Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Pope's Climate Encyclical and Why Climate Deniers are Their Own Worst Enemy

It should go without saying that when you deny reality long enough, eventually reality makes you look foolish. Climate deniers have been denying the science behind man-made climate change for so long that they have lost even the illusion of credibility. They have become their own worst enemy, and as such have put themselves on a path of complete irrelevancy.

Deniers have chosen this path, of course. By blatantly denying even the most basic science and by egregiously promoting the most obvious and ludicrous falsehoods, deniers have marginalized themselves to the point of inconsequentiality. Deniers now find themselves being taken as seriously as Donald Trump's presidential run. Yes, they have become that buffoonish.

And alone.

Deniers used to hide behind ideological blinders, seeking protection for their anti-science beliefs in the arms of "conservatives," the "religious," and "Republican" comfort groups. Now deniers find themselves in a category among themselves. In contrast, intellectually honest and informed people who identify within these traditional labels no longer provide cover for denial.

Religions do not condone denial of the science

This point is brought home as Pope Francis, leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics, issues the Vatican's papal encyclical on climate change and the environment. [Here is a summary of the main points; and here is the full letter, in English] In it the Pope acknowledges the unequivocal science demonstrating human activity is causing our climate to warm, and that the changes observed and coming present a significant risk to humanity.

Let me stop here and reinforce this to make it clear, because this is a point that climate deniers have intentionally tried to confuse as they attack the Pope. What the encyclical does is acknowledge the 100+ years of peer-reviewed climate science, which unequivocally demonstrates humans are warming the climate system. Climate deniers have falsely stated that the Pope shouldn't be "doing science" because he isn't a scientist. But the Pope isn't "doing science," he's simply acknowledging the science done by climate scientists and documented in tens of thousands of peer-reviewed papers. So where the Pope (and the scientists of the encyclical that reviewed all the evidence) acknowledge the science, those attacking him are denying the science.

The point is that the Vatican is actually paying attention to the science, something they have been rightly criticized for not doing in the past and on other issues. Acknowledging the science is happening also in other religions and religious leaders. There are strongly Christian climate scientists, for example, who recognize that religious beliefs and the scientific reality of man-made climate change do not conflict. All religions have come to understand that the science is the science, and that their religious beliefs include stewardship of the environment. Denial of the science is shirking the moral responsibility to shepherd God's creation. Thus, deniers cannot pretend to be following religious principles. In fact, religions are leaving deniers behind.

Conservative principles do not condone denial of the science

Climate deniers have also shrouded their denial under the mantle of "conservatism." But that's false. Conservatism actually would acknowledge the science and protect - conserve - our resources and our planet. Deniers who hide behind their "conservatism" are actually false conservatives. Honest conservatives recognize that real conservatism includes stewardship. It also means looking at the evidence and acknowledging realities, then taking steps to honest dealing with those realities. Real conservatives don't let their blind ideology stand in the way of action. Real conservatives support "meaningful solutions," they don't deny reality in an effort to avoid having to take responsibility for offering those solutions.

Republican beliefs do not condone denial of the science

Many deniers seem to think they can hide their denial behind the "Republican" party mantra. That again is false. In fact, deniers are not listening to their own Republican scientists. Despite the usual blather from deniers that climate science is a "liberal hoax," climate scientists come in all flavors of political identity. Kerry Emanuel, Barry Bickmore, and others are Republicans despite and yet are also highly respected scientists doing climate research. Even looking beyond that, Republicans in the past have often been in the forefront of protection our environment. It was Nixon who created the Environmental Protection Agency, a constant target of modern "Republicans." Just recently it was John McCain, the 2008 Republican nominee for president, who was leading the Republican efforts to pass sweeping legislation to encourage renewable energy development and deal with climate change.

All of these demonstrate that climate deniers, while they still claim to be under the umbrellas of conservatism, Republican, or religious principles, are in actual fact separate from all of those.

Deniers, through their increasingly obvious dishonesty and denial of even the most basic scientific fact and physics, have ostracized themselves from the realms of credibility. Religious principles dictate the opposite of what deniers claim. Conservative principles also dictate the opposite of what deniers claim. And whereas Republican principles dictate taking responsible action to conserve our environment, Republican deniers have made denial of the science a parlor game in which they are so stridently buffoonish that it is clear to everyone that they are being blatantly dishonest for their own personal ambitions and the benefit of the fossil fuel and extremist right wing lobbyists who finance them.

Which gets us to the future. Climate deniers have become their own worst enemy by so intentionally and demonstrably given up all illusions to honesty. Will they eventually realize this and stop being so dishonest and buffoonish? The answer is no. If they stop, they will by definition cease to exist. But more importantly, they have invested so much into their fantasy world where they think dishonest denial is acceptable within religious, ideological, or party frameworks, they (i.e., deniers) will simply slink away into oblivion, eventually resurfacing to deny they even denied in the first place.

Because that is what deniers do.