Out of all perceivable obstacles in the fight for climate justice, climate change denial might just warrant the superlative of “most perplexing.” To diametrically oppose an observed phenomenon which 99% of the scientific community has reached a consensus on (which is staggering, because scientists rarely agree on anything) is quite a feat.
From “depraved opportunists” and “shamefully ignorant” to simply “really stupid,” climate change deniers have been designated a multitude of pejoratives, some of which they may very well deserve. But in the interest of exploring every dimension of these individuals and this movement, they should be understood as neither avaricious villains nor gullible simpletons, but rather as zealous idealists.
I am in no way seeking to downplay the perverse incentives behind giant corporations who actively discredit climate science or trivialize the consequences of this war on truth. But it can be liberating to, just for a moment, redefine the character of the 13%, or roughly 42.5 million, of Americans who deny the role of human behaviour in a warming world.
As ridiculous and conspiratorial as the theories peddled by climate change deniers may seem, one can’t help but feel empathy towards the fundamental ideals they are rooted in. The rhetoric employed by these activists implicitly affirms something we all would love to believe: the world isn’t as messed up as it’s portrayed to be, and everything will be fine.
Climate change deniers inadvertently conclude that the truth couldn’t possibly be so hopeless and despairing. After all, why would the average Joe reject something that seems to be so matter-of-fact, if not because they believe that the world is one in which the good and pure always triumph over the bad and ugly?
I only wish they were right.
In a time of unprecedented heatwaves and skyrocketing numbers of natural disasters most likely brought on by human behaviour, it can be tempting to lose faith in humanity and mourn the loss of Earth as we used to know it. Climate change deniers are closing the door on that grim, doom-and-gloom narrative and opening a rose-coloured window through which a new, refreshing reality is presented.
Remember how Republicans have decided to make climate change denial a cornerstone of their agenda?
Anyway here's Brooklyn.pic.twitter.com/Cwo0UC4rlI
— Brian Tyler Cohen (@briantylercohen) July 23, 2019
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 the human race is logically sound enough to act in order to avert their imminent extinction, instead of stubbornly maintaining fatal and 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 own preventable failings. If you follow the money, you will find that fossil fuel companies have traded human livelihood in exchange for enhanced profit streams, 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, who are determined to slash environmental regulations designed to keep warming to a minimum.
Worst of all, a large majority of people act as if nothing is wrong. They go about their daily lives, driving around gas-guzzling cars and consuming from companies who will eventually be responsible for the demise of civilization, all while the doomsday clock keeps on ticking.
It makes sense why you would want to, against your better judgment and common sense, disregard the fact that this is the reality we live in today. Climate change denial speaks to our most intrinsic fears of death and suffering and the human predisposition to hold confirmation bias: only hearing things that we want to hear rather than things we need to hear.
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 the science grows more and more robust, people are also beginning to catch on. An annual 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 demographic of climate change deniers are but a minority, although a vocal one at that.
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, but rather by the exact entities in our own backyard who have for years delayed climate action to serve themselves, and one day, the damage done will have become irreversible. This stratagem was a group effort, for consumers like you and I also consciously pollute the only planet we have, or at the very least have not done enough to stop it.
It agonizes the optimist in all of us to admit that the future does not look bright and the world is screwed up in inconceivable ways. But, these circumstances must be recognized, internalized and acted upon if we want to get anywhere close to the ideal world in which climate change deniers think they live in.