Do you know “Godwin’s Law”? It was an observation made very early in the days of blogs and their comment threads. A comment thread, as soon as it reaches a certain size, will inevitably include a comment in which someone or something is compared to the German Nazis. As soon as such a comparison is made, it has been decided, on blogs everywhere, the commenter responsible has lost the argument.
On climate change blogs and threads we observe the opposite phenomenon – as soon as a climate change thread has reached a certain length a climate change denier will demand that the other contributors stop referring to him as a denier because it carries the meaning of “holocaust denier”. And this is, you know, hurtful and distressing to someone who is just a genuine seeker after truth, a skeptic, like um, whatsisname, Galileo. Those nasty “warmists” deliberately use the name “denier” to discredit the tens of thousands of scientists and their friends who are skeptical about global warming, so stop it.
I don’t now who used the term “denier” first to replace “skeptic” in this context. Probably many of us reached for the more accurate term at about the same moment in blogs around the world. Now although I am not a gambling man I wouldn’t mind having a dollar or two on a bet that not one of the scientists who first began referring to people as “deniers” had for a moment thought of that other well known small group of people the “holocaust deniers” (I mean, who does think about them except on the occasions when one goes to gaol?).
No, instead we were responding to a category of behaviour that remains evident, if anything more evident, today. In the early days of climate change research, say 20 years ago, it was certainly possible, as in every other area of scientific research (including, for example, the early days of evolutionary theory, relativity, DNA, quantum physics, plate tectonics, big bang theory) for scientists, and the informed public, to be skeptical about the data and hypotheses being put forward.
Data accuracy could be questioned, the meaning of observations disputed, future projections debated. The skepticism served to develop new data collection methods, make more observations, refine computer modelling programs. Over the last 20 years then every skeptical point has been asked and answered. In every other area of research where new paradigms were developed, including the ones listed above, this process resulted in a shift in the scientific community (both those directly concerned and those in other disciplnes) and the general public from skepticism to acceptance (which is not to say that research was finished, just that it was aimed at filling in gaps, refining details). In just one, climate science, has this not been the experience. Oh it has been among the directly concerned scientific community, where acceptance of climate change theory is so close to 100% that the difference is irrelevant (the only 2 or 3 “skeptics”, to give them the benefit of the doubt, remaining are concerned about the precise role of clouds as the planet warms). It has also been accepted by close to 100% of the rest of the scientific community. No the difference is that a noisy minority of the general public, supported by a tiny number of scientists from other disciplines, have engaged for 20 years in a campaign in which not a single research result, or observation, or hypothesis, or computer model was accepted. In addition, while every objection was answered by climate change scientists the answers were simply ignored, the “objections” repeated on blog after blog, newspaper after newspaper, and of course the world of radio shock jocks.
This kind of behaviour, where the meaning or content of every piece of research is simply denied, over and over again, during a period of some 15 years, is not “skepticism” but pure denial. Denial there is a problem, denial that anything needs to be done to address it. This is the greatest case of mass hallucination since the lead up to World War two in Britain.
So nothing to do with “holocaust denial”, everything to do with a clear pattern of behaviour. But now that they mention it, cap fits and all that. The refusal to accept what had happened during the war has exactly the same hallmarks. It is also a refusal to accept evidence (an astonishing mass of evidence) of any kind – eyewitness accounts, survivor accounts, the result of trials, infrastructure observations, political documents from perpetrators – that disagree with the preconceived ideology of the writer. So yes, climate change deniers are just like holocaust deniers.
And just like the more general class of deniers who have sprung up everywhere, funded and supported by ideologues like the Koch brothers, energy companies, tobacco companies, right wing think tanks. We have ozone deniers, nicotine deniers, DDT deniers, fishing deniers, evolution deniers, forestry deniers, live animal trade deniers, irrigation deniers. Doesn’t matter the issue (though many relate to the environment) – if there is a benefit to big business in preventing some legislation, some regulation, some economic effect on their business, the deniers will spring up like mushrooms on a dung heap.
Not skeptics, deniers.