Inhabitants and visitors to various climate science obsessed blogs have noted the recent controversy about calling climate change denialists denialists. As James Annan points out this is an Amen Chorus, which originated in London, but like the wave in a stadium, is propagating to the rather peculiar corners of the world, Australia, England, California, and, wait, now flys Ethon** into my den with news that even in view of the snow covered mountains of Boulder, Colorado great umbrage is being taken. You would think they had better things to do out there, like wait for the snow to fly and the skiing to start.
For the plaintiff, we have the well know commissioner of the language police and climate debate, Roger Pielke, Jr., himself.
As many in the comments in that place which cannot be named, point out climate change denialist is an accurate description that has nothing to do with the Holocaust. They speak for themselves, but I would like to point to the best response I have seen, from Michael Tobis on the google group, globalclimatechange (see how to join on the right hand side).
Let's be blunt. The phrase "climate change denier" is meant to be evocative of the phrase "holocaust denier". As such the phrase conjurs up a symbolic allusion fully intended to equate questioning of climate change with questioning of the Holocaust.
Let's be blunt. This allusion is an affront to those who suffered and died in the Holocaust. Let those who would make such an allusion instead be absolutely explicit about their assertion of moral equivalency between Holocaust deniers and those that they criticize.
This allusion has no place in the discourse on climate change. I say this as someone fully convinced of a significant human role in the behavior of the climate system.
RP has retreated to the meta, now being obsessed with the origin of the term climate change deniers, a topic that the Rabett Institute could shed some light on, perhaps at a different time. Today's seminar discusses:
Denialism does not have as its purpose a denial of warming. It is the denial of necessity for a policy.
Its weapon is diversion. It diverts the conversation to minutia of the science. Its objective is to divert the scientist from summarizing the situation effectively, to divert the casual reader from making the effort to understand, and to leave the casual reader with the impression of a subtle controversy even where the facts are entirely clear and rather straightforward.Among its tactics is a reliance on the good nature of the scientist, who loves to make every effort to explain and explore scientific knowledge, and in many cases believes himself or herself obligated to do so.
- Why is the issue being raised?
- Why is the issue being raised now?
As an exercise in research on symbolic politics, I'd like to use this thread to see if we can collectively track the exact origins of the phrases "climate change denial" and "climate change deniers".The issue is being raised because denialist is the most powerful and terse description of those who deny anthropic climate change. It is a negative description. As Tobis points out, denialist is an accurate description. There is NO comparable term to describe those who worry about climate change driven by human emissions of greenhouse gases, or indeed those who worry about other environmental problems.
The rhetoric the denialists have used to describe their opponents seeks to belittle, but because it does so, the language is childish. Lifting a few from various places, we get Green Stalinists, Climate Catastrophists, Radical Environmentalists, Green Fanatical Moron and it goes rapidly downhill from there.
A good analogy can be found in the Abortion Wars. Those who would outlaw abortion, call themselves Pro-Life. Those who would allow abortion have stuck themselves with the rather strained Pro-Choice. The asymmetry in clarity and image of the LABELS has been of great advantage to those favoring outlawing abortion.
RPJr is a POLITICAL scientist. He knows that the term "climate change denialist" shifts the PUBLIC debate towards those who hold with the IPCC consensus and believe that public policy should be based on it. This is the answer to why. Where Pielke's interests lie is interesting. As with all questions of motivation, one is best advised to look at what people do, not at what they say.
The answer to why now, is also simple. Ten years ago, the evidence for human influence on the atmosphere and climate was strong, but not extremely so. Enough then to justify no cost policies, which also were strongly opposed by the denialists wearing the cloths of skeptics, but probably not enough for stronger action. It was reasonable to assign skepticism to those who had strong reservations at that time, even though several of them (Singer, Michaels, Seitz, Baliunas, et al.) had strong political motivations and were being supported by political interests. Still, within the climate science community, they were then perceived as members of the group, perhaps with odd opinions on some things and their political connections were not known or ignored.
As the evidence strengthened, the assumption of skepticism has become no longer tenable. Increasingly denial is seen for what it is and called out with increasing frequency over the past few years. This is uncomfortable for the denialists, so they are trying to eliminate the description from polite conversation, thus why now.
**Ethon or The Eagle Kaukasios was a gigantic eagle born of the monsters Typhon and Echidna. As punishment for stealing fire from Mount Olympus, Zeus had Prometheus chained to Mount Caucasus, where Ethon was set to gnaw on his liver.