean you are equating a disinformer with a Holocaust denier. So if for no reason than for clarity’s sake — as well as for people doing web searches — we seem to be stuck with ‘denier’ for general usage.

But undefined labels are always subject to criticism and out-of-context attacks, especially by people who spread disinformation for a living, so I’m a big fan of defining one’s terms, as NCSE does in its post. As I have written many times in the past:

I understand that some of the deniers take offense at the apparent implication that they are like Holocaust deniers.  I am not trying to make that connection — since climate science deniers are nothing like Holocaust deniers.  Holocaust deniers are denying an established fact from the past.  If the media or politicians or the public took them at all seriously, I suppose it might increase the chances of a future Holocaust. But, in fact, they are very marginalized, and are inevitably attacked and criticized widely whenever they try to spread their disinformation, so they have no significant impact on society.

The climate science deniers, however, are very different and far more worrisome. They are not marginalized, but rather very well-funded and treated quite seriously by the status quo media.  They are trying to persuade people not to take action on a problem that has not yet become catastrophic, but which will certainly do so if we listen to them and delay acting much longer.

This doesn’t stop the disinformers from misrepresenting what one was trying to say, of course, since that is what they do for a living.

Recently, some disinformers have tried to claim I was saying something other than what I was in my May 3 post “False Balance On Climate Change at PBS NewsHour.”

In that unusually prescient post — written the day before the Heartland Institute imploded by launching its billboard linking climate science believers to the Unabomber — I criticized PBS for not quoting any scientists in their story while quoting two people pushing disinformation: Mitt Romney … and a Heartland ‘expert’! I have updated that post to be crystal clear what I meant.

What I was saying is that in the spectrum of disinformation, PBS obviously would not simply let the most extreme kind of disinformer — a Holocaust denier — push their lies followed by some small disclaimer. And to be clear, I always want to draw a distinction between the spectrum of disinformation on the one hand and the spectrum of likely impact of that disinformation on the other. You can lie about a stone cold fact, but not do a lot of damage if folks don’t believe you and the media doesn’t treat you seriously. You can lie about a very high probability outcome (that your own lie makes far more likely) and do a staggering amount of damage if a substantial amount of one political party believes you and if the media does treat you seriously.

In contrast to this nothing-burger, the disinformers proudly and aggressively go far beyond the pale on a regular basis — often at an institutional level.  If that wasn’t clear before, the Heartland Institute meltdown has demonstrated to the world that the hard-core deniers won’t back down from the most extremist hate speech.

Even two weeks after launching their widely condemned campaign comparing believers in climate science to “murderers and madmen,” Heartland is still doubling down on its rhetoric:

Of course, leading disinformers like The Viscount Monckton of Brenchley routinely invoke the most extreme language and then keep using it over and over again – see Lord Monckton repeats and expands on his charge that those who embrace climate science are “Hitler youth” and fascists.

And just last week, one of the remaining “Heartland experts,” Alan Caruba, wrote a piece titled “Climate Nazis,” which contains these absurdities:

Antihumanism has been around a long time. As Dr. Zubin points out, it has taken the form of “Darwinism, eugenics, German militarism, Nazism, xenophobia, the population control movement, environmentalism, technophobia, and most recently, the incredibly demented climatophobic movement, which seeks to justify mass human sacrifice for the purpose of weather control.”

Al Gore, James Hansen, and even President Obama’s science advisor, John Holden, are card-carrying members of this cult….

God knows I would like to ignore or — better still — never have to hear from these climate Nazis, but that is not going to happen so long as The New York Times, the United Nations, and a host of others keep repeating their lethal lies.

Caruba is the founder of The National Anxiety Center.  Seriously.

Don’t be fooled by the disinformers puffing smoke in your face. Nothing is more pro-human than working to stop catastrophic climate change:

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43 Responses to Climate Science Disinformers Are Nothing Like Holocaust Deniers

  1. John Samuel says:

    I’ve started calling them ignorists.

