by Nigel Franks
18 August 2018
The United Nations International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was set up in 1988 with the task of giving an objective view of climate change and its consequences. It looks at the scientific evidence and produces assessment reports approximately every 5 years. It also publishes special reports on relevant subjects.
The latest assessment report was published in 2013/4 and like all the previous ones its conclusions are unequivocal. In a nutshell, man made climate change is happening, we are responsible for it and the effects will be severe. And yet... thirty years after the IPCC was set up the world is still on a trajectory that will lead to disastrous warming. How is that possible?
One significant factor, sadly enough, is the actions of climate change deniers. Although the scientific evidence is overwhelming, they have managed to create enough doubt in the minds of enough people to reduce support for effective action. The hotbed of denialism is undoubtedly the USA where tens of millions of dollars are spent every year on pushing the idea that climate change is a hoax.
Some research has been carried out into the reasons for climate change denial. https://journals.openedition.org/ejas/10305 The obvious losers in the fight against climate change are the fossil fuel industries because it is their coal, oil and natural gas that, when burnt, produces carbon dioxide which is one of the major drivers of climate change. That is why they have spent lots of money on creating think tanks to slow down political progress on combatting climate change.
In addition, at the more individual level, ideology plays a role: libertarians and conservatives cannot accept that there is a role for government and regulation. So believing that climate change is happening and is due to not only a lack of regulation and control, but also shows a failure of the market challenges their core beliefs. In such circumstances denial rather than change is, sadly enough, an only too human response.
Another ideological reason is that combatting climate change is seen as an attack on the "American Way of Life": endless growth and consumption.
The "you can have the keys to my gas-guzzler when you pry them from my cold, dead hands" mentality.
You can learn more about climate change denial with this free on-line
Dealing with Deniers
You often find deniers on social media and in the comments sections of on-line news where they try to spread their self-serving messages. Feel free to engage with them, but realise in advance that it's almost impossible to get them to change their mind. So your objective should not be to do that, but only to show where they are wrong for the benefit of other readers.
It is essential to be polite and not call them names. They invaribly have a victim mentality and are just waiting for a chance to claim that your arguments are invalid because you're being mean to them. Strangely enough they have no problem with accusing scientists of fiddling their figures or accusing other countries of plotting to bring down the USA through action on climate change...
You should realise that they have a built-in advantage: they don't need to tell the truth and can string a whole number of lies together in one go. This is known as a Gish Gallop. It's a very effective strategy for them because it takes you much longer to refute their claims than it does for them to write them. One recent example: "They changed the name from global warming to climate change because the Earth wasn't heating up."
To respond to that you need to:
- challenge who "they" are
- point out that the IPCC was set up in 1988 and that the CC stands for climate change, so "they" are obviously not the official body
- tell them that both terms have been used for decades and, although they have different scientific meanings, in popular usage they are often interchanged
- point out that the Earth is still heating up.
It's a lot of work compared to the effort that they put in and, of course, once you've pointed this out, they will most likely refuse to acknowledge what you've said and write something wrong on another aspect. It's one of the first rules of climate change denial: they never admit that they are wrong.
However once you have shown that they are wrong, even if they won't admit it, then you have the opportunity to put them under pressure. Tell them that it's clear that they were mistaken and that if they were acting in good faith then either they didn't know enough about the subject and should do a bit more research or they were misinformed by someone who they trusted, in which case they should be more cautious about believing everything that that source tells them.
Another rule is that they can hold two conflicting arguments in their head at the same time. I've had innumerable interactions in which a denier claims that the scientists fiddle the temperature records to show warming when there isn't any. So, naturally, I ask them to show me proof of no warming... and they then point to the official figures that those scientists have produced.
If you do want to take on the deniers one of the most comprehensive sites is https://www.skepticalscience.com/ which lists many of the common denier myths and lies: nearly 200 of them. It can seem like a thankless never ending task, but it's necessary to get the public fully behind combatting climate change.