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Climate Change: Denying Denial
No denying today's brilliant weather

Andrew Freedman @ 9:17 AM

I recently performed a sketch comedy piece at a Chicago theater in which I argued global warming science with a man in a bear suit. The bear (a "grolar Bear") was a humorous representation of the dwindling community of climate change contrarians who believe the science on the issue is unsettled, and who oppose many actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. "You've brought a lot of facts to this discussion, and you can't really argue with facts," the bear stated. "But let me try." The piece ended with me, playing the role of a plain language-challenged scientist, being literally eaten by the naysayer.

Jason Samenow's Forecast

Forecast Confidence: HighToday: Beautiful sunshine and comfortably cool. Nice in the sun, a bit brisk in the shade. Highs in the low to mid 60s. (Skinscast can be seen at the bottom of this post.)
Tonight: Clear skies and cool with lows in the low 40s in town, mid-to-upper 30s in the suburbs.
Tomorrow: Mostly sunny and a bit warmer, with highs approaching 70.

Check back tomorrow for Jason's week-ahead forecast.

This is what has happened in America for the past two decades. Until only recently (and this is still up for debate) the urgent warnings of the mainstream scientific community has been out-roared and chomped away by a small band of climate change contrarians. Some of them are eminent scientists practicing what scientists do best: Being skeptical of findings and testing and retesting results. Some are policy wonks with little scientific training who are simply paid shills of the fossil fuel industry. Their influence has greatly outweighed their numbers largely due to the effective public relations tactics of the fossil fuel industry, which mounted a concerted disinformation campaign that has only recently been abandoned by most major energy companies.

The challenge now for climate reporters, and comedians, is how to describe the people who don't agree with the scientific consensus opinion on climate change.

Are they skeptics?

That term implies that other scientists are not skeptical, which is flat out wrong because skepticism is a central tenet of any scientific discipline.

Are they deniers?

This term is offensive because it invokes (possibly intentionally) the negative connotations surrounding Holocaust deniers. Everyone knows that people who deny the Holocaust occurred are unhinged and should be actively shunned, so it follows that "global warming deniers" should be held in the same low esteem. This is a tempting term to use, since history may judge those who slowed action on this historical challenge in the same harsh light as Holocaust deniers. However, it's not only offensive, but also results in a complete shutdown of discussion. Isn't there a golden rule that once the Holocaust is brought up in conversation, the conversation ceases? (Unless, of course, the discussion is about the Holocaust). The use of the term "global warming denier" is clearly meant to extinguish discussion and strip away the legitimacy of all who differ with the mainstream scientific opinion. That is not what climate change reporters should be doing.

The rhetoric surrounding the "global warming denier" label has become increasingly heated recently. David Roberts, a writer for Grist Magazine, recently invoked the Holocaust analogy by proposing "some sort of climate Nuremberg" for contrarians. Realizing that Nuremberg resulted in death sentences, Roberts has since retreated from his original comment and endorsed a program on par with South Africa's post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission, but that was after igniting a firestorm of criticism and discussion online and a nasty press release from Senator James Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, himself an outspoken contrarian on the climate issue.

As a journalist, I favor the terms "contrarian" or "naysayer." defines a contrarian as "a person who takes an opposing view, especially one who rejects the majority opinion, as in economic matters." This accurately reflects the fact that those who don't believe that the climate is changing due to human activities are in the minority on this issue.

James Hansen, head of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, has an upcoming article in Worldwatch in which he differentiates between contrarians and skeptics. "Contrarians address global warming as if they were lawyers, not scientists. A lawyer's job often is to defend a client, not seek the truth," Hansen writes. "Skepticism, and the objective weighing of evidence, are essential for scientific success."

"Hard-core global warming contrarians have an agenda other than scientific truth. Their target is the public. Their goal is to create an impression that global warming or its causes are uncertain."

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