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Ideas From The CBC

Wednesday, October 4 at 2:00 pm

Climate Change Denial, Part 1 
(… Decoding the resistance to climate change)

The evidence is everywhere: forests retreating, glaciers melting, sea levels rising. Droughts, floods, wildfires and storms have increased five-fold over the past 50 years. And we're only just beginning to feel the strain of climate change. It's estimated that rising sea levels will threaten 30 million people in Bangladesh alone. Miami could disappear within a generation. Despite all of these dire events and projections, the attacks continue — on climate scientists.

Clive Hamilton is an Australian public intellectual who's written books about global warming, among them: Requiem for a Species and Defiant Earth. His books were intended to enlighten the public. But as he says: "anyone who engages publicly in the climate change debate has been subject to threats and abuse from a global army of climate science deniers. There are a lot of disturbed, angry people out there, which is, of course, socially worrying."  

The denial about climate change is widespread and profound. In fact, a term has been coined for it: "climate change denial disorder". So how did we get here? That's where Naomi Oreskes enters the picture. She's a Harvard professor and historian of science. In her book, Merchants of Doubt, she traces the people behind what has become a global industry of climate change denial. There are the American billionaire Koch brothers, who continue to finance "doubt" campaigns. Some observers put their contribution to climate change denial at $120 million, with the result that many now believe that stories about climate change are "fake news" or a "Chinese hoax". According to the Pew Research Center, almost half of Americans surveyed do not believe climate change is caused by humans. And 20% of Australians don't believe in climate change at all. Canadians are divided on the issue, too; however, public opinion research in 2016 shows that two-thirds of Canadians want federal leadership to tackle the crisis.  

The journal, Global Environmental Change, refers to a study that lists the factors which connect climate change deniers to each other, no matter their country of origin: overwhelmingly, they're politically conservative, male and hold the environment in low regard. Some far-right groups do agree humans cause climate change but they maintain it's immigrants who are to blame. 

Why does climate science face such an intractable problem? Naomi Oreskes concludes that, "it's not about the facts, not about the science.  Underneath all of this is a fear that capitalism has failed. That new rules and regulations and carbon taxes to fight climate change are somehow an assault on our freedom and liberty — that we'll become Communists. That's why environmentalists are called "watermelons", green on the outside, red on the inside.  Hard to believe, but that's the core of the resistance."   

This episode features Clive Hamilton, an Australian public intellectual who has written books about climate change: Requiem for a Species and Defiant Earth. He is also author of the widely-acclaimed, Affluenza.  He is a Professor of Public Ethics at Charles Sturt University in Canberra, Australia.

(Part two airs tomorrow)

To listen to the audio of “Climate Change Denial, Part 1” on Ideas From The CBC online, please click HERE.