Thursday, July 10, 2014

Is Climate Denial Dead?

There has been a trend lately that beckons the question: Is climate denial dead? The obvious answer for anyone who still watches Fox News is, well, duh, of course not. Climate denial is alive and well, in the sense that there will always be people who choose to deny the overwhelming and unequivocal science that demonstrates we are warming our planet. But several signs show that denial may slowly be devolving to merely a lobbyist talking point. We're not there yet, but could we be?

Climate deniers have been losing credibility for some time, "credibility" being defined as some significant percentage of the general public believing what deniers say. But the public is catching on. Much like the variability caused by short-term weather, snap-polls show ups and downs in the public acknowledgement of what the science tells us. But like the long-term trends that define climate, the public is slowly understanding that virtually all climate scientists concur that the data demonstrate our use of fossil fuels are causing global warming. As the years go on, the public will undoubtedly push for action.

Another sign of the death of denial is how politicians are beginning to avoid saying the words out loud. True, entrenched climate deniers like Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) and Representative Joe Barton (R-TX) will likely continue to mime their "climate change is a hoax" talking points (which, ironically, hurts the constituents in both their states). But others with more responsibility have begun using the non-committal "I am not a scientist" tagline. Perhaps they have realized that outright denial was no longer a political asset.

Even the Heartland Institute, a lobbying group once paid by the tobacco industry to deny that second-hand smoke caused cancer and now paid to deny climate science, recently started hedging their language. "Climate optimists," as one writer put it, acknowledge that the climate is changing, but deny that it is very important.

All that suggests something starting to wither on the vine. But, alas, it isn't. Climate denial won't be dead until Heartland, Cato, and other science-denying organizations start getting paid by industry to lobby for climate action. Rest assured, that time will come. It's as inevitable as the global warming that continues to occur as we avoid taking action. But it won't come soon, not as long as the costs of a fossil fuel-based energy system continue to be externalized onto society and the taxpayers.