“A new scientific truth does not as a rule prevail because its opponents declare themselves persuaded or convinced, but because the opponents gradually die out and the younger generation is made familiar with the truth from the start.”
Almost daily the scientific evidence for human induced global climate change gets stronger and stronger, and almost daily the climate change deniers or skeptics as they call themselves come up with a new fallacy to throw in the way of progress. First, they tried to deny the existence of climate change completely. “Temperatures aren’t going up. You have no proof,” they cried. “It’s all nonsense!”
Scientists responded to that by providing incontrovertible evidence of the warming. Year after year, with ever increasing accuracy, the data rolled in relentlessly, like a rising tide. The warmest year on record was followed by another warmest year, and another, which became the warmest decade on record. Glaciers retreated and ice sheets crumbled, all of it documented in excruciating detail. Grudgingly, most of the deniers had to abandon that argument, but they weren’t beaten yet.
“OK,” some of them reluctantly conceded. “Maybe temperatures are increasing, but it has nothing to do with humans. It’s all part of a natural cycle that we have nothing to do with.” Again, the scientists responded. They demonstrated over and over again the simple physics of how increasing carbon dioxide levels warm the atmosphere. They documented the historic rise in CO2 levels going back to the birth of the Industrial Revolution. Researchers delved deep into the fossil record and the most ancient of ice cores to show that both these rapid increases in global temperatures and CO2 levels were linked and unprecedented in the history of the planet. Still the deniers tenaciously held on.
Their latest fallacious rampart against reality is, “Yes, yes, we know that climate change is real. OK, OK humans have contributed to it, but there’s nothing we can do now. Any changes we make to reduce CO2 output will doom the economy and put our country at a competitive disadvantage. We can’t do anything!”
It would be easy to laugh at them, to dismiss their dogmatic denial of evidence and refusal to accept facts as aberrations to be refuted, mental deficiencies to be cured, if the consequences weren’t so dire, and if we weren’t suffering from our own fallacies. Those of us who pride ourselves on recognizing the threat that global climate change plays are operating under our own delusions. Despite mounting evidence and years of accumulated experience, we continue to cling desperately to the illusion that we can convince the deniers.
With childlike naiveté, we continue to hope against hope that if we can just do one more study, if we can find one more data point, if we can make one last convincing argument then magically the deniers will see the light. They will at long last accept the facts, admit that we were right all along and join with us as we unite to save the planet. Again, it would be easy to laugh if the consequences weren’t so dire.
It is time for us to face facts. The deniers will never stop denying. No matter what we say or do, they will always find some reason to doubt. Galileo never convinced the Pope that the Earth wasn’t the center of the universe. Most of the doctors who argued against Pasteur and Semmelweis went to their graves denying the germ theory of disease. Creationists continue to argue against evolution, unbowed by the dictates of observable facts. In short, progress is not made by convincing the deniers. It is made in spite of them.
It is high time we stopped wasting time and waiting for the deniers to see the error of their ways. That’s never going to happen. We can’t afford the luxury of building a consensus. We need to let go of the illusion that this is a legitimate debate. The debate is over. We need to take action now. Stop allowing politicians to use the naysayers as an excuse for inaction. Hold the corporations that lobby for the status quo and fund the anti-climate change shills accountable. It is time to stop arguing. Go to the ballot box. Vote with our wallets. Take to the streets if necessary, and it is necessary, but make changes now.