Onions, Ogres, and Climate Denial

What do they all have in common? Layers

Note that throughout this piece about the layers of climate denial, I’ll be referring to those who reject climate science as climate deniers, NOT climate sceptics. This is because climate scientists are in fact the real sceptics – it’s in a scientist’s nature to be sceptical of evidence presented to them. Deniers who have no credentials behind them adopt the term “climate sceptic” in order to seem more qualified on the subject than they are, & media outlets who use the term sceptic inappropriately are essentially supporting climate denial.

When we think of climate deniers, perhaps we think of the type of person who stubbornly fails to ever see another person’s point of view, who love nothing more than the sound of their own voice, and protest things in place to protect other people’s rights (such as pandemic lock-downs; abortion; or pride). They tend to be right-wing, and the prominent figures boasting this denial likely have some tie to companies who have vested interests in keeping things the same – such as the oil industry, who have spent millions funding climate misinformation and confusion (Climate Reality Project).

Such anti-climate change campaigns are both dangerous and despicable, since scientists are as sure that current climate change is real and man-made, as they are sure that cigarettes harm your health (Climate Change – What Everyone Needs to Know). Yet, this is just one form of climate denial, and to rage a war on this, and engage in keyboard battle with those who won’t accept the reality of climate change, may only serve as a distraction. Rather than trying to alter the views of a select-few, many of whom are just too self-serving for their positions to shift, it may be better to look inwards. Ask yourself: could I be guilty of climate denial?

For I think climate denial comes in many forms, that sit within different layers. First of all, we have the outer skin – the climate denial mentioned so far. The interesting thing about this category of deniers is that many of them don’t have an informational repellent on their skin, forcing them to ward off scientific advice. Instead, the ideas they reject are a societal transition from capitalism to socialism, or for their fortunes to be sacrificed to reduce the suffering of others, or seeing their industries and jobs being replaced. So, they choose to loudly dispute the science, and pretend that climate action is an “expensive hoax” (like Donald Trump). These people don’t tell you that failing to act on climate change will be far more expensive than acting on it, because they see it as more expensive for them personally, and their ego is so large that their personal experiences may as well be everyone’s reality.

Underneath the skin, we have the next layer, made up of those who accept that the climate is changing, but say that it has nothing to do with humans. They claim that the climate fluctuates naturally (which is true, but is not the whole story), and that this is causing warming (but this is actually the opposite of what scientists expect). Or, they might talk about how recent heating is because of the sun (also proved wrong). It seems that this group chooses to believe whichever narrative that will allow them to shirk their responsibility, as a reasonably well-off human, in the climate crisis.

The next tier contains the people who agree that climate change is caused by humans, but they fail to recognise that it is already happening, and that the threats are imminent. Many people have been part of this group – when I first learned of climate change, over a decade ago, I thought it was some far-away, distant concept. This idea has been undermined rather quickly for many, as the deadly consequences of a heated planet have been snowballing. However, many still somehow deny that any profound and costly effects are going to be hitting us hard any time soon. They have failed to notice all the blaring alarms, but are likely to be in for a sudden wake-up call.

Then we have a group similar to the last, except that, whilst they realise the threat of climate change is imminent, they do not understand how drastically it will effect them. This layer lives in a bubble of naivety. The fact that many environmental catastrophes are still to play out, and that they are yet to reach the milder climates of the Western World, has lured many into a false sense of security. People think they will be safe, but in the next 30 years, as human population (and therefore demand) grows, resources diminish, and entire countries become uninhabitable, nobody can guarantee safety.

Many have grasped this, and are aware of this reality, but they fail to act like they know this. This is the next layer – those in amnesiac denial – they accept the truth of the science, but then just forget about the existential threat it presents. There are many reasons for people possessing this form of denial:

  • They use excuses – they’re just too busy, or can’t be bothered
  • They tell themselves individuals can never make a difference
  • They say its someone else’s problem, e.g. – its up to scientists to come up with a magical solution that will save us all (which fails to recognise that we already have all the solutions, we just need to enact them)
  • They’re unable to handle the complexity of the situation, or the fear it induces, so they turn it into a joke – e.g. making fun of climate activists, or joking about extreme weather situations

Honestly, a lot of people, myself included, fall into this bracket. We get sucked into the stagnancy of life, and our creativity and solidarity are stifled by a need to always act in our own best interest (i.e. to make a living, or an internal need to be deemed likable or desirable to others). And so, we blankly stare out the window as an indiscriminate, cruel crisis rages on.

At the inner core of denial, we have the final group. These are in a similar position to the last, and a lot of the same descriptors apply to them also. However, they do make some changes for the climate (for instance, lowering their carbon footprints), but are not reacting in the most effective way. The climate crisis stems from a systemic issue, and the only way to solve it is to radically overhaul the current system. We must choose system change over climate change, and the final group of deniers are those who do not fully recognise this.

If we truly accepted the impacts that climate change will have, the vast majority of people would be striking and marching and demanding real, necessary action. They would spend the bare minimum amount of time working in order to live, and the rest of the time, the masses would be fighting for our future, so that we can all live in 10, or 20, or 30 years from now. Yet, the people who do act in such a way are called “extreme”. Well, I disagree – when you have learned what is expected to happen due to climate breakdown, and have accepted this reality deep-down, and handled your fear – it is actually sheer survival instinct. And how can surviving be extreme?

Funnily enough, despite my work as an environmental scientist, I would consider myself to be guilty of more than a couple of these forms of denial. Even though I’ve dabbled in environmental activism over the last year, I know that I could personally do so much more. Now I can at least recognise that my own lack of action for the climate comes from a form of climate denial that I myself possess.

I think that understanding where I am on the ladder of denial is vital for me to actually deal with it, and to realise what I must do in order to shift my own harmful patterns of thinking. We all need to prioritise the planet, and the responsibility we have to protect it, more. Some ought to do this more than others. By simply taking the time to identify where we are in our understanding of the science behind the climate crisis, we can determine what exactly we need to educate ourselves on, in order to help us acknowledge how important the planet is. Once we have learned, then we can react.

For if we don’t react, then suddenly the climate will have collapsed beyond return. If fear, a lack of understanding, or inertia holds us back from fighting, then before we know it, the problems will have happened. Then we will be forced to move, to understand what we have done, and to face our worst fears.

So, what do you think? Do you agree that there are various ways to deny the reality of climate change? Is your understanding of climate denial slightly different now?


Climate Reality Project: https://www.climaterealityproject.org/blog/climate-denial-machine-how-fossil-fuel-industry-blocks-climate-action Accessed on 05/2020.

J Romm. 2015. Climate Change – What Everyone Needs to Know

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