For a long time I have struggled with what to call the people who insist that climate change is natural/nonexistent/a global conspiracy. “Skeptics” is their preferred term, but I refuse to give such a compliment to those who don’t deserve it. Skepticism is a good thing in science, and it’s not being applied by self-professed “climate skeptics”. This worthy label has been hijacked by those who seek to redefine it.
“Deniers” is more accurate, in my opinion, but I feel uncomfortable using it. I don’t want to appear closed-minded and alienate those who are confused or undecided. Additionally, many people are in the audience of deniers, but aren’t in denial themselves. They repeat the myths they hear from other sources, but you can easily talk them out of their misconceptions using evidence.
I posed this question to some people at AGU. Which word did they use? “Pseudoskeptics” and “misinformants” are both accurate terms, but too difficult for a new reader to understand. My favourite answer, which I think I will adopt, was “contrarians”. Simple, clear, and non-judgmental. It emphasizes what they think, not how they think. Also, it hints that they are going against the majority in the scientific community. Another good suggestion was to say someone is “in denial”, rather than “a denier” – it depersonalizes the accusation.
John Cook, when I asked him this question, turned it around: “What should we call ourselves?” he asked, and I couldn’t come up with an answer. I feel that not being a contrarian is a default position that doesn’t require a qualifier. We are just scientists, communicators, and concerned citizens, and unless we say otherwise you can assume we follow the consensus. (John thinks we should call ourselves “hotties”, but apparently it hasn’t caught on.)
“What should I call myself?” is another puzzler, since I fall into multiple categories. Officially I’m an undergrad student, but I’m also getting into research, which isn’t a required part of undergraduate studies. In some ways I am a journalist too, but I see that as a side project rather than a career goal. So I can’t call myself a scientist, or even a fledgling scientist, but I feel like I’m on that path – a scientist larva, perhaps?
I tend to go with “realist” for those of us who accept basic climate science.
Purveyors of climate misinformation are usually “skeptics” (in quotation marks), or misinformers. Contrarian works too, or denialist, depending on the person.
Language is so important. Agree about removing “skeptic”. I prefer denialist.
A denialist is a follower of practice of denialism (religious). The denier is the priest of denialism – and implies active distraction or delay.
Climate Hawk when there was something to argue about. But now, alas, I may call myself anything but a victim. There are names for someone accepting scientific reality – warrior, teacher and hospice care worker – come to mind.
Because, in order to meet survival challenges we will have political struggles and will need dedicated scientists that we might call climate warriors, and teachers to train and educate global citizens, and finally caretakers to comfort those who will be severely harmed by climate change.
What a great discussion. Thanks for all that you do.
Thanks for these reflections about these labels.
I like this new label “contrarian”. I have mostly been using the “skeptical” label and I haven’t been keen on it (mostly for the same reason as you mentioned) and in some cases I have said in denial and denier – all in my own language of course. Now I have to find out how “contrarian” should translate to Icelandic… That will be the next hurdle, there seem to be few ways to approach this translation – but we have already started the progress.
I haven’t really thought about my own label – but I’m not keen on “hotties”…but we are (IMO) the true skeptics – maybe we can use that in some way?
David Karoly tried to do that during a televised debate, and it just confused the host, who seemed to think he was switching sides.
One can also say that contrarians deny the scientific facts, when arguing with a contrarians. I think that there is a possibility to gain from using word like contrarian in stead of denialist, but you should in some cases tell about the denial of science which is the contrarians main focus. I have been moving towards the denier label (I think “skeptic” is to good of a word), but I don’t know if that helps the argument…that’s why I do like the contrarian label – at least at first glance.
Regarding us (which accept the climate science), then I’m keen on agreeing with dana1981 that we are realists, and maybe that’s the right word for it.
I am an Environmentalist
By Michael Jessen
I am an environmentalist and a protester. Colour me Green and call me a reformer.
I am a convenient target for reactionary politicians and know-it-all newspaper columnists who specialize in promoting business as usual.
I won’t be receiving a Christmas card from Prime Minister Stephen Harper – who thinks I’m un-Canadian and an “extremist” – or Joe Oliver, Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources, who thinks I’m an “unlawful” person. I’m not sure what my Alberta in-laws think of me.
