Demystifying Climate Change Denial

Re-framing the way people think about the climate change debate

Of all notable hurdles in the fight for climate justice, climate change denial is undoubtedly the most perplexing. To diametrically oppose an observed phenomenon which 99% of the scientific community has reached a consensus on (which is a feat in itself, because scientists rarely agree on anything) is something many should ponder over. 

From ‘depraved opportunists‘ and ‘shamefully ignorant‘ to downright ‘stupid,‘ a host of pejoratives have been thrown at climate change deniers. But do they deserve the hatred they have received? 

In the interest of exploring every dimension of this movement, its participants mustn’t be seen as either ‘villains’ or ‘numbskulls’. Instead, they should be recognized for who they truly are- zealous idealists. 

I am in no way downplaying the perverse incentives of the giant corporations that actively discredit climate science. Neither am I attempting to trivialize the consequences of this war on truth. But it can be liberating to shed light on the 13%, or roughly 42.5 million, of Americans denying the role of human behavior in a warming world. 

Poll conducted by the New York Times

As ridiculous and conspiratorial as the theories peddled by climate change deniers may seem, one cannot help feeling empathetic towards the fundamental ideals they are rooted in. The rhetoric of these activists implicitly affirms something we all would love to believe- that the world isn’t as messed up as it seems, and that everything will be fine. 

Climate change deniers inadvertently assume that the truth couldn’t possibly be so hopeless and despairing. After all, why would the average Joe reject something so matter-of-fact, if not because they believe that the world is one in which the right and pure always triumph over the bad and ugly?

If only they were right.

In a time of record-breaking heatwaves and skyrocketing numbers of natural disasters (likely brought on by human behavior), it can be tempting to lose faith in humanity. Climate change deniers are shutting the door on that grim, gloomy narrative and opening a rose-colored window through which a new, refreshing reality is presented. 

That vision could not seem farther apart from the one which is most objectively true as of today. It illustrates a romantic yet distant world one in which institutions valiantly protect its people, corporations act in people’s best interest, and people themselves are logically sound enough to fight their imminent extinction — all of this instead of refusing to do away with unsustainable lifestyles. 

That is not the world we live in today. It pains most people to acknowledge that climate change is the result of our preventable failings. If you follow the money, you will find that fossil fuel companies have traded human livelihood in exchange for enhanced profit stream. All of this was done while some deliberately foment public skepticism towards climate science (most infamously in the case of ExxonMobil). Government entities are filled to the brim with private interests and industry lobbyists, all determined to rescind the environmental regulations keeping us afloat. 

Worst of all, the vast majority of people act as if nothing is wrong. They go about their daily lives, driving gas-guzzling cars and feeding companies who will eventually be responsible for the demise of civilization. All of this while the doomsday clock keeps on ticking. 

It makes sense why you would want to, against your better judgment, disregard the fact that this is the reality we live in today. Climate change denial speaks to our most intrinsic fears of death, all the while catering to the human predisposition to hold confirmation bias. It hears the things it wants to hear rather than what it needs to. So, yes- climate change deniers are idealists. They are people who refuse to acknowledge the status quo for the disheartening state that it’s in currently. They are people who are in denial, perhaps rightfully so, about a society increasingly corrupted by greed and falsehoods. They are people who I would love to believe, but can’t out of good conscience. 

Luckily, as science grows more and more robust, people are also beginning to catch on. A recent public poll revealed that as of 2018, a record-breaking 45% of Americans believe that global warming will pose a serious threat in their lifetime. Another poll, conducted by the Associated Press in 2018, showed that 71% of Americans recognize climate change as a reality, meaning that the climate change denier demographic is but a minority. 

US Senator (R – OK) and a rather high-profile climate change denier Jim Inhofe once called climate change “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated against the American people.” He was right. Except the hoax was not one orchestrated by some foreign actor. Instead, it was perpetrated by the exact entities in our backyard who have for years delayed climate action to serve themselves. And one day, this damage will have become irreversible. This deception will have been a group effort, enacted on by consumers like you and I consciously polluting the only planet we have. Or, at the very least, have not done enough to help. 

It agonises the optimist in all of us to admit that our world is screwed. But these circumstances must be recognised, internalised, and acted upon if we want to get anywhere closer to the utopia in which climate change deniers think they live.