Climate Change: The Semantics of Denial
I was hoping to stage round four of the fight for the prestigious Christopher Booker prize for climate change bullshit this week, after the reigning world champion promised to come out of retirement to defend his title. But sadly David Bellamy, despite his extravagant promises to destroy the competition, hasn't yet weighed in, so we'll have to hold on for another tantalising week.
In the meantime, I want to take issue with a comment by my colleague James Randerson. In his excellent blog this week about our dear friend from the Sunday Telegraph James said the following:
I have always disliked the phrase "climate change denier". Global warming will have extremely serious consequences for people around the world, but making the link with the 20th century's most colossal work of industrial-scale evil - the Holocaust - plays into the hands of those who want to convince the waverers that this is purely a political argument.
James's comment is already causing a measure of delight among - ahem - the climate change deniers. That's hardly surprising: they have spent the past few years furiously denying that they are deniers, using the argument that James has adopted.
I use the term deniers not because I am seeking to make a link with the Holocaust, but because I can't think what else to call them. They describe themselves as sceptics, but this is plainly wrong, as they will believe any old rubbish that suits their cause. They will argue, for example, that a single weather event in one part of the world is evidence of global cooling; that the earth is warming up because of cosmic rays and that the Antarctic is melting as a result of volcanoes under the ice. No explanation is too bonkers for them, as long as it delivers the goods.
The OED defines a sceptic as, "A seeker after truth; an inquirer who has not yet arrived at definite conclusions." This is the opposite of what people like Booker, Bellamy and Tomlinson are. They have their definite conclusion and will defend it against all comers, however many inconvenient truths might stand in the way.
There is another class of people, whose materials these independent deniers often use: those who are paid by corporations to defend definite conclusions. I have documented this trade extensively (see also my book Heat). But many of these people still masquerade as free thinkers. Earlier this month, for example, the Guardian's Comment is Free site published an article by Patrick Michaels. The Guardian described him as "a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and author of Climate of Extremes". What it didn't say is that he has been paid extremely well in the recent past to promote the views he expressed here by interests which, as far as I can discover, he has never voluntarily disclosed.
Take a look at this leaked memo circulated by the Intermountain Rural Electric Association (IREA) in 2006. IREA transmits electricity - most of which is produced by coal-burning power stations - across the US midwest.
The memo reveals that IREA was about to start buying electricity from a new coal-fired plant, replacing some of the gas production it was using before. But the cost advantages would be wiped out if a carbon tax were imposed. In the hope of averting this prospect, IREA had:
decided to support Dr Patrick Michaels and his group (New Hope Environmental Services, Inc). Dr Michaels has been supported by electric cooperatives in the past and also receives financial support from other sources ... In February of this year IREA alone contributed $100,000 to Dr Michaels. In addition we have contacted all the G&T's [generators and transmitters of electricity] in the United States and as of the writing of this letter, we have obtained additional contributions and pledges for Dr Michaels group.
I posted this information up in the comment thread following Dr Michaels's article, but it was deleted by the moderator. I'm not sure why.
Whether we're talking about people who are paid to deny that climate change is happening, or those who use the materials these flacks produce, denial is a precise and concise description of what they do. Their attempt to wriggle out of it by insisting that - by calling them what they are - we are somehow debasing the Holocaust is as contrived as all the other positions they take. We shouldn't fall for it.
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