Because I disapprove of the Keystone XL and Enbridge Northern Gateway pipelines, I am accused of being an anti-job-creation dissenter who is trying to destroy the capitalist system.
Since I object to the mining of tar sands to extract oil, I am labelled a fossilized malcontent who has an obsolete understanding of how a modern resource economy works.
I won’t be on BC Premier Christy Clark’s holiday gift list either because I think the development of the Site C dam would be a financial and environmental tragedy for the province. The Premier also doesn’t agree with my opposition to shale gas hydraulic fracturing – a process that will drastically reduce fresh water supplies in north-eastern BC and substantially increase greenhouse gases.
(Clark already despises me due to the fact I oppose the Jumbo Glacier Resort and development in the Sacred Headwaters.)
Why is it wrong to be concerned with the maintenance of ecological balance and the conservation of the environment? Why are people who want to reduce – and possibly eliminate pollution – and create a safer world, considered obstructionist naysayers?
Thankfully, I am not alone in my opinions.
I am an environmentalist, but I am also a biologist. Sandra Steingraber is a poet, cancer survivor, activist, Ph.D. biologist, and mother. In her most recent book Raising Elijah: Protecting Children in an Age of Environmental Crisis, she writes, “Ultimately, the environmental crisis is a parenting crisis. It undermines my ability to carry out two fundamental duties: to protect my children from harm and to plan for their future. My responsibility as a mother thus extends beyond push mowers and clotheslines to the transformation of the nation’s energy systems along renewable lines.” Dr. Steingraber was recently honoured with the 17th Heinz Award in the Environment. She dedicated the accompanying $100,000 grant to the fight against hydraulic fracturing which she views as “the biggest threat to this generation I can think of.”
I am an environmentalist, but I am also an educator. Greg Craven is a high school science teacher in Corvallis, Oregon. He is the author of What’s the Worst that Could Happen? A Rational Response to the Climate Change Debate. On his website, he writes, “We are all in this together. There are no emergency exits to either the global economy or the global climate. So let’s enlist as many people as we can, to make the most solid decision we can. I hope you’ll agree that we owe ourselves – and our kids – nothing less.”
I am an environmentalist, but I am also a banker. Simon Martin is the HSBC bank’s Head of Group Corporate Sustainability. “Solutions to eliminate climate change require collective action involving governments, NGOs, the public and the business community,” Martin said in 2010. “Businesses are becoming increasingly aware of the financial benefits of operating sustainably and tapping into the low carbon economy.”
I am an environmentalist, but I am also a scientist. Donella Meadows received her Ph.D. in biophysics from Harvard and taught at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. For 16 years she wrote a weekly column called The Global Citizen, commenting on world events from a systems point of view. “The scarcest resource is not oil, metals, clean air, capital, labour, or technology. It is our willingness to listen to each other and learn from each other and to seek the truth rather than seek to be right.”
I am an environmentalist, but I am also a mayor. Ken Livingstone was the Mayor of London from 2000 to 2008 and will be the Labour Party candidate in the 2012 London mayoral election. In 2007, he said: “To tackle climate change you don’t have to reduce your quality of life, but you do have to change the way you live.”
I am an environmentalist, but I am also an entrepreneur. Paul Hawken has started and operated a number of ecological businesses. As an author, he has written: “This planet came with a set of instructions, but we seem to have misplaced them. Important rules like don’t poison the water, soil, or air, don’t let the Earth get overcrowded, and don’t touch the thermostat, have been broken.”
I am an environmentalist, but I am also an economist. Sir Nicholas Stern is a former World Bank chief economist and the author of a landmark report on the costs of climate change. He has said “The two great challenges we face are overcoming poverty and managing climate change. If we fail on one, we will fail on the other.” Regarding greenhouse gas emissions, Stern said: “Ultimately stabilization – at whatever level – requires that annual emissions be brought down to more than 80 percent below current levels.”