    • Joe Romm says:

      The ignorati is a term many use, but that strikes me as a term for those who willfully ignore the facts not those who actively spread disinformation.

  2. MA Rodger says:

    We do scrabble to find the words to describe these “deniers” because of linguistic conundrums. For instance, the act of being ‘untruthful’ strongly implies the deceipt of a liar rather than the ‘wanton ignorance’ which is more the measure of the likes of Lindzen & Monckton.
    If these wholly untrustworthy commentators are happy being “deniers” perhaps a new noun should be chosen to characerise more fully their perverse scientific opinion. So what is it we call people who hold perverse opinion?

  3. Tom King says:

    A great post that has given me pause to rethink my terminology. I think I’ll start describing deniers as “Climate Partisans”. After all, they will only consider one side of the debate while Climate Defenders have weighed the evidence from both sides before reaching their conclusions.

  4. Cornelius Breadbasket says:

    I like Richard Alley’s term – ostrich.

  5. Tim Palmer says:

    I am continually amazed at how quickly the disinformative comments come swarming in after a post by someone like James Hansen. The comments denigrating the motives of climate scientists (climate Nazis, eco-terrorists, etc) never fail to astound me. Responses generally range from the absurd through to pseudoscientific.

    Occassionally, someone with climate science background will post something that appears to be a genuine, reasonable counter to some aspect of the current global climate change consensus.

    Posts such as these deserve the benefit of considerate discussion!

    It is difficult enough to swim upstream against your peers and the formal review process. However, it must be downright disheartening to have to do so while seen in the company of a gaggle of fossil-fuel stoked disinformers and their genuinely confused, misinformed fans.

    To be fair, there are also a fair number of folks on the anthropogenic side of the issue who would do well to brush up on the scientifice principals involved.

    It is all too easy to follow blindly…

  6. We have the same “conservative think tanks,” funded by the Koch Brother and others trying to kill our electric rail mass transit project here in Honolulu. These organized climate change deniers obviously prefer petroleum powered vehicles, roads and suburban sprawl. Ironically, they have some of our dimwitted local environmentalist agreeing with them because they are convinced rail is not a green solution HELP!

  7. bjedwards says:

    I think the definition of “denier” and “denialism” advanced by Mark and Chris Hoofnagle a few years ago is the most appropriate. It puts the emphasis where it should be: on the nature, methodology, tactics, and political motivation of denialists.

    Holocaust Deniers are just one of many denialist groups out there and one may explain denialism without the need to explicitly or implicity refer to Holocaust Deniers, We have gotten through a decade of use of the term “9/11 Deniers” without much hoopla. Equally, we often refer to moon-landing deniers, round-earth deniers, HIV deniers, vaccine deniers and so on. We need to make it clear that “denialism” is what climate change deniers practice and what exactly denialism is.

    I think it is mistake to avoid the use of the term “denier” as it is a descriptive term of the commonality of “denialism” across different denialist groups. To remove “denier” from, say, the term “Climate Change Denier” and substitute a different term leads one to make an unwarranted distinction of what “Climate Change ‘Contrarians’” do and every other denialist group known as “deniers” do. There is no actual difference so why give climate change deniers a pass? Instead educate them what denialism is and why they fit the definition.

    See:

    “What is Denialism”
    http://scienceblogs.com/denialism/about.php

  8. Toby says:

    Deniers are “in denial”, a stage we all go through when faced with unpleasant facts.

    Holocaust deniers refuse to confront their own latent anti-Semitism.

    Climate change deniers cannot face the communal and collective measures that must be put in place to mitigate or prevent global warming.

    All of us who go into denial when faced with shocking revelations (loss of a job, death or departure of a loved one, a live-threatening operation) come out of it eventually. It is part of a process.

    However, some just cannot make that move, and are unhappily stuck in a condition which also generates anger, frustration and illness.

  9. Joan Savage says:

    The terms ‘disinformer’ and ‘delayer’ apply to those with conscious intent. There is also a second tier; the disinformed who, having trusted flawed information, repeat it naively.

