Once relegated to conspiracy sites and the editorial pages of the National Post, these warriors of the web now descend like a plague of locusts any time an article or a blog post mentions climate change or global warming, drowning out any productive discussion with the same old tired, discredited theories.
But who are these people really, and what motivates them to argue such an irrational position so vehemently?
I use the term 'irrational' quite intentionally, and with the full expectation of having the locusts descend on this post. Like most of the rest of us, your average online climate change denier has absolutely no education or training in the relevant sciences. But while most of us accept the conclusions of the overwhelming majority of those who DO have such training and knowledge (not to mention certain unavoidable physical evidence), they choose to believe people who have obvious and overwhelming financial and ideological motivations to lie to them.
To me, that seems irrational.
Those employed or funded by the oil and coal industry, or companies whose profit margins would be hurt by action on climate change, all have rational reasons to sow the seeds of doubt - just as Big Tobacco had sound financial reasons for insisting that their product didn't really kill people. It's despicable, but it's logical.
What I still don't fully understand are the motivations of the seemingly ordinary Canadians and Americans who spend their days screeching online about Climategate and solar flares and how pleasant Canada will be when we can grow bananas here. I'm fairly certain they don't all work of ExxonMobil. But I could be wrong.
There does seem to be quite a bit of the paranoid anti-government sentiment of the American 'Tea Bagger' movement evident in the denier camp. But it seems to me that the intensity of their passion more closely resembles a religious delusion of the sort experienced by proponents of 'Creation Science'. They even use the same narrative as the Creationists: "Scientists believe in science the same way we believe in God, and since their belief contradicts ours, therefore the science must be questionable; therefore, the fact that it is accepted as the truth by just about everyone is proof of a vast conspiracy between 'intellectuals' and the government/athiests/socialists/whoever."
Both groups even have their own documentaries.
There is, however, one significant difference between Creationists and Deniers: creationism is almost entirely ideological. Nobody is making billions dissing Charles Darwin - certainly not Ben Stein. The Climate Change Denial PR machine, on the other hand, has some very, very wealthy backers with a vested interest in the outcome.
Still, it doesn't really explain why people without that financial motivation would take up the cause and so vigorously defend the interests of oil companies and strip miners in their spare time.
Rick Salutin has his own theory: "Politics makes people crazy."
You can already see this on the level of mundane electoral politics, and I'm not even talking about the pros – I mean regular citizens. Many people follow their party or cause the way they follow their favourite team: Their spirits rise and sink with each game. They think about it (party or team) before falling asleep and first thing when they awake. Maybe this comes from a need to feel part of something larger than one's circumscribed self. But it leads to weird behaviour. There's a reason that “fan” derives from fanatic.
Now extend onto less average terrain and you get the “truthers,” who say 9/11 was a U.S. government plot masked by myths of hijacked planes; and the “birthers,” who insist that Barack Obama was born in Kenya. I use both since they are taken to represent the left and the right. I think it's worth hearing their arguments but, when you do, you sense that nothing anyone says can shake them. This is symptomatic of non-medical craziness.
While there is certainly an argument to be made that most 'civilian' defenders of anthropogenic climate change are just as unmovable in their beliefs as those on the other side, I'm not convinced that you can equate their motivations. After all, when you compare the most unhinged worst-case scenario of the "warmers" (millions dead, millions more displaced, mass extinctions, drowned coastlines, etc.) with that of the "deniers" (my taxes will go up and the rich will become less rich for no good reason), it really hard to see how the latter can inspire the level of sound and fury we're seeing.
Crazy? I dunno. I think I'll stick with irrational.
Note: While I usually discourage the more