May 04, 2017 | Ted Nordhaus
This disturbing and memorable story has kept coming back to me the last few years, as a cadre of climate activists, ideologically motivated scholars, and sympathetic journalists have started labeling an ever-expanding circle of people they disagree with climate deniers.
Climate change, of course, is real and demons are not. But in the expanding use of the term “denier,” the view of the climate debate as a battle between pure good and pure evil, and the social dimensions of the narrative that has been constructed, some quarters of the climate movement have begun to seem similarly unhinged.
Not so long ago, the term denier was reserved for right-wing ideologues, many of them funded by fossil fuel companies, who claimed that global warming either wasn’t happening at all or wasn’t caused by humans. Then it was expanded to so-called “lukewarmists,” scientists and other analysts who believe that global warming is happening and is caused by humans, but either don’t believe it will prove terribly severe or believe that human societies will prove capable of adapting without catastrophic impacts.
As frustration grew after the failure of legislative efforts to cap US emissions in 2010, demons kept appearing wherever climate activists looked for them. In 2015, Bill McKibben argued in the New York Times that anyone who didn’t oppose the construction of the Keystone pipeline, without regard to any particular stated view about climate change, was a denier.
Then in December 2015, Harvard historian and climate activist Naomi Oreskesexpanded the definition further. “There is also a new, strange form of denial that has appeared on the landscape of late,” Oreskes wrote in the Guardian, “one that says that renewable sources can’t meet our energy needs. Oddly, some of these voices include climate scientists, who insist that we must now turn to wholesale expansion of nuclear power.”
Oreskes took care not to mention the scientists in question, for that would have been awkward. They included Dr. James Hansen, who gave the first congressional testimony about the risks that climate change presented the world, and has been a leading voice for strong, immediate, and decisive global action to address climate change for almost three decades. The others—Kerry Emanuel, Ken Caldeira, and Tom Wigley—are all highly decorated climate scientists with long and well-established histories of advocating for climate action. The four of them had travelled to the COP21 meeting in Paris that December to urge the negotiators and NGOs at the meeting to embrace nuclear energy as a technology that would be necessary to achieve deep reductions in global emissions.
So it was only a matter of time before my colleagues and I at the Breakthrough Institute would be tarred with the same brush. In a new article in the New Republic, reporter Emily Atkin insists that we are “lukewarmists.” She accuses us of engaging in a sleight of hand “where climate projections are lowballed; climate change impacts, damages, and costs are underestimated” and claims that we, like other deniers, argue “that climate change is real but not urgent, and therefore it’s useless to do anything to stop it.”
As a luke warmer geologist and frequent contributor to Watts Up With That, who thinks that humans are only responsible for 20-40% of recent warming, that the climate sensitivity (TCR) is less than 1.5 C, that there is almost no chance of catastrophic climate change (short of the end of this interglacial stage) and that N2N (natural gas to nuclear) is the only viable pathway to low carbon-emission energy, I say…
Welcome to the “club”!
Maybe we need a betting pool for which activist is the last to be labeled a “denier.”
Happy Independence Day! … a couple of days early.