  10. Alteredstory says:

    Well, and I’m not sure Holocaust deniers ever put in this amount of money or effort into their denial…

  11. SecularAnimist says:

    I prefer the term “bought-and-paid-for stooges for the fossil fuel corporations”.

  12. Stanton says:

    What is the optimal temperature of Earth?

    • Joe Romm says:

      Well, the temperature was within a very narrow range for the past 11,000 years, which ultimately, if temporarily, has sustained an agricultural system that now supports 7 billion people (barely) and needs to sustain 9 billion by mid-century. And, of course, those 7 billion people made choices about where to live based on a relatively stable temperature, knowledge of rainfall patterns and sea level.

      Now we are headed toward 10F warming this century, which many experts suggest would leave us with a carrying capacity of 1 billion (at least the way the economy and food system are currently organized). Certainly if we add 2 billion people and Dust-Bowlify a large fraction of the currently habited and arable landmass, while rising sea levels make coastal areas less habitable and less arable, and at the same time, we heat up and acidify the oceans, then food security will collapse.

      So the answer to your question is, the optimal temperature for modern civilization is the one we are rapidly giving up. Thanks for asking.

  13. BBHY says:

    I share the concerns about the term “denier”, but “disinformer” just doesn’t seem strong enough.

    Prior to the invasion of Normandy, the Allies gave the Germans disinformation indicating that the invasion would happen at the Pas-de Calais. It was entirely plausible that the invasion might occur there, so that ruse was effective.

    But now I am hearing claims about the Earth cooling, that thousands of scientists are perpetrating an elaborate hoax and faking an enormous amount of climate measurements, that carbon dioxide has no role at all in the Earth’s climate. Those things are just not plausible, so it is hard to say that they are simply disinformation.

    If my friend says he went to bar last night, met a supermodel and spent the night with her, I could say he is a disinformer. If he says that he built a spaceship, flew it to Mars, met a beautiful Martian girl, spent the night with her and flew back this morning, I need a stronger term than disinformer.

  14. caerbannog says:

    Imagine what might have happened back in the 1950′s if iron-lung manufacturers had the wealth and political clout that the fossil-fuel industry now has.

    The iron-lung industry would have launched a massive smear campaign against Jonas Salk and his colleagues, and would have funded think-tanks run by Jenny-McCarthy-style antivaccinationists. Vaccine-denial would have been in full-swing.

    And today, we’d be living in fear of polio outbreaks. But as a consolation, polio victims would able to benefit from the latest advancements in iron-lung technology.

  15. caerbannog says:

    Thinko fix for previous post:

    And today, we’d be living in fear of polio outbreaks. But as a consolation, polio victims would *be* able to benefit from the latest advancements in iron-lung technology.

  16. From Peru says:

    Well, denying a likely future catastrophe (like global warming)is much worse than denying a past catastrophe(like the Holocaust)…

    The reason is obvious: the past is now part of history. Denying it will not cause automatically its repetition. To deny a massive crime is doing a severe injustice to the victims and their relatives, and will facilitate impunity for the people guilty for the crime committed. But to deny a past crime, no matter how evil that crime is, will not cause a repetition of that crime, because historical events happen only once. Yes, denial of past crimes will increase the probability that someone in the future will repeat it,but that is far from certain.

    In contrast, to deny a future likely event is much more dangerous, because it will greatly increse the probability of that catastrophic event will occur.

    Using the Nazi analogy, the 1930s equivalent of current climate change denialism were all that people that denied that Hitler and the Nazis were dangerous, despite all the atrocities that were being committed in Germany and the insane ideology that was written in “Mein Kampf”. There were even many people that even considered him an ally against the Communists. Whithout that pre-war widespread denialism (or “skepticism” if you like) WWII might have not occurred, because the Nazis would have been stopped before becoming too strong.

    Note: it must be noted that the Nazi Holocaust and the (likely) future catastrophe are different for two reasons:

    1)The Holocaust was a planned genocide. Global warming instead is an unwanted consecuence of irresponsible actions. The first case is massive murder, the second is is massive and deadly greed. Morally, murder is much worse than greed.

    2)The scale:The Nazis killed 40 million people, half of them murdered (either shot or in concentration camps). Climate change put the lives of billions of people at risk, and put entire species of living beings in risk of extinction. Only a full scale Nuclear War could be worse. If such a disgrace were to happen, it will dwarf even something as horrible as WWII and the Nazi Holocaust.

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      Nazi Holocaust deniers are not subsidised in the tens of millions by pluto-kleptocrats and Rightwing ideologues. Some deny details of the Nazi crimes, and the vilest deny them entirely. Their number is small, and they are (justly I would say) reviled by the Rightwing MSM without exception. Climate destabilisation denialists, in contrast (whose victims are prospective and one or two orders of magnitude greater than those of the Nazis, or all the other genocidal maniacs in history put together) have the unbridled support of much of the Rightwing MSM, the Murdoch miasma in particular, and are treated with undeserved ‘equivalence’ by the rest of the Rightwing MSM. Can you imagine any western media outlet
      ‘balancing’ the history of the Nazi Holocaust with propaganda from the denialists of that abomination? In my opinion the climate destabilisation denialist are far more powerful, dangerous and vile than the Holocaust deniers, by some margin.

    • Raul M. says:

      A main diff might be that they could count on trend weather while they fought over the money and property. Why the other side was wrong, well…

  17. Ron Seadler says:

    I just wrote this yesterday as a comment to “deniers”:

    People need to be aware of the language they use when they decide to take a position on current science research. I initially held no position on climate change. As scientists began accumulate a wealth of global data and continued to discuss the complex nature of the issue, there seemed to be a growing consensus on the matter. What then arose was unexpected.

    I assumed contrary data and evidence would be discussed in the usual scientifically rational manner. Instead there was a surge of dialogue full of the false logic of dismissive terminology. “Religion, cult, agenda, conspiracy, leftist, socialist, hoax, scam, myth, alarmist, etc.” became the talking points instead of honest discussion. Persistent accusations that funding grants were the only motivations of the majority of scientists were relentless.

    The onslaught of criticism amid “poisoning-the-well” logical fallacies left me unable to respect any conclusions contrary to the emerging view that:

    1. Earth’s warming is accelerating
    2. It is likely our fault

    Denial by logical fallacy only denies your credibility.

  18. JPI says:

    I prefer the term “unconvinced”. Even though it’s frustrating that people are not convinced as soon as you would like them to be, I am open minded and intelligent. And I remain unconvinced. The rabid zeal of the convinced does nothing to convince me. It actually drives me farther away. Climate is enormous and complex. Please understand that the difficulty in convincing me is not my simplistic nature, but my appreciation for the vast and complex.

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      Surely you mean ‘unconvinceable’, because denialists would suffer major psychic disturbance if they were ever forced to admit that the reviled Leftist and ‘Greenies’ were correct all along. The Denialist who recognises reality will also immediately suffer ostracism and denunciation from his erstwhile colleagues.

      • Tom L says:

        The obvious need to be ‘convinced’ indicates an even more obvious will to hold a contrary position and to resist being ‘convinced’ into accepting new and potentially upsetting information. Open minds seek the truth for themselves and seldom need be ‘convinced’ of it via some external forcing.

        • Ron Seadler says:

          Slipping into that will to hold a contrary position is termed “confirmation bias”. At that point, information is selective and data becomes meaningless.

        • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

          I’ve been convinced about everything for years. However, when presented with contradictory facts, I change my convictions to new ones that better fit the evidence. I even change my opinion, when faced with incontrovertible or compelling facts, to the position of those I otherwise find no agreement with. Self-respect demands nothing less. Lying to yourself is far more destructive than lying to others, which, after all, is the bedrock of ‘civilization’. The denialists stick to group-think and the ‘emotionally potent over-simplifications’ and lies peddled by their ideological Thought Controllers in the Rightwing brainwashing apparatus. That is why I despise them, although to do so goes against the teachings of Jesus and most other moral teachers worth their salt. I’m a particularly crooked piece of human timber, I fear.

    • SecularAnimist says:

      JPI wrote: “Climate is enormous and complex. Please understand that the difficulty in convincing me is not my simplistic nature, but my appreciation for the vast and complex.”

      With all due respect, it sounds like the real “difficulty” in “convincing” you is your ignorance of climate science.

      Scientists have learned and understand a great deal about many “vast and complex” subjects — among which are the Earth’s climate and the effect of human emissions of CO2 and other so-called greenhouse gases on the Earth’s climate.

      Perhaps you should try cultivating an “appreciation” for what some of the world’s most brilliant, dedicated and diligent scientists have learned about anthropogenic global warming over the last century of research since the greenhouse effect was first identified.

      Learning what scientists DO, in fact, “understand” about climate would of course require more effort on your part than does reciting comfortable, content-free bromides about how climate is just too “vast and complex” for scientists to understand.

    • EDpeak says:

      Yes, the climate is complex. However, far from being an argument that it’s ok to mess with it, it’s an argument towards caution to not “throw the climate out of wack” , out of where it has been, and certainly not to move it very very far, or very very rapidly, from where it has been.

      Well, we’ve done exactly that. The graph below is a bit out of date since today we’re over 390ppm, higher than shown in this graph to 2001 but it speaks volumes:

      http://economicdemocracy.org/eco/images/650k-yrs-co2-69613802_b6fcf99980_o.gif

      The same is true over the last 800,000 years (no quick link, but you can find online) as in this graph of the last 650,000 years.

      So yes we’ve moved the reading (yes, we, as multiple sources including the use of isotopes, show, we, human actions have) quite a lot.

      But not only that, we’ve also moved it at unprecedented rates. Find the 2006 article “Deep ice tells long climate story” on BBC.

      In the last 800,000 “the fastest increase seen was of the order of 30 parts per million (ppm) by volume over a period of roughly 1,000 years”

      But “the last 30 ppm of increase has occurred in just 17 years. We really are in the situation where we don’t have an analogue in our records” (it’s now even faster, close to 30ppm every only 15 years, or about 2ppm/year increase)

      One scientist referred to the climate system as an angry beast. To expand upon that take: like a tiger in a poorly constructed cage which might break, it’s not a good idea to keep poking it with a stick, even if we don’t know _what_ exactly the reaction will be or _when_ exactly that reaction will take place, we know it’s not a good idea to keep poking that tiger.

      The conservative, “better safe than sorry” reaction would be caution to not take Radical steps to radically alter both the level and the rate-of-change of this disturbance to nature seen in the graph above.

  19. Sarsaparilla says:

    Propagandists, seeding their fossil fuel funded & guided propaganda to the masses, seems to tie in more directly with what these groups & their guiding founders actually are.

    It says in one word what is going on – groups and people who knowingly spreading of lies to dupe the citizenry.

  20. Belgrave says:

    I prefer the, regrettably long-winded, term “People who are in denial about climate change”. “In denial” is a common term in psychotherapeutic circles and has a meaning quite different from denialism. It implies that these people are unable to face up to the terrible reality of climate change and as such are deserving of our help rather than contempt. Another accompanying characteristic is often “displacement” – obsessing about some trivial non-problem (e.g. gay marriage) so that they can avoid being aware of the “elephant in the room”.

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      That is, in my opinion, true of many lumpen denialists. However I am firmly convinced that the denialist industry’s controllers, its bankrollers and its fraudulent ‘scientists’ know precisely what the scientific truth is, and they are, I believe, knowing liars, disinformers and misrepresenters.

  21. Ben Lieberman says:

    As an historian who teaches classes on genocides, including the Holocaust, and who has published on ethnic cleansing and genocide I don’t see denial of global warming as identical to denial of the historical reality of the holocaust. However, even though denying global warming is different from denying the Holocaust I also do not see a better word than denial to describe the willful decision of global warming deniers to reject evidence and their decision to create and live with a manufactured reality. They are not skeptics (as real scientists are) or unconvinced because for the hard core denier no amount of evidence will make a decision.

  22. Andrew Gillett says:

    Pseudoskeptics.

  23. Raul M. says:

    Well sheep herders did use dogs to keep the sheep from wandering, but that was a defined path and goal.
    On the long term goal of nice weather, they could be goalless or clueless or just less of the nice weather.
    And for nice stable weather are they more like wild dogs which scatter the herd?

  24. Personally I try to avoid using ‘denier’ due to the potential for distraction it provides some people. It’s quite possible to refer to ‘those in denial’ without calling them ‘deniers’.

    As for a general term that is the opposite of ‘alarmist’, I use the word ‘complacent’ as a noun. Hence ‘climate complacent’ — with all the advantages of alliteration that that phrase provides. To me ‘complacent’ sums up the attitude of those in denial very well, as most of the more serious types have moved on from, “climate change is not happening”, through, “it’s happening but it’s not human caused”; to, “it’s happening but it won’t be bad”.

  25. Paul Magnus says:

    For most I think the term is avoider.

  26. Ed Lehr says:

    Hello Joe,

    A way to combat hijacking of the language is to discontinue calling the phenomena climate change, and instead, uniformly, call it global heating.

    Global heating, by the way, is causing climate change.

    Disinformants will create their own credibility gap when they say the temperatures are getting cooler. That is not what the world population is experiencing.

    Disinformants will have to find another way to disinform. The media will have a much easier time realizing that they can dismiss the disinformation.

    • EDpeak says:

      Global heating has some things to recommend it but doesn’t cover e.g. ocean acidification.

      I’d suggest (and I’m not the first to say something at least roughly along these lines) something else:

      It is (Anthropogenic) Climate Destabilization.

      We are dangerously destabilizing the Earth’s climate (with effects on temperature, ocean acidification, extreme precipitation and drought, sea level rise and more)

  27. EDpeak says:

    As someone who also lost many relatives to the Holocaust I thank Joe for having the courage to take on directly the Holocaust-denier-comparison-BATING being done by right-wingers.

    While I like “delayer” and “disinformer” for some contexts, there are other contexts where “denier” or the noun for the phenomenon, “denialism” is more appropriate – the phenomenon of denying (whether deliberately misinforming or being a ditto-head radio listener who are themselves misinformed and lied to, and are victims in that sense, as much or more than they are perpetrators) The well funded campaign is for Denialism, DUDism.

    Remember the Microsoft angle of FUD, Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt the internal memo said, were Microsoft’s main helpers in fighting against open source/free software.

    Well here it’s Denialism, Uncertainty, and Doubt (DUD) peddled by the right-wing think tanks and flat earth market fundamentalists (along with and no less damagingly than by the fossil fuel industries themselves)

    Joe is right as the Peru poster echoed: it is worse (all other things being equal which of course they are not) to deny in order to stop action that could have averted or at least reduced a future yet-to-happen catastrophe, than to deny something about the past, particularly when the latter is a marginalized voice that very very few in our two party monopoly system subscribe to.

    If we can believe estimates like “Global Warming Causing 300,000 Deaths per Year, Says Kofi Annan, Former U.N. Chief” then over 100 years that would be 30million deaths _assuming_ a linear extrapolation rather than accelerated, worsening, and non-linear effects, tipping points, and so forth. I don’t predict 6 billion deaths, but tens of millions now seems conservative at best.

    Side note: wikipedia and others write, “Alan Caruba is ..frequent critic of environmentalism, Islam and global warming” Hmmm, calling him a “critic” of global warming is like calling someone a “critic” of forest fires who keeps denying that throwing lit matches is dangerous and encourages everyone to keep throwing lit matches on dry days in the forest.

    Such a person cannot be accurately called a “critic of forest fires” methinks. Same with calling him a “critic” of global warming.

  28. John Quiggin says:

    I used “delusionist” for a long time, but it never really took off