It’s not easy to imagine the mental state of climate deniers these days. The magnitude of recent fires, floods, storms, ocean warming, melting ice, intolerable heat, collapsing ecosystems (what have I forgotten?) has affected almost everyone on this globe. The deniers can no longer address these events as natural or normal.
How people bear with and try to process climate change is the subject of a recent article by Jia Tolentino. I recommend it to you. As conditions have become so unmistakably and dramatically appalling, the deniers have not pulled their heads from the sand. Tolentino says, “And the worse things get, the less we seem to talk about it: in 2016, almost seventy per cent of one survey’s respondents told researchers that they rarely or never discuss climate change with friends or family, an increase from around sixty per cent in 2008.”
The media plays up our climate disasters without apparently changing many minds. Warnings, threats and the pressing timetable of climate change are all over the news, but there isn’t any easy answer to the question of “when the alarms will finally be loud enough to make people wake up.” Simple reporting on climate disasters won’t change people’s minds. What will?
Wikipedia offers a lengthy, informative piece on climate denial here—it’s complicated, of course, and with a long history. There have been tremendous institutional efforts over time to deny climate change. You know how the tobacco industry covered up its poisons and worked its wiles for years to keep people smoking. Some of its same operatives are now doing the devil’s work for climate.
I think of it as a kind of conspiracy theory to keep fossil fuels alive. The vaccine deniers use similar nutty anti-science arguments to allay their followers’ fears. But if you believe Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., you do so at your own peril. One vast conspiracy after another makes up the world of the deniers. And there are lay deniers, scientific deniers, and political deniers.
There are also active deniers and passive deniers. Most Republicans, as you are no doubt aware, actively oppose climate remedies: “In the 2016 United States election cycle, every Republican presidential candidate questioned or denied climate change, and opposed U.S. government steps to address climate change as has the Republican leader in the U.S. Senate.”
Climate change must be addressed globally and politically. That’s obvious. Bill McKibben has pursued this subject for years. Recently he cited Canada’s continuing backwater on climate change, but he noted also Biden’s commitment to offshore drilling leases and his “giant oil and a giant L.N.G. project, in Alaska.” Obama also opened new sites to drilling, caving to the vast economic pressures of the oil industry. Even climate concerned presidents can’t resist creating that kind of cognitive dissonance.
Is climate denial another form of lying? Or is it just another way to ward off the pressure of reality, an uncomfortably obvious dodge? In the political arena, it seems like deliberate lying, just as Trump’s popularity owes itself to a mountain of lies. Time Magazine and Jeff VanderMeer, to their credit, recently castigated Ron DeSantis and the Republicans for their appalling record of environmental failures in Florida. An interesting note: “More than 90% of papers that are skeptical on climate change originate from right-wing think tanks.”
Such articles are not just a warning for Florida, a state that’s been environmentally abused forever. They are a warning about the disease of denialism, with “environmental decisions based on pay-to-play, punishing perceived enemies, climate denialism, a reliance on fossil fuels, and a fundamental misunderstanding of core issues and their effect on the future.”
One more thought: I don’t read David Brooks in the New York Times very often. But he wrote a reflective piece on his growing fears about AI. He is on the fence about whether AI will violate “the essence of being human.” I thought, if humans can’t begin to deal with climate change, how are they going to deal with all the unknowns facing us with AI? Will we be entering a stage of total denial?