Killing the Messenger: Is climate change denial on the rise?

by Evs

I have a new found belief in the future. It is surprising considering the cynicism I have been cultivating all these years. But I think through my personal interest in human history and my exploration of new media, I have come to realize that us humans are really quite resilient. You can throw a lot our way. And often we will take it on and find a way to deal. We also can create amazing things, solve problems in absolutely ingenious ways, and for the most part act in ways that do well by ourselves and others. And so I have a new found hope for our species.

But here comes the caveat. There is this huge part of the human spirit that is resilient and ingenious, but in all the wrong ways. It is self-destructive, irrational and means to do harm in the name of ideologies that have been twisted to fit its bidding. Let unchecked, it is very dangerous. It is the true “dark side” of our nature.

And this week I was reminded of that dark side while I was reading up on the latest about climate change.

The science hasn’t changed since I last checked. There is a strong consensus in the international science community that climate change is real, that human beings are behind it – mainly through our burning up of fossil fuel –  and that it will have huge global and likely catastrophic consequences for all life on earth (including ours) if we don’t act now to control it.

So with my faith in our ability to reason and to work out solutions, we need not worry though, right? We will totally invent the right technologies, push through the most effective policy, and change our consumer habits on an individual level. We will all do our part for the greater good!

Well, not if the dark side has anything to do with it. The parties that are interested in maintaining the status quo are obvious and easy to identify. They are corporations that are heavily invested in the current oil energy economy, heavy polluters, like chemical and mining corporations, politicians vying for financial backing from these corporations, countries that have large amounts of fossil fuel (ahem… Canada), and some naive souls who want so badly to believe that their actions don’t have consequences.

These groups don’t want climate change to be real because, if it is, then their actions will need to change dramatically in order for life as we know it to continue on earth. But unfortunately for them, the science is not in their favor.

But they too can use their big brain to find ways of dealing with this problem. And they have landed on the age old strategy: If you don’t like the message, kill the messenger.

And thus the “Global Warming is a Conspiracy” theory was born.

These powerful groups have tried a number of times to discredit the scientists that have confirmed the facts about climate change. They have leapt fanatically at any sign that the science may be even a little off. The leaked emails, the slightest mistake scrutinized and highlighted. All the volumes of solid science are ignored because one study from one university is found to be failing. Recently, we have also started to hear all sorts of new highly creative rationalizations for the strange weather patterns we are already seeing: “it is because of the sun spots” , “the equipment is wrong” or “it is the normal weather cycle of the earth, it gets warm between Ice ages”. The funniest has to be “God is punishing us”.

The organizations and individuals with vested interest in the status quo are working hard at discrediting those scientists working on climate change. But in doing so, they are pushing doubt on the whole institution of natural sciences in general (see this Guardian article for more). And apparently, in America, it is having an effect on public opinion. And according to this article, there is evidence to suggest the trend is spreading. This is a very scary development.

Surprisingly, it could be that last seemingly benign group – the naive people who want so badly to believe that nothing is changing – that are the most dangerous part of the equation. Many of these people don’t understand how the scientific method works, and so when told that it is dubious, they quickly doubt it. The danger is in the fact that these people are still voting. So they are voting for politicians that are telling then what they want to hear, all the while these politicians are making quick change from the companies wishing to keep policy in place to make their dirty industry ever more profitable. Take a look at the republican rhetoric. Its a race to be the top science skeptic. This what their base is asking for.

For all my hope and new found admiration for our species, I am not without concern about the actual outcome of this conflict. If we let politics, big money and naive wishful thinking prevent us from using our combined brain power to solve this problem, then the dark side wins…

But just to note, the “if you don’t like the message, you kill the messenger” strategy has never, in all of human history, worked for long. The message inevitably reaches home, one way or another.