The Errors in the Arguments of Climate Deniers

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The Errors in the Arguments of Climate Deniers    

Jim Windell


            Scientists for years have been warning us about the extreme dangers of global warming. Just recently, earlier in 2023, a report was released by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. This scientific report warned that human-induced climate change is warming the planet to the point where it is causing irreversible damage in some parts of the world. Scientists say that Earth may soon pass tipping points that will lead to catastrophic environmental damage, including dangerous sea level rise, entire species going extinct, and even greater suffering in many nations.

            These kinds of dire warnings suggest that we as a nation, and all countries on our planet, must act to stave off the potential catastrophic consequences of climate change. Most of us believe that action must be taken.

            However, there are a significant number of Americans who deny the reality of climate change and just don’t believe there is something called “global warming.”

            An example of such a climate denier is Senator James Inhofe, who served in the U.S. Senate from 1994 to 2023 as a senator from Oklahoma. A few years ago Inhofe brought a snowball to the Senate floor. He argued that since it was cold enough to snow in Washington, D.C., climate change was not real. He frequently called climate change a hoax. The same year – 2015 – that he brought the snowball to the Senate it was the hottest year on record and has since been surpassed.

            Inhofe was just one of many who spread disinformation by railing against the scientists who reported on the negative impact of climate change throughout the world. Former President Trump said “nobody” knows if climate change is a fact, but during his administration his  environmental policies were dismal as he erased or loosened dozens of rules and regulations on pollution in the air, water and atmosphere. Because many listened to people like Inhofe and Trump, the political result has been a reduced willingness to take action to mitigate climate change.

           But why are so many people susceptible to this type of disinformation? Jeremy P. Shapiro, Adjunct Assistant Professor of Psychological Sciences at Case Western Reserve University, wrote recently in The Conversation that he could explain the thinking of climate deniers. He writes that the arguments made by climate change deniers reveals the same mistake made over and over again. “That mistake is the cognitive error known as black-and-white thinking, also called dichotomous and all-or-none thinking,” explains Shapiro. Black-and-white thinking, Shapiro indicates, is a source of dysfunction in mental health, relationships – and politics.

           People are often susceptible to black-and-white thinking, Shapiro writes, because it does something useful for them. That is, he says, “It simplifies the world.” While this kind of mental labor-saving device simplifies life in many respects, it is a poor tool for understanding complicated realities. Unfortunately, the climate is complicated.

           Climate change deniers, according to Shapiro, simplify the spectrum of possible scientific consensus into two categories: 100% agreement or no consensus at all. If it’s not one, it’s the other. Despite the fact that thousands of climate science papers and conference proceedings conclude burning fossil fuel warms the climate, if a skeptic finds one paper or one scientist who disagrees, they can conclude that the whole idea of climate change is controversial and provides justification for doing nothing to mitigate global warming.

           Similarly, in another example of black-and-white thinking, climate deniers believe that if global temperatures do not rise at a perfectly consistent rate, then there is no such thing as global warming. Most of us understand that complex variables rarely if ever change in a uniform way. As Shapiro says, “They wiggle up and down in the short term even when exhibiting long-term trends.” This cognitive error results from focusing on a tiny slice of the graph or trends and ignoring the rest.

          Finally, in explaining the thinking of climate deniers, Shapiro writes that some climate change skeptics have switched from denying climate change to reframing the observations of scientists. For instance, they may state the obvious that “The climate has always been changing.” This, though, is an argument that shows a lack of