Friday, December 11, 2009

Who Are You People?

Between the Copenhagen Conference and the so-called 'Climategate' emails, it appears that the population (or at least the volume) of climate change deniers on the internet has increased exponentially over the past few weeks.

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 lunatic avid denialists from commenting around here, since I've said so many disparaging things about them I figure it's only fair to give them free rein and let them respond - on this post only (not you, bocanut - your ass is still banned). However, in the interest of gathering data for my thesis, I would ask that you tell me a bit about your background and you motivations for posting before you make your comments. Who are you that I should believe you?


  1. Oh, wonderful.  I'm linking.

  2. I'm working on a post "How to identify a Denialist".

    What you do, is you get them talking about the "one world government" conspiracy which they claim is behind the "fake science" of global warming. A lot of them become obviously unhinged at that point. They are so serious about it. To most people, they sound like they're ready for the loony bin.

    They have always been here, but the echo chamber is especially loud these days, and we're hearing the echoes.

    Science and it's institutions play the long game, not the short game. A lot of journalists were unwilling to jump into the fray of what is obviously a lot of political BS time to interfere with COP15 (they have failed -- well, Saudi Arabia is convinced AGW is a fraud, LOL). As the institutions begin to produce more and more of an informed reply, we'll see the press coverage get more balanced, and the issue will die down from the mainstream.

    A good doc:

    and if you aren't aware yet:

  3. Salutin is most likely right about the team thing.  Hardcore partisans will set aside truth, logic, even their own principles to support their colours.  Weak people, frightened people, lazy people who want the universe defined for them, and they want to be told they are right, they are the chosen, all opponents will suffer, and they will get to point their fingers and laugh.

  4. reactionism.
    created by madison avenue
    some paid to comment and disrupt whatever is positive and alternative.
    ignorance and inability to see relationship
    spiritually limited..
    conditioned belief system.
    identity tied to it.
    lacking in compassionate understanding and empathy.

  5. <span style="">
    The complex psychology of climate denial 
    Tuesday, 1 December 2009 

    Agence France-Presse 

  6. Jennifer, I completely agree - the word "irrational" is appropriate.  Your analysis is correct, as far as it goes.  The irrationality extends to unlikely fora - one of the longest and most vehement threads on a popular electric-car site is on the subject of "Climategate".  People who are apparently intelligent and rational on other topics seem to check their rationality at the door when it comes to this subject.  They can't ALL be paid minions of the fossil fuel industry!

    My conclusion is that the scientific method and rational thinking in general have become rare in public discourse.  We are now reaping the harvest of decades of pandering to people's prejudices.  The "chattering classes" are running the asylum.

  7. I'm going to try an experiment in a minute.

  8. Okay, the experiment is now up and running. We'll see what referring to "climate derangement" gets me.

  9. In case you really want to know who I am, I am just a person, who heard enough about how population increase results in global worming and how it is necessary to stop global warming by decreaing the size of the population.

    Suggestions? Well, some are just saying that birth rates have to be decreased, even though in Canada they are already catastrophically low. The working-age population of Canada is expected to shrink drastically in the next decade and the retirement age population is going to increase dramatically. Because of this Canada is at the brink of a huge pension crisis. It is going to become more and more challenging for a shrinking workforce to support an increasing retiring mass.

    Talks about the global warming and the need to contain population growth can result in negative attitudes and discrimination against women, bearing and raising children.

    To add to this, I also have already heard that wars are actually a positive thing, because they help to decrease population size and help the environment. This could be the start of new Hitlerizm and I am very scared.

    Therefore, if scientists really know what needs to be done for the environment, I suggest that they do it quetly, at their scientific level. They should not get half litirate public envolved and they should realize that population decrease is not a solution, at least not for Canada.