We hear it all the time: “climate denier.” We spit the term like a swear word at the Koch brothers or countless Republican politicians. It’s a label we attach to oil and gas industry executives, coal barons and those who run our power generation plants. But what does it really mean to be a climate denier?
It seems simple enough to answer that question. Ninety-eight percent of climate scientists believe that the Earth is getting warmer as a result of human activity. We call it global warming and if it goes unchecked, the human race is up a creek without a paddle… or a boat for that matter.
Climate deniers are people who either don’t believe that the Earth is getting warmer; don’t think that human activity has anything to do with the Earth getting warmer; don’t think it matters that the Earth is getting warmer; or think that the 2 percent of scientists who don’t believe in global warming are smarter than the other 98 percent.
So how many real climate deniers are out there? It’s hard to say. Sadly, I think there are quite a few in the general population thanks to lousy media coverage of the issue, oil and gas industry propaganda and a general lack of education on the subject in some corners.
That said, I don’t believe that the vast majority of “I’m not a scientist” Republicans or fossil fuel industry execs are really climate deniers. They are educated people, so I think they are mostly just dishonest, self-serving jerks more concerned with filling their campaign coffers and expanding their bank accounts than they are with your kid’s future or even their own kid’s future. And that raises a couple of pretty important questions. Who are the real “climate deniers” and should our answer to that question be based on what a person says about climate change or on what they do about it?
To try to answer those questions, I barrowed, twisted and secularized the apologetics of author Josh McDowell.
I’ll start with Colorado’s poster child for disfunctional climate-change policy, Gov. John Hickenlooper, who says he cares about the environment and is concerned about climate change.
But this same Hickenlooper fellow also tells us that oil and gas extraction is good for us. He says it creates jobs and tax revenues, is safe for the environment and human health and is a great way to power our cars, our homes and our lives. He even says fracking fluid is safe to drink.
But since 98 percent of climate scientists tell us that the continued use of oil and gas to power the world will ultimately lead to the environmental destruction of our planet, how do we square Hickenlooper’s two seemingly opposite policy positions?
There are really only three possible theories to explain this seeming discrepancy.
The first theory is that the Governor truly believes what he is saying. He believes that increasing the amount of oil and gas available for the world to burn will somehow not impact global warming. But an actual belief in such a nonsensical thing would suggest that Hickenlooper would have to be a little touched, as in nuts. That’s right, certifiably crazy and delusional. After all, even children know that burning fossil fuels will not help to solve global warming. This “he’s nuts” scenario is really the best hope for Hick. In this option at least he’s an honest broker who simply has lost his ability to reason or comprehend what the world’s scientific community is saying about the causes and consequences of global warming.
Theory two is worse for the Governor, at least from the standpoint of character. In this potential explanation, Hickenlooper’s opposite positions can only coexist because he is a self-interested liar. This option assumes he’s intelligent and able to understand the issue of global warming and its consequences should we fail to turn away from energy sources that are dumping millions of tons of green house gases (GHG), primarily carbon dioxide and methane, into our atmosphere every year.
In this second scenario, Hick is telling the truth about how much he loves oil and gas extraction and fracking, but he is lying about his being concerned about global warming even though he knows it’s real. I’ll call this the “liar” scenario, an appropriate description for people who would kill off the human race knowingly in exchange for a few extra years of personal political power or a few extra bucks in their pocket.
The third and final possible explanation for Hickenlooper’s schizophrenic positions is that he is, in reality, a climate change denier. In this scenario, he may think that the world is getting warmer and he may even believe that humans have something to do with it, but at the end of the day he doesn’t believe that anything bad is really going to happen if we keep using oil and gas for the next hundred years or so. He likely thinks that new technologies will come along to solve the climate problem in the nick of time or maybe that it won’t really be that big of a deal because we’ll just adjust what crops we grow where thanks to a new round of Monsanto patents.
Call this third option what you will; the Pollyanna theory or ostrich scenario, whatever, but make no mistake about it. While it may be a slightly nuanced position compared to the troglodytes who just grunt out their lack of belief in science, it is still climate denial to be sure.
Hickenlooper’s irreconcilable climate positions can only be explained by door number one, two or three. So which is it; nut, liar or climate denier?
I don’t think that Hickenlooper is a nut job and I don’t think he’s a liar … well, at least not to the degree that he would flush the planet in exchange for another four years in office.
So if he isn’t either of those, then the only remaining explanation for his fanatical commitment to increasing the world’s use of fossil fuels is that he is a climate denier.
So what happens to the political debate around climate change if we begin to properly label those who claim to champion the cause of global warming while simultaneously pushing policies that increase fossil fuel use?
I think the first thing that would happen is we would quickly realize that a lot of Democrats are actually climate deniers just as surely as their Republican counterparts. And once we recognize and acknowledge that, change could begin to occur via the ballot box.
The days of using the word environmentalist to describe politicians who protect wilderness with one hand while pushing for increased drilling and fracking with the other are over, or must be if we are to survive.
If a senator gets a 96-percent rating from some environmental group then turns around and votes to build the Keystone XL pipeline for purely political reasons, he or she is either a climate denier or a lying A-hole. Neither explanation should get you reelected.
If a congressman claims to accept the science on global warming but still personally invests millions of dollars in oil and gas extraction, they are a climate denier or a… well, you get the point by now.
Sadly, I think I just described Colorado’s entire Democratic contingent to Congress.
It’s not that complicated folks. It’s actions, not words, that define real climate denial. It’s not which political party you’re in that makes you an environmentalist or a climate denier.
And if we want to have any chance of stopping global warming we better start ridding ourselves of elected climate deniers sooner rather than later.
I was reading OPEC’s most recent report on future global oil use this week and its message was shocking in its unapologetic clarity. The report said the global consumption of oil and other hydrocarbons will increase by 60 percent by 2040.
That OPEC prediction is exactly the opposite of what the scientific community is telling us must happen by 2040 if the planet is to survive.
Clearly this report reflects the oil and gas industry’s optimism that its money and political clout will be enough to keep the growing plague of green-talking climate deniers in power.
It’s our job to prove them wrong.