The old denialism denied the reality of climate change. Funded by the fossil fuel industry it spouted disinformation and lies and fostered doubt. It changed climate change from an objectively observable fact into a political “opinion”.1
The old denialism is dead. Not even the fossil fuel industry denies climate change anymore.2 A new denialism has replaced it, however.
The new denialism doesn’t deny climate change. In the contrary, it emphatically affirms it. The new denialism doesn’t deny that climate change is a serious problem either – it admits that too. What the new denialists deny is how big the crisis really is. According to the new denialists, our ways of life don’t really have to change. Sure, we’ll have to switch to green energy and make some other adaptations, but we really don’t have to worry that much. Everything will be fine. Scientists, politicians, and corporations will fix it.
The biggest enemy of the new denialists are people warning for the real seriousness of our situation, people arguing that very fundamental changes are necessary if we want to avoid total collapse, people warning for tipping points being crossed, people warning that carbon neutrality by 2050 isn’t nearly enough (and isn’t realistically possible anyway), people saying that widespread collapse of human civilization is a real possibility (or even unavoidable) unless we make very drastic changes right now. For the new denialists, such people are “doomists”. They are the new denialists’ biggest enemy because these so-called “doomists” threaten the status quo.
The new denialism denies the necessity of real change. The new denialism denies that we are heading for a climate change disaster of apocalyptic proportion (regardless of whether that still can be prevented or not). The new denialism denies the seriousness of our situation.
The old denialism is dead. The new denialism is still alive. Michael Mann, one of the most distinguished climate scientists, is probably the most outspoken new denialist. But whatever credibility the new denialism still had is quickly falling apart. This week’s leak of the new IPCC report shows that even the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which is by its nature very cautious and conservative, is now warning for irreversible tipping points and drastic change. “Life on Earth can recover from a drastic climate shift by evolving into new species and creating new ecosystems,” they write in the report, but “humans cannot”.3
Most likely, the new denialist response will be that the report says nothing new, that they were claiming that climate change is serious all along, but that we can still prevent real disaster, and that the “doomists” who claim we can’t are the real problem.
Like the old denialists, the new denialists spread misinformation and lies. Very few of the people they call “doomists” actually claim that climate catastrophe such a widespread societal collapse is – strictly speaking – unavoidable. Typically they hold that it can in principle still be prevented if we make very drastic changes right now. What sets the so-called “doomists” apart from the new denialists is not that they claim that the collapse of human civilization is unavoidable, but that they claim that we are not making those necessary changes and that we are quickly running out of time. Contrary to the new denialists, the so-called “doomists” don’t deny the gravity of our situation, and because of that, they demand real change right now. In other words, the so-called “doomists” are revolutionaries and that is why the new denialists consider them the enemy – the so-called “doomists” threaten the status quo.
The new denialists, then, are very much like the old denialists: they deny important aspects of climate change, because accepting those would imply that solving the problem requires bigger changes than they are willing to accept. And to prevent that, they spread misinformation and lies, and try to marginalize the people who demand a future and the drastic changes necessary to make sure that we and our children actually have one. It is unfortunate that a climate scientist of Michael Mann’s caliber has chosen to align himself with this new denialism, but he is by no means the only one.
What the leaked IPCC report makes clear more than anything is that the new denialists are on the wrong side of history. Their gaslighting is as nefarious as that of the old denialists and just as dangerous. Their disinformation and lies feeds doubt and reinforces the idea that the situation really isn’t that bad, that we still have plenty of time to fix it, that we don’t really have to worry. And because of that, virtually no effort has been made yet in reducing CO₂ emissions. Of course, plenty of solar cells are being installed and wind mills are being built (albeit not nearly enough), but our energy consumption keeps growing faster, and consequently, these efforts have thus far been cosmetic mainly. We’re not doing anything substantial to prevent catastrophe, and “thanks” to the new denialists and their continuous disparaging of the people who stress the urgency of real change this is not likely to change soon (and thus, not in time).
The new denialism is killing us.
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- Imagine that “believing” in gravity would be considered a political opinion. That’s obviously absurd, but the same is true for “believing” in climate change.
- But many right-wing extremists and the disinformed fools that support them still do, unfortunately.
- Quoted in the Guardian article about the report.