I am an environmentalist, but I’m also a doctor. The late Paul Epstein was a pioneer in the area of climate change and infectious disease. He first saw outbreaks of disease that had not been recorded before while a volunteer physician in East Africa. In an interview with The New York Times in 1998 about that year’s outbreak of cholera and malaria in South America in the wake of El Niño flooding, and simultaneous outbreaks of cholera, malaria and Rift Valley fever in Africa after heavy rains and flooding, Dr. Epstein made the case for linkage. “If extreme weather events are part of a changing climate,” he said, “we’ve seen lots of evidence of the profound health effects associated with climate change this year.” With Dan Ferber, Dr. Epstein recently completed the book Changing Planet Changing Health: How the Climate Crisis Threatens Our Health and What We Can Do about It. Dr. Epstein said: “There are strong indicators that a disturbing change in disease patterns has begun and that global warming is contributing to them.”
I am an environmentalist, but I am also a businessman. The late Ray Anderson who guided Interface (the world’s largest manufacturer of modular carpet) on the journey to sustainability once said: “I used to think that my job didn’t have anything to do with the environment. Then I realized that my job, as well as everyone else’s job, impacts the environment in some way. And now advocating for sustainability has become my No. 1 responsibility.”
I am an environmentalist, but I am also a venture capitalist. Tom Rand founded VCi Green Funds – a private venture/angel fund – in 2005. He is also the author of Kick the Fossil Fuel Habit: 10 Clean Technologies to Save the World. He says “Building a low carbon economy creates the biggest market in human history, involving trillions of dollars. The question facing Canada is how do we ensure we’re a seller, not a buyer, into that market.”
I am an environmentalist, but I am also a 1984 Nobel Peace Prize winner. Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu has scolded Canada for its lack of a climate change policy. In a letter to Stephen Harper, Tutu wrote: “Canada, you were once considered a leader on global issues like human rights and environmental protection. Today, you’re home to polluting tar sands oil, speeding the dangerous effects of climate change.”
I am an environmentalist, but I am also a columnist. George Monbiot is a regular contributor to The Guardian and the author of Heat: How to Stop the Planet from Burning. In 2007, he wrote: “When you warn people about the dangers of climate change, they call you a saint. When you explain what needs to be done to stop it, they call you a communist.”
I am an environmentalist, but I am also a leader of an energy research organization. Maria van der Hoeven is the executive director of the International Energy Agency and served as Minister of Economic Affairs of the Netherlands from February 2007 until October 2010. In that latter role, energy policy was one of her most important responsibilities. Without an urgent and radical change of policy direction, van der Hoeven says “the world will lock itself into an insecure, inefficient and high-carbon energy system. Renewables already play a central role in fostering sustainability and energy security, and their significance will only grow in the coming decades.”
I am an environmentalist, but I am also an actor. Mark Ruffalo was one of 12,000 people who surrounded the White House on November 6, 2011 to protest the Keystone XL pipeline. “I’ve seen the kind of damage that out-of-control energy development can do to water and to communities near my own home, where fracking for natural gas is causing widespread pollution … All these problems are connected – we need to get off fossil fuel,” Ruffalo told reporters.
I am an environmentalist, but I am also an actress. Julia Louis-Dreyfus is known for her role as Elaine on the popular sit-com Seinfeld. She calls the Keystone XL pipeline a “brutally stupid money grab” and such a “terrible idea that every clear-headed environmental organization you can think of is against it.”
I am an environmentalist, but I am also a First Nations chief. “I am going to stand in front of bulldozers to stop this project, and I expect my neighbours to join me,” Jackie Thomas, chief of the Saik’uz First Nation, part of the Yinka Dene Alliance, said regarding the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline.
I am an environmentalist, but I am also a man of letters and a farmer. Wendell Berry has long been an economic critic. Berry says: “The most alarming sign of the state of our society now is that our leaders have the courage to sacrifice the lives of young people in war but have not the courage to tell us that we must be less greedy and less wasteful.”
I am an environmentalist, but I am also a rabbi. Michael Lerner is the rabbi of Beyt Tikkun Synagogue of San Francisco. He says global climate change is “a product of irresponsible forms of industrialization and use of scientific and technological knowledge divorced from ethical concerns” and it “has caused a deepening of the starvation and malnutrition that afflicts our planet.”
