The “Anatomy of scientific denialism” post has elicited a critique of those who advocate a strong response to climate change. You may recall Arthur as previously denouncing Olympia Views for “banal and intolerant potshots” against c0nservatives. Let’s assess whether his argument fits the six steps of scientific denialism as applied to climate change.
Arthur’s comment on climate change
“Here’s one of the deals with ‘global warming,’ which when that label became ‘inconvenient,’ morphed into “climate change.’ Yes, the climate is changing — it happens all the time. That is not the issue. The issue is how much of this is caused by human activity, what is the potential impact of human-caused climate change, and if it is indeed threatening, what can be done to minimize the impact.
“The problem comes from extremists on BOTH sides of the issue. The scare tactics have come equally from both sides.
“But the media, largely, focuses on the so-called ‘deniers’ many of whom are not actually ‘denying’ but saying that all the dictatorial policies the ‘true believers’ want to impose on society (but as with Al Gore – he of the energy-sucking mansion and frequent air travel, as just one example – not on themselves) will impose financial costs as well as social engineering that in the long run are likely to have minimal actual ‘beneficial’ impact.
“Take the ridiculous ‘carbon credit’ idea, for example. Essentially paying through the nose for worthless pieces of paper and moving airborne pollution from one place to another, while those behind the idea like Gore rake in millions of dollars. Al Gore’s ‘hockey stick’ example? Never mind. But its discrediting didn’t change anything for the true believers.
“The problem, as with so many issues these days, is that it is virtually impossible to have a rational discussion because people ‘know’ they have it absolutely right, and their ‘open mind’ is open only so long as someone 100 percent agrees with them. But as Mark Twain said, ‘The trouble with the world is not that people know too little, but that they know so many things that ain’t so.’”
Applying the six steps of denialism to Arthur’s comment
Arthur does a dutiful — if rather unoriginal — job of applying each of the denialism steps. He quickly raises doubts about the science (Step 1), although he tries to look less extreme by embracing a false equivalency (“The scare tactics have come equally from both sides”).
He then proceeds to show his true colors by questioning the motives and interests (Step 2) of only the pro-climate change side. His banal potshots are right out of the Republican playbook: Demonizing Al Gore and then inaccurately ascribing to him authorship of the “hockey stick” theory.
I’m not surprised that Arthur refuses to tell us who has discredited that theory because then his sources would be open to scrutiny. Instead, in a classic display of doublespeak, he labels as “true believers” advocates of this theory even though it comes as close to reflecting a consensus as you will find in the scientific community (Step 3).
Arthur goes lightly on trying to scare people about the potential negative impacts of action against climate change (Step 4) but denounces the “dictatorial policies” that will undercut your personal freedom (Step 5).
In a final Orwellian flourish, Arthur laments the impossibility of having a “rational discussion” about climate change. Yet he effectively calls mainstream climate science a lie (Step 6). In doing so, he places himself in a parallel universe filled with his fellow true disbelievers.
What Arthur illustrates about the right-wing noise machine
In a leaked 2002 memo, Republican propagandist Frank Luntz warned that the policy battle over climate change would be lost unless the party waged a frontal assault on the science behind the issue. Arthur’s comment reads like talking points straight from the Republican National Committee.
Climatologist Michael E. Mann argues in his fascinating book, The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars, that a central part of the attack on climate science has been to isolate its leading advocates and then smear them in pretty vicious ways.
What’s surprising to me is that Arthur engages in a smear campaign without adjusting his rhetoric to fit the readership of Olympia Views, which possesses a higher-than-typical understanding of climate science and Republican propaganda techniques. For example, conflating Gore with the scientific community is laughably oversimplistic.
Perhaps Arthur might take his own advice: “I know you don’t need to look up the word ‘nuance.’ But you might think of it from time to time when you decide again to affix stereotypes on and paint with a broad simplistic brush those you presume to disagree with.”
Mann, Michael E. 2012. The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines. New York: Columbia Press.