Whenever an article about climate change is posted online, you can count on an immediate deluge of climate change denialism plopping down through the comments section like a sewage truck upended over the screen. There is that one neighbour, co-worker or parent with whom you will avoid the topic of climate change altogether, because the resulting denial-ridden conversation will give you an inconvenient rage headache that lasts all day. For many, the emotional responses to the arguments of a climate change denier are painful disbelief, blinding anger, and despair. But we should make sure our anger is directed at the right people.
The core belief in climate change denialism, as I understand it, is that a small group of individuals with elite knowledge or status are advancing the theory of climate change even though they know it is not true, in order to gain profit or power for themselves – whether those people be climate scientists, the renewable energy sector, or the United Nations.
It is not lunacy to believe that a small group of individuals with elite knowledge or status could advance a certain theory even though they know it is not true in order to gain profit or power for themselves. It is a fairly easy and logical step: from many of the key events that have shaped the modern world, to the one defining the future, climate change.
Remember when we all went to war with Iraq? Because of the weapons of mass destruction being hoarded in the country? Private contractors in security, logistics and reconstruction made $138 billion from the Iraq War. The American Vice-President at the time, Dick Cheney’s, former oil company alone made $39 billion from the war. There were zero weapons of mass destruction being hoarded in Iraq.
Remember how liberalising the economy was going to be great for everyone? The most respected of economists, within and out of government, have trumpeted for forty years that cutting red tape of all description would result in benefits trickling down from the mega-rich to the everyday person. Instead, stable working class jobs have been decimated by offshore outsourcing, and we live in a time where the current generation of young people is the first to be worse off than their parents, at the same time as there are more billionaires than ever before.
These are just two of the many instances of post Cold War era-defining events where experts of some sort or another – backed by the majority of the media – confidently presented a certain theory, which worked out great for a small minority of people and terribly for everyone else.
I don’t think the average person distinguishes between foreign policy experts advocating for war, economists advocating for globalisation, and climate scientists advocating for eliminating fossil fuels. The events mentioned and their coverage have a way of getting inside the brain, trickling into the crevices and fermenting. This ooze leaves a powerful distrust of the people at the top of the knowledge economy, that permeates into the formation of every thought.
It is heartbreaking, because in this case, the small group of individuals manipulating the public for power and profit are the ones who are fighting against taking action on climate change. The average climate scientist, I think, would be quite startled to find herself at the head of a global conspiracy, which is where she has been placed by climate change deniers. It is the fossil fuel companies that are funding disinformation campaigns to discredit accurate science. Fossil fuel companies pour money into lobby groups, government coffers and think tanks that deny climate science. It is the they who are profiting from misleading the public. But I don’t think it’s helpful to blame the sections of the public that buy into the fossil fuel companies’ alluring, easy-to-swallow, untrue, counter-arguments to climate change.
There is an argument in feminism that is directed at #NotAllMen types. Whenever women say that they act in certain ways as a defence against male behaviour, someone will pop up out of the woodwork screeching ‘not all men are like that’. The feminist argument goes that you should not direct your anger at women for taking longer routes in well-lit areas, crossing the street if there is a man walking behind them, and carrying their keys ready to be used as a weapon, when they are walking home at night. You should be angry at the men who are violent and predatory, because they are the ones that engendered this mistrust of all male strangers in the first place.
In the same way, anger at everyday climate change deniers is misdirected. A wholesale mistrust of experts has been brewing under the surface for a while. This is maddening, but the most accurate place to direct that explosion of frustration is at the rich, connected, well-educated people who have been misleading the public for their own gain unencumbered for decades. The very real, proven instances of elite, expert knowledge being used for profit is what has bred the mistrust of all elite, expert knowledge. And once that anger is aimed at the right place, we can ask ourselves – because the future of the planet depends on it – how do we convince people that #NotAllExperts are liars?