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The Front Pages of Christopher P. Winter

A True Rant About Global Warming Denial

For over a decade now, I've been following the ongoing discovery of global warming. I've seen it evolve from a purely academic matter of concern only to scientists, to bitter verbal battles about the very existence of a warming trend, and lately to stalwart insistence that grave and grievous harm will result from any action to mitigate the effects of that widely acknowledged warming trend.

This resistance to the idea that we might be causing the rise in temperature by producing vast quantities of carbon dioxide disturbs me greatly. Why? Simply because the facts I observe tell me that is exactly what's happening. The scientific community spends years assembling a solid case for that view of climate change, only to meet a campaign of denunciation conducted by a vociferous faction including U.S Congressmen. That sort of radical disconnect reveals enormous error on one side or the other.

If global warming is not happening, hundreds of scientists goofed, and thousands of other scientists failed to notice. If global warming is a fabrication, it is because all those thousands of scientists bought into the lie, but no one outside "the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American public" has a shred of proof. I see both of these possibilities as absurd. That brings us to the other side: the doubters of global warming. I would have thought it equally absurd that so many smart people — congressmen, lawyers, clergymen, even some scientists — could cling so avidly to an indefensible position. Yet cling they do.

I decided to pull together in one place the information to show why their position is indefensible. These pages are the result. In the other six pages I've written here about global warming denial, I've tried to present my case calmly. I've gone over those pages again and again, striving to make them accurate and objective. I've weeded out the anger and the snide remarks that crept in at places, because I know that these are fodder for those who don't respect logic in the first place. Now, I think it's time to let the world know how I feel about global warming deniers, and about the Denialists who foster their mistaken beliefs.

As I've tried to make clear, those are two different groups of people. There are those who doubt global warming is a concern because they don't understand science. They may be as many as a third of adult Americans. I regret seeing their lack of understanding, but I don't condemn them for it. The proper thing to do with people who misunderstand science is to correct their misunderstanding — assuming, of course, that they're willing to listen.

[Rant Warning]

The Denialists are another matter entirely. They encourage and exploit such misunderstanding. They do it by cherry-picking facts, by misquoting opponents, by publishing vacuous but superficially plausible scientific papers, and by accusing anyone who questions this "research" of "slander" and "suppression." For short-term gain, such as preserving profits from oil or coal, they would forestall prudent action against environmental changes that will harm everyone on the planet. Granted, it's not certain how serious that harm will be, or exactly when it will arrive, or who will be hit with which type of harm. The crucial point is that harm will arrive — harm we can prevent, or at least reduce, by timely and prudent action. Therefore, it is wrong to fraudulently claim that any action against global warming will be too expensive for what it accomplishes, or to push the reassuring lie that global warming is nothing to worry about. To persist in doing these things, as Denialists have, amounts to an attempt to sabotage the entire future of humanity. To the extent it succeeds, that sabotage represents a triune threat:

  • It places our descendants (and probably us) at needless risk of living in a harsher world.
  • It undermines the public trust in science. To the extent that part of the populace mistrusts science, the cost of dealing with a whole plethora of problems goes up. Hence, the general welfare is diminished.
  • It reinforces the tendency to reason carelessly, already too common in this country.

The reason I spend time online debating global warming, and why I put these pages together, is because I see what's at stake. Others, far better informed about climate science than I, see the possible futures even more clearly. That, I suspect, is why James Hansen risks his reputation to take part in civil disobedience. It is why other scientists are writing books and giving public lectures. They've learned that doing science right is not enough. The Denialists have taught them that the most coherent science can be overcome by persistent sophistry.

In the global warming debate, the line between science and sophistry is plain to see, and the Denialists are on the wrong side of the line. I am tired of seeing them endlessly proffer baseless arguments, in the process preventing prudent preparations for future climate conditions that, while they may not be catastrophic, will almost certainly be major problems for our descendants.

The Denialists' case is built on sand. It is long past time for them to recognize that, and at least try to build a better one. If there is any reason — any air-tight, rock-solid reason — why the world should not begin to act against the effects of global warming, let them find it and bring it forward, if they can. Meanwhile, if they are unable for some reason to trust facts, if they cannot see merit in the science, let them look to the virtue of the scientists; let them follow Shakespeare's Earl of Warwick.

There is a history in all men's lives,
Figuring the natures of the times deceas'd;
The which observ'd, a man may prophesy,
With a near aim, of the main chance of things
As yet not come to life, who in their seeds
And weak beginning lie intreasured.

– Henry IV, Part II [III, 1: 1785]
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This page was last modified on 21 February 2012.