I am an environmentalist, but I am also the leader of the Catholic Church. Pope Benedict XVI has said: “The goods of creation belong to humanity as a whole. Yet the current pace of environmental exploitation is seriously endangering the supply of certain natural resources not only for present generations, but above all for generations to come.”
I am an environmentalist, but I am also the spiritual leader of Tibet. The Dalai Lama says, “As people alive today, we must consider future generations: a clean environment is a human right like any other. It is therefore part of our responsibility towards others to ensure that the world we pass on is as healthy, if not healthier, than we found it.”
I am proud to be an environmentalist and I stand united with all people who put the health of future generations and planet Earth before fossil fuel profit. Those of us who oppose to fossil fuel industry will never give up. We support renewable energy alternatives – solar, wind, geothermal, and tidal – that will result in a more sustainable, equitable and socially just world.
I wish Stephen Harper, Joe Oliver, and Christy Clark a Merry Christmas, but I have one question for each of them: Is it impossible for you to consider the possibility that you might be wrong?
Lastly, I predict the New Year will be anything but peaceful if the Harper and Clark governments continue to promote and support the short term desires of Big Oil and Gas. Another prediction: Continued discounting of environmentalists’ voices by ministers and the media will only cause our numbers to multiply.
Michael Jessen is a Nelson eco-writer and owns the consultancy Zero Waste Solutions. He is also the Energy Critic for the Green Party of British Columbia and can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.
Maria van der Hoeven
Chief Jackie Thomas
Rabbi Michael Lerner
Pope Benedict XVI
His Holiness The Dalai Lama
Why is it wrong to be concerned with the maintenance of ecological balance and the conservation of the environment? Why are people who want to reduce – and possibly eliminate pollution – and create a safer world, considered obstructionist naysayers?
Because they interfere with the vested interests of the wealthy, who directly and indirectly control our main lines of communication. Resolve poverty — by attacking it from both ends — and we may yet have a chance to turn things around. If we don’t eliminate inequality, we will continue on the current headlong plunge towards destruction.
If everyone lived as we do in the “West”, the planet’s ecological carrying capacity would only be about 3 billion (Ehrlichs). Therefore we cannot solve poverty without allowing a lot of people to die or by wealthy people agreeing to moderate their over-consumption of the Earth’s resources. Sorry to be so blunt but, this is the simple answer to the question.
… we cannot solve poverty without [a] allowing a lot of people to die or [b] wealthy people agreeing to moderate their over-consumption of the Earth’s resources.
Exactly. If the agreement at [b] cannot be achieved (if it were up to me, I would make it mandatory) these people — and yes, I include myself in this, as the UK is not living sustainably either — can and should be accused of mass slaughter due to the alternative being [a].
Denialists, they are in a state of utter denial.
The holocaust that Global Warming will cause will be far worse than the Nazi holocaust. It will be Billions rather than mere Millions of deaths. That is why we want strong action to stop GW and that is why the term “denialist” or “denier” is appropriate. Mother Nature is far better than the Nazis were at killing, so don’t anger Mother Nature. 99% of all species that ever lived are extinct. Homo Sap is no exception.
Please read: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/wcc.81/full
“Drought Under Global Warming: a Review”
See the maps of drought in the 2060s on page 15.
“Preliminary Analysis of a Global Drought Time Series” by Barton Paul Levenson, not yet published. Under BAU [Business As Usual], agriculture and civilization will collapse some time between 2050 and 2055 due to drought caused by GW [Global Warming].
“The Long Summer” by Brian Fagan and “Collapse” by Jared Diamond. When agriculture collapses, civilization collapses.
Gaia, swirling heaven.
Mankind blossoms, then explodes;
the end: just deserts?
After that post I’d label you are a serious pessimist in need of help.
To the terms: I have most often used “skeptics” (with quotation marks) or “contrarians” (without the quotation marks). We are the “realists”. And you? There’s nothing wrong with the term “student”, although with a poster to your credit, you can call yourself a scientist very easily.
