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The State of Denial

What to call those who deny that global warming is an urgent problem or who seek to delay strong action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, people like Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) or President George W. Bush or Michael Crichton, author of State of Fear, a deeply flawed novel that attacks climate science and climate scientists? This is a question that everyone who writes on climate change must grapple with.

The most commonly used term is “skeptic.” But that term is misplaced. All scientists are skeptics. Hence the motto of the Royal Society of London, one of the world’s oldest scientific academies (founded in 1660), Nullius in verba: “Take nobody’s word.”

Skeptics can be convinced by the facts, but not the Deniers. Skeptics do not continue repeating arguments that have been discredited. Deniers do.

Some, like climatologist Stephen Schneider, prefer the term “contrarian.” That term is also misplaced. A contrarian is “One who takes a contrary view or action, especially an investor who makes decisions that contradict prevailing wisdom.” Contrarians may have a good strategy for making money in the stock market, but how many have a hidden agenda to undermine faith in the stock market itself? Moreover, if the scientific consensus somehow reversed itself, the Deniers wouldn’t suddenly reverse themselves. They aren’t contrarians.

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The Deniers and Delayers, as Climate Progress will use the terms, are those who aggressively embrace one or both parts of a two-fold strategy. First, they deny the strong and growing scientific consensus that the climate change we are witnessing is primarily human-caused and likely to have serious negative impacts if we don’t reverse our greenhouse gas emissions trends. Second, they work to delay this country from taking any serious action beyond perhaps investing in new technology.

Their beliefs were well articulated by science-fiction writer Michael Crichton in a 2006 New Republic interview: “If you just look at the science, I, at least, am underwhelmed. This may or may not be a problem, but it is far from the most serious problem. If you want to do something, [limiting emissions] is not what to do. We don’t at this moment have good technology to do this, if, in fact, it’s necessary to do it.”Such is the road to ruin. Those who advance such a view, including President Bush, deserve a strong label. No doubt many Deniers and Delayers are sincere in their beliefs, but many are not. Sincere or insincere, they spread misinformation or disinformation that threatens the well-being of the next fifty generations of Americans. Deniers and Delayers are also not content merely to dispute the work of climate scientists — they are actively engaged in smearing the reputation of those scientists.