IISS: Climate Change Denial
Climate Change: Strategies of Denial
Climate change caused by global warming is, arguably, a serious, even existential, threat to the world order and to the welfare of humanity. No one really knows; there are many uncertainties around the rate of warming and the severity of its environmental and social impacts, and hence the most effective, and cost-effective, ways to avoid or ameliorate them. But over the last five or six years, public discourse has been driven less by policy needs and more by punditry. The propagation of myths and misconceptions, whether deliberate or inadvertent, continues to poison the debate over how to mitigate or adapt to climate change.
Argumentum ex cold snap
The dramatic floods in Central Europe in late May and early June 2013 brought home with a vengeance scientists’ warnings that the world faces more frequent and more severe extreme weather as global warming continues. In many parts of Europe, the floods were worse than those of 2002, which were considered once-in-100-years events at the time. Whenever something like this happens, there is always a chorus crying that a single weather event can’t be attributed to climate change. For example, in July 2012 Washington Post columnist George Will, appearing on ABC’s Sunday-morning show ‘This Week’, answered a question about that summer’s record heat wave:
How do we explain the heat? One word: ‘summer’. I grew up in central Illinois in a house without air conditioning. What is so unusual about this? Now come the winter, there will be a cold snap, and lots of snow, and the same guys … will start lecturing us: ‘There’s a difference between the weather and the climate’. I agree with that. We’re having some hot weather. Get over it.
This is true as far as it goes, but that’s not very far. Every extreme weather event is part of a pattern, and it is the pattern that matters. Most people, though, tend to focus on the day-to-day, not the long-term patterns and trends. Researchers at the University of British Columbia have shown that the weather over the preceding three months has a significant effect on people’s belief in and concern about climate change when polled. For those without strong established convictions, headline-making weather has a major influence on their responses. They found the same tendency among newspaper editors: the number of and attitudes in opinion articles from newspapers such as the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and USA Today tend to fluctuate with the weather as well.