You were indeed fortunate to be able to go to the AGU Meeting and speak to illuminati such as Hansen, Mann, and Santer. Although I think the term “denier” is most accurate, it is emotive and gets people annoyed. Unfortunately, I think the meaning of “contrarian” is not immediately obvious to most people; although I understand why its use is common amongst such illuminati. Therefore, despite the potential fro irritating people, I tend to use sceptics in quotation marks and denier without.
In the introduction to my MA dissertation on “Climate Change Scepticism in the UK“, I included sections on (1) the philosophical roots of scepticism; (2) its possible misappropriation for ideological reasons; and (3) the psychological causes of denial… All three of which, I think I will now re-post on my blog next week (despite having linked to previous posts on my old blog here).
Since you asked for people to share their thoughts, in time, I would be very interested to know what you make of my analysis of this subject?
Personally I think that the term “contrarian” gives too much value to the position of the climate-change deniers.
To my way of thinking, contrarians can in fact provide a useful service in matters of debate and opinion by introducing new constructs and exposing ‘group-think’. Contrarians could have a factual basis for their positions, or a strong ‘hunch’ that proves true in hindsight – but the position is by definition just “contrary” to the common one. Climate change opposers (who remind me of members of the Flat Earth Society!) are so far to the extreme that I feel that they are better described with terms like “denier” or “denialist”.
Here are some definitions:
“A contrarian is a person with a preference for taking a position opposed to that of the majority. Contrarian styles of argument and disagreement have historically been associated with radicalism and dissent.”
“a person who typically acts or thinks in a way contrary to popular or accepted opinion; specif., an investor who seeks to make a profit by acting in opposition to majority opinion, prevailing wisdom, etc., as by buying a company’s stock when it is out of favor with the majority of investors”
“In finance, a contrarian is one who attempts to profit by investing in a manner that differs from the conventional wisdom, when the consensus opinion appears to be wrong.”
Also – could you not describe yourself as a “scientist in training”?
I agree with Darlene: ‘contrarian’ is too weak.
Though labels can be a hindrance, I believe that it’s best to call a spade a bloody shovel when you clearly cannot shift the attitude of one in denial about either anthropogenic climate change or perpetual economic growth, and must move on in the hope of finding another willing to listen to reason.
I prefer that people label me with the term denialist or denier. I welcome and enjoy it more than the more feeble label skeptic. I have been a science geek since I was a kid, I have a degree in science, I work full time in science in an office full of scientists. Being called a climate denier tells me that I am on the right track.
You should try and get out more, Klem. Also, since you claim to be surrounded by them at work, talking to real scientists (as many as possible – irrespective of whether or not they agree with you) might also help you. You can have as many scientific qualifications as you like but they won’t help your perception of reality if you are looking through the wrong end of the telescope.
You may like to think of yourself as holding out against a perverse Establishment but – as Barry Bickmore, the former ultra-Conservative, Mormon Professor of Geological Sciences, would no doubt say – “You are no Galileo!”
Martin! There you are, I’ve missed you ol’ pal.
If you wish to answer my questions, Klem, you always know where to find me. So, don’t lie, it is the point – notme – that you have missed (again)… Check-out what Bickmore says, then see if you can come up with a vaguely-humorous one-liner that actually invalidates the point I am making (which is that your position is not one of true scepticism)!
The problem with these type of labels is that they tend to broadly categorize “climate science” into one big lump of thought, when in fact most subtopics within climatology don’t really have a “consensus view.” There is still legitimate debate on how to best interpret d18O records in the tropics, how to best interrogate the cloud feedback problem given our limitations, the role of mesoscale convective systems in climate, the most realistic response of the African Monsoon to climate change, the evolution of the forcing pattern at the PETM, or the possible climates that can exist on extrasolar planets, etc. If there were not a lot of questions remaining, no one would be publishing or getting into a dead field.
The “broad” questions of most interest on the blogosphere largely center around well-accepted facts like “the planet is warming” or “CO2 causes warming.” There is no reasonable category for these people except “deniers” or people who are too ignorant in the subject to matter. Even issues which are typically taken to be the sign of a more legitimate skepticism (like arguing for a low sensitivity), are now constrained by data and paleoclimate evidence, and mechanisms that could cause such model errors or misinterpretation of the paleo-record need to be shown by those who argue so confidently against it.
Skeptics in this category like Roy Spencer or Richard Lindzen have argued tirelessly and with a religious-like faith for a long time now, and have been unwilling to let go of ideas that have been shown to be wrong time after time, and in some cases, have been done trivially. Supplemented by many of their offline statements about climate, these two are just as much ‘deniers’ as the Inhofe’s or Michaels of the world, except occasionally they actually produce something worthy of the communities attention.
Kate- you’re doing an excellent job here. I am in your shoes, just starting off in graduate school in atmospheric sciences and doing research, and I share a similar interest in following the subject (especially the physical science) and writing on it. Keep up the good work! Making a name for yourself here definitely helps in the real world for grad applications, etc, trust me!
I agree that “contrarian” is too widespread a term to use and has a positive meaning, unless you qualify it, eg. “climate contrarians.” I tend to use denier or denialist.
I think it was Eli Rabett who suggested calling them “rejectionists” as people who reject the scientific consensus.
Didn’t you call yourself a scientist at SkS when you used the term We?
I’m not sure what you’re referring to. -Kate
I’ll see if I can find it, but I’ve forgotten the subject. I remember a post by ‘climatesight’, which I assume is you. In it, something about how do you know it is X or not Y, and there was a line about scientists generally agree on … followed by a ‘We’
I think I know what you are talking about now. By “we know such-and-such” I was referring to the knowledge of humankind, and welcoming the audience into that body of knowledge…a literary device, basically. Perhaps not the most clear, but I did not intend to claim I was a scientist.
They are clearly not sceptics: there are few so credulous or devoid of critical thinking.
Denier/denialist is confrontational but appropriate in my view. Calling them contrarians might be polite but it gives them far too much credit.
“a scientist larvae”? Sorry to be a pedant but surely a scientist in training who is also a journalist should know that “larvae” is the plural? ;)
Oops. Haven’t done any bio in a few years!
Name calling is not science, therefore your question should be left alone. You have to make your point with real scientific measurement, not a belief, theory or model. The two most significant phrases that should be scuttled are: “the science is in” and “there is no debate”. Both of these indicate the person making them does not have an answer and is good reason why the public has become unconcerned with “global warming”.
Gerald, the entire reason I am rethinking this terminology is to avoid name calling. Like it or not, we need words to categorize people based on their understanding of the science. “Those who claim global warming is natural and/or nonexistent and/or minimal and/or beneficial and/or a hoax” is just too long of a description.
You have a very eccentric view of science to say that theory and models have no place.
Science is never settled, and debates are never over, but at some point the public needs to realize that this is no longer a controversial issue among scientists. -Kate
Ok then, what about “misrepresentists”? :-)
That would be a near synonym for a word that starts with “l” ends with “r”, and is 4 characters?
I like where you’re going with that but, people that misrepresent those things generally-accepted as fact by the majority need not necessarily be deceitful; they are merely convinced that reality (i.e. their version of it) needs a little helping hand…
I particularly like the word ‘prevaricator‘, the definition of which is TrueSceptic’s four-letter word starting in ‘l’ and ending in ‘r’, because it is often confused with the word ‘procrastinator‘. Although the former doesn’t mean the latter, the hat fits anyway if it’s misinterpreted that way.
It seems to me that once again we are deciding between deceit and delusion. Surely misrepresentation must entail one or the other (or some combination of the two: delusion is a form of self-deceit, is it not?).
TrueSceptic – For delusion to be a form of self-deceit would require a degree of schizophrenia, would it not? :-)
Martin, strangely enough the Wikipedia entry for ‘Delusion’ says
If so, then they’re all mad. But I don’t think any of them is mad… They’re just suffering from cognitive dissonance: The truth is too uncomfortable for them, so they surround themselves with lies and/or liars… However, one has to distinguish between (1) the climate equivalent of tobacco executives who know the truth but encourage the dissemination of lies; and (2) the fools (like Delingpole and Watts) who repeat the lies because the truth will invalidate their entire libertarian paradigm.
Sometimes I call them “climate inactivists”, which is their goal for the most part.