Misconceptions of “Science Deniers”

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Since the release of Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal, there have been numerous critiques of the resolution and its accompanying FAQ summary. The vast majority of these critics argue with the assumption that climate change exists and criticize the Green New Deal on the grounds of economic infeasibility.

This hasn’t stopped many environmentalists from dismissing opponents of the deal (myself included) by applying the “science denier” label. This label is too often applied so broadly that only the most extreme anarcho-primitivist could evade it. Anyone that advocates anything short of devoting every penny to stopping climate change might find themselves labeled a denier.

Most people are aware by now that labels (statist included) are used to easily dismiss arguments without addressing them, the most notorious being labels like “racist” and “sexist.” And yet science denier still sticks.

The environmentalists that carelessly apply this label fall under the misconception that the climate change debate has only two sides. The thinking goes that if one does not wholeheartedly support any and every government solution to climate change, they must be denying the problem itself. Accusers ignore any nuance to the severity of the problem. If one acknowledges that climate change is a problem worthy of concern, but opposes a complete overhaul of capitalism in favor of the Green New Deal’s “new economy,” that makes them a science denier.

In reality, there are at least six different positions within the climate change debate. People that fall into the lukewarmer category believe climate change exists. They also believe that humans play a role. They believe that we have time to perform a cost/benefit analysis to determine the solution that’s best for humanity. Perhaps abolishing all usage of fossil fuels is as ridiculous as completely ignoring their environmental impact. Maybe there’s a middle ground. That’s what lukewarmers (and many others) believe.

The science denier accusation has even been applied to the entire libertarian movement. Apparently science has reached a consensus saying massive government overreach is the best solution to saving the environment. To be skeptical of a politician’s promise that their plan can save the environment, as well as provide everyone with free healthcare and free college, will make you a science denier in the eyes of many.

Oddly enough, those handing out these labels have often made future predictions about climate change that have turned out to be completely wrong. The scientific consensus is not that we’re all going to die in 12 years, as some have argued by misconstruing statistics. The consensus is that climate changes, and that it’s changing in a way that will likely cause problems. This is far different from what the alarmist environmentalists have claimed. One alarmist, Paul Ehrlich, predicted that the world would be experiencing mass starvation by the year 2000. Needless to say, he was a bit off.

This debate surrounding the Green New Deal is no different than the debate over Trump pulling out of the Paris Climate Accord. Critics of the accord claimed it was a bad deal, not that it was trying to solve a false problem. Critics of these deals are critiquing effectiveness, not the end goal.

Imagine a charity collecting donations to provide food and shelter for the homeless. Many people will gladly donate to such a cause without any further questions, but some will be more skeptical. These skeptics will want to know more about how the charity operates, including where their money is going and exactly how efficient it is at helping the homeless. It turns out that this charity uses 90% of the donations to cover overhead costs, leaving only 10% to help those in need. The charity also makes absurd claims to gain support. They claim the United States alone has over 300 million homeless people on the edge of starvation.

The skeptics of this charity decide not to donate. Some keep their money, while others donate to different homeless shelters. Supporters of the charity then label them science deniers for claiming that homelessness doesn’t exist. They are accused of being part of the problem, and are ostracized for ignoring the scientific consensus that homeless people do actually exist.

This scenario isn’t too far off from what’s happening within the climate change debate. To oppose any “solution” makes you a denier (not just of climate change, but of science!), and any nuanced view of the subject will be dismissed.

The truth is, the majority of so-called science deniers don’t actually deny that the climate is changing in some way. And within that group, most believe it’s a problem to be solved. Preventing discussion of a solution to climate change might actually be contributing to climate change by delaying the appropriate response.

If stopping climate change is your goal, don’t keep recycling the science denier label as an argument. Throw it out!

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Nathan A. Kreider is the host of The Conversation, a podcast about ideas and how to spread them. He also publishes a blog and video content, including short book reviews, which can be found on his website nkreider.com. He can be contacted by email via [email protected]

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