I’m not going to waste any more time showing why climate change deniers are wrong; I believe we should ignore them and put all our efforts into pressuring President Obama and Congress to take the lead on climate change, which means beginning to reverse the flow of carbon that is warming the planet and causing the oceans to acidify. This post on DeSmogBlog.com ought to be the final word on denialism; after reading it, no one should believe there is serious disagreement in the scientific community about the reality of human-caused global warming. Post author James Powell writes, “If there is disagreement among scientists, based not on opinion but on hard evidence, it will be found in the peer-reviewed literature.” And so he surveyed the scientific literature over a 20-year period, distilling his results in “Why Climate Deniers Have No Scientific Credibility – In One Pie Chart.” The proof is in the pie chart: of nearly 14,000 peer-reviewed articles on climate in science journals in the two decades since 1991, only 24 reject global warming and they are rarely cited. Powell writes, “Of one thing we can be certain: had any of these articles presented the magic bullet that falsifies human-caused global warming, that article would be on its way to becoming one of the most-cited in the history of science.”
Of course deniers won’t be convinced by this evidence; but it ought to persuade those snowed by the blizzard of propaganda–including some mainstream journalists–that they need not give deniers equal time. As Powell says, “Only one conclusion is possible: Within science, global warming denial has virtually no influence. Its influence is instead on a misguided media, politicians all-too-willing to deny science for their own gain, and a gullible public.” If you find yourself in conversation with a gullible member of that public–a doubter rather than a full-blown denier–send her or him this article to read. Or go to the Skeptical Science site, which rebuts in a very organized way the many pseudoscientific claims made by deniers and compiles the many articles providing evidence that humans are causing global warming. Try out some of the rebuttals; make them your own. There are even smart-phone apps that lay out rebuttals to all the skeptic arguments to have in your hand when needed! Links here.
Should we make the effort to counter those who flat-out deny the reality of anthropogenic (human-caused) global warming? David Roberts at Grist thinks it’s a waste of time to try to persuade climate-change contrarians; but take heart, he says. They will die off, and sooner rather than later, given their age. He cites the effect of “cohort reduction“: social change comes about when leaders of an organization, culture, or profession give way to those in the next generation who have different beliefs and values and new frameworks of thought. Because the deniers are for the most part older white conservative men, this is the best hope for those of us who recognize how close the world is to the climate tipping point. He notes, “People rarely change their minds, especially about matters core to ideology and identity. But they do die!”
Despite the provocative headline and opening gambit, Roberts knows that we can’t wait for this cohort to be replaced. They can do too much damage, as witnessed by the leaked plans of the nonprofit group the Heartland Institute to undermine teaching about global warming in public schools. If the group’s plans to insert any part of this body of non-evidence and pseudo-science into the curriculum succeeded and climate change was discredited, the aging cohort’s denialism would live on after their demise, just as science educators still have to fight attempts to require the teaching of the unscientific theory of creationism.
There’s no time to waste while waiting for the shift to happen through attrition, especially given the funding available to the deniers and the dysfunctional Congress that supports their cause. Roberts recommends several actions climate hawks should take: ratchet up the intensity of argument, build political coalitions, organize those who have shown they “get” climate change, and don’t spend any effort on arguing with a group “unmoored from reality.” (Roberts describes in more detail how we can mitigate the damage done by these contrarians in a 2011 Grist post.)
To this I’ll add the opportunities for the non-scientists among us to become knowledgeable about climate change through films and DVDs, books and blogs, and courses like Open Climate 101, a course taught at the University of Chicago by David Archer that the university has made available on line for free. Watch a video lecture and read a sample chapter from his text at the Dot Earth blog; then go to the course website to register for free.