There seems to be a number of people making the rather silly argument that there is no such thing as climate denial any more [not that the article referenced actually does that]. Presumably people do this to imply that as long as a person says “climate change is occurring” then no matter what else they say, or agitate for, they are supposedly not denying reality – they can be trusted.

‘Accepting climate change’ without accepting the causes or consequences of climate change, seems to be a strategic assertion to do nothing, or do little to challenge the current circumstances causing climate change (Greenhouse gas emissions). This may be accidental, or it may be because people can lie strategically…. This is life. So how do we tell if people are doing something we might call climate denial?

First off

What does acceptance of climate change involve?

  • Acceptance that the agreement of the vast majority of climate scientists about the evidence for climate change is our best guide to climate reality. This scientific agreement, on the whole, asserts:
  • a) Climate change is happening
  • b) Climate change is harmful and serious and getting increasingly serious
  • c) While there are many possible causes, the main cause is the growth in greenhouse gases (GHG) from: the burning of fossil fuels; concrete use and manufacture; and agriculture
  • d) The most important of these causes is the burning of fossil fuels
  • e) We cannot predict the exact course of climate change, because it forms a set of interlinked complex systems. For example, some places such as the UK, may get colder if the gulf stream changes its pattern. However we can make the general prediction climate change, as it is progressing, will be intensely disruptive.

Scientists can be wrong of course, but they usually squabble over areas of doubt. If there is doubt, then there is not that much agreement. On the other had people who deny what is agreed at present, can be wrong as well as opposed to leading the new science.

What acceptance of climate change leads to is the realisation that climate change forms a major threat to the continuance of current forms of social organisation, through many different pathways

  • collapse of food supplies
  • problems with water supplies
  • increased death from heat
  • wild weather
  • increased droughts
  • increasingly destructive floods
  • rise of sea levels and loss of habitability of islands and low lying coastal areas
  • intense storms, cyclones and hurricanes.
  • etc…

These events will pressure economies, supply chains, security of living and so on. The cumulative effects will be very hard to deal with. Again the exact form of collapse in different places is very hard to predict, because of the complex system problem

However, we can predict pretty solidly, that the effects will not be good for humans.

This is the basic level. Then there is the level of action. Are people attempting to act on this knowledge? Are they attempting to reduce GHG emissions, encouraging GHG reductions to the best of their ability, or to render GHG less necessary? If not, then they are effectively denying what they are supposed to be recognising.

This border between recognition and action, means that climate change denial is a much more sprawling beast.

Climate change denial involves some of the following:

  • Assertions that the ‘consensus’ of climate scientists is unreal (as there is supposedly lots of dissent about climate change), or the result of widespread fraud.
  • Lots of reference to non-climate change scientists, or non-scientists, who disagree with the ‘consensus’
  • Assertions that science should not be about agreement, when the absence of large scale dissent in the field, implies there is no recognised cause for disagreement over the presence and source of climate change
  • Assertions that climate scientists are conspiring to impose a dictatorial left wing government on the world [attempts to make climate change political rather than an agreement as to evidence]
  • Assertions that climate change is not happening
  • Assertions that climate change has nothing to do with human actions: “There’s been billions of years of climate change,” without explaining why if climate change is natural, humans cannot be a factor in causing it, and we should not do anything any differently
  • Assertions climate change is happening, and there is an anthropogenic component, but there is no point lessening the effect of that component.
  • Assertions that climate change is happening slowly and is nothing to worry about, or that we will easily adapt
  • Assertions that climate change will be beneficial – it will increase plant growth, or stop deaths from cold etc. [While Climate change may appear beneficial in some places, it will not be in general, because of the systemic disruption, and the imbalances generated]
  • Assertions that extreme, highly unusual, or unprecedented weather events are absolutely normal and happen every so many years
  • Assertions that tiny increases in CO2 levels cannot significantly change the climate
  • Assertions that we can continue to burn fossil fuels with no ill effects
  • Assertions that we can increase the burning of fossil fuels with no ill effects
  • Assertions that burning fossil fuels ‘we’ have sold somewhere else in the world, is irrelevant to our situation
  • Attempts to enforce, or encourage, the emission of greenhouse gas emissions
  • Attempts to argue that reduction of ’emissions intensity’ is wonderful even if GHG emissions increase
  • Attempts to avoid targets for GHG emission reduction
  • Assertions that action against climate change will harm the economy and should be performed in such a way that it does not affect the economy at all
  • Assertions that everyone else should act before we act to prevent climate change
  • Some people may claim they are doing something to hinder climate change, but their actions reveal that they are not, or their actions increase GHG emissions. Yes people lie.
  • Attempts to silence or threaten climate scientists, or prevent public servants from mentioning climate change
  • Attempts to remove climate data from public websites


Acceptance of climate change, means acceptance of climate action

At a minimum, that means:

  • Steady reduction of fossil fuel use.
  • Stopping new fossil fuel use and new fossil fuel mines, unless it can be shown that newness reduces the total amount of GHG emissions in practice
  • Steady reduction of all other sources of greenhouse gas emissions
  • Regeneration of ecologies
  • Encouraging change in lifestyles that need fossil fuels

There are many other solutions which may need to come into play, but these are basic factors in moving towards a solution, and which come from the scientific agreement about what is happening.

Supposed acceptance of climate change but rejection of climate action, trying to hide the lack of climate action, or trying to maintain or increase fossil fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions means that a person does not accept the reality of climate change and its causes. They are essentially in denial, whatever they might want to call it.

In this sense, whatever they say, the Australian Coalition Federal government is engaging in climate denial. It does not act to reduce GHG, and it encourages more emissions by supporting more coal and gas power and exports. It pretends extreme weather events or bushfires [1], [2] are normal, and denies the Great Barrier Reef or the inland river systems [1], [2], [3] are in unprecedented trouble. The Canadian government is similar.