Exposing The Logic of Climate Change Denial



At Oregon Live, a very interesting piece on a subject which fascinates us -the logic of climate change denial . It's by Michael P. Nelson and Kathleen Dean Moore, both from Oregon State University. Together they co-edited the anthology "Moral Ground: Ethical Action for a Planet in Peril." (Trinity University Press, 2010)

We reprint part of their article below, because it's good and well worth reading:

"Consider the logic by which people reach policy decisions. Any argument reaching a conclusion about what we ought to do will have two premises. The first premise lays out the implications of scientific research: Unchecked anthropogenic climate change will profoundly harm the chances of future generations, undermining the necessary conditions for human life and liberty. The second premise lays out the values at stake, a culture's collective moral wisdom about what is just and good: It's wrong to violate human rights, condemning all future people to struggle and misery. When you combine these facts and these values, the conclusion is inescapable: We are obligated to act quickly to avert anthropogenic climate change. 
If deniers want to reject the conclusion of a valid argument -- which is exactlyglobal warming denial what they want to do -- they have only two strategies. They could, of course, shrug off the moral principles. "Violating basic human rights of billions of people, present and future? Fine with me." But no one would use this strategy; that would reveal a moral monstrosity or sociopathology of cosmic proportions. 
What's left? The only alternative is to deny the facts of the matter, undermining or profoundly misunderstanding the science. To endlessly, mindlessly quibble over the reality of melting sea ice only makes one, at worst, stubborn or stupid; to quibble over whether we should or should not massively violate human rights makes one dangerously immoral. It's an easy strategy decision: Go after the facts. Thus, millions of dollars are poured into attacks on climate science and scientists by those deeply invested in preventing society from drawing any conclusions that might block the unimaginably profitable activity of pouring carbon into the air. 
We can learn from this. First, we should not write off climate-change denial as yet more evidence of scientific illiteracy or declining faith in science. That's not what's going on here. 
Second, we should realize there's no point in debating the science. There probably is no science, no level of certainty or consensus that will change the denier's mind. climate change denial That's a smoke screen, a black hole of effort to keep the rest of us busy. The deniers will reject the conclusion of any argument for meaningful climate action, and their professed rejection of the science is merely a means to that end. 
There are undoubtedly many hapless people deluded by attacks on climate science. But those who launch the attacks are not deceiving themselves; they know better. For them, climate change denial is not a matter of ignorance or mistake or delusion, but a strategic decision. What they really must believe, but cannot say, is that greed and limitless profit trump the human rights of all future generations. 
These are the beliefs requiring a full-blown public debate. Do we have obligations to future generations? Do we have obligations to rescue children in danger? Do we have an obligation to respect human rights? And above all, what are the limits to the values we would sacrifice and the moral principles we would violate in order to make a killing on investments in gas and oil? "
Michael P. Nelson holds the Ruth H. Spaniol Endowed Chair in Natural Resources and is a professor of environmental ethics and philosophy at Oregon State University. Kathleen Dean Moore is a Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at OSU. Together they co-edited the anthology "Moral Ground: Ethical Action for a Planet in Peril." (Trinity University Press, 2010)



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I think it is true that a lot of deniers are using the political ploy of denying the facts rather than saying something horrid like "to hell with posterity, what've they ever done for us" (although I have heard that said, ostensibly as a joke). But I think that a great many religious fundamentalists really don't believe the science of climate change. They also believe posterity is damned anyway save for a chosen few. Yes, really!

Written in December 2012

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  • Posted on Dec. 12, 2012. Listed in:

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