This is a political year. That means everyone has opinions about where the world should be headed and how we should get there. No matter how weird this political season has been, there remains a key difference between opinions and facts. That difference comes into the starkest relief when people must face their own inconsistencies in reconciling the two domains. And nowhere is the gap between opinions and facts more apparent than the subject of climate change. I’m talking about climate change deniers; people who benefit from science every day somehow manage to find a place in their heads to simultaneously reject it.
The facts of science — the facts of climate change — are in this day and age up for debate. But, science does not require belief to be true. Of course, everyone has a right to voice their opinion and debate, but climate science is not debatable any more than the temperature at which water boils is debatable. We have taken a proven scientific concept and convoluted it. President Donald Trump considers manmade climate change a “hoax” and therefore withdrew from the Paris climate accord. How did we get here? Just when did we begin to doubt the whole idea of climate change?
25 years ago, climate science was not a political or economic subject — it certainly wasn’t bipartisan. Republican President George H.W. Bush touted himself as being pro-environment. “I’m an environmentalist … And I always will be,” he said in his pledge to reduce acid rain in 1988. “And that is not inconsistent with being a businessman. Nor is it with being a conservative.”
Bush signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) treaty at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio. But similar to the Paris Agreement, the UNFCCC treaty does not have any penalty in place if countries refuse to lower their carbon dioxide emission, it just acknowledges that climate change is real and everyone has to work together to solve it. Conversation about climate change began to take root in the US among academic circles. Then, all of a sudden, the fossil fuel industries chimed into the conversation and turned a scientific talk into an economic debate. They feared the possibility of putting limits on industry by requiring a reduction of carbon dioxide levels, which would mean people losing jobs and them losing money. At that point in the early 90s, there was a debate taking place where there shouldn’t have been a debate at all. These industries started to bankroll think tanks and appeared in media to convince the public that the science behind climate change is wrong. Scientists were hired to haggle with any government climate regulations that negatively affected industry.
Some of the hired scientist contrarians also worked for the tobacco industry back when the big companies were claiming that second-hand smoke was not bad for you. The same people returned for the climate change “debate.” The tricks that they learned from the tobacco industry was that you don’t have to refute all the science; if you can just plant a little doubt or sow a little confusion and fear, it will take root and grow. This marked the birth of climate change denial.
So here we are today, having climate confusion in place of climate consensus. And it all started because science has often upset the establishment. Now the American people have voted in a leader who pulled out of a global negotiation to save the world from climate change — he reasons to put the country first, but in reality, he has put it at the back of the line in global progress. But here is the really difficult thing about denial for all of us: It always gets resolved in the end. That’s because when it comes to science denial, it’s reality that always has the last word.