My previous post on Nature’s use of “denier” in a recently published paper has triggered a lively comment thread, including this question to me:
Since you obviously object to the usefulness of the term ‘denier’, would you care to comment on its appropriateness after considering Micha Tomkiewicz‘s thoughts?
This is in reference to several provocative blog posts by a Holocaust survivor (and physics professor) who, several months ago, asked:
But what about climate change deniers? Can we really compare the two, the Holocaust and climate change? Does this have anything to do with science?
Shortly after this appeared, I did have some thoughts on the heated debate over the meaning of climate “denier,” and cobbled them together in a post for another site. For reasons that I won’t divulge (it’s complicated), that post never appeared. But now seems like a good time to put it up here:
A frequent lament of climate campaigners is that “disinformation” from contrarians and ideologues opposed to any action on global warming continues to muddy the larger public conversation. The stalled politics (in the U.S. and several other countries) frustrates many who regard climate change as an existential threat to future generations. Much of their ire, rightly or wrongly, is often directed at fossil fuel interests, conservative think tanks, and climate skeptics.
So it’s not surprising that a recent forum at Penn State University was devoted to the climate “disinformation campaign.” The first speaker, Donald Brown, a climate ethicist at Penn State, argued that the last 25 years of potential action have been lost because of deliberate “disinformation” from the aforementioned. The continuation of such tactics led Brown to suggest:
I think we should encourage a conversation whether this is some kind of new crime against humanity. It is really evil stuff. It is nasty.
There are others who want to move the climate conversation on to this same highly charged moral terrain. For instance, just weeks after the Penn State forum, Micha Tomkiewicz, a Brooklyn college physics professor, triggered a firestorm after he explicitly associated denial of climate change with denial of the Holocaust. Most (if not all) climate commentators studiously avoid making such a direct comparison. Some shy away from using the “denier” label altogether because of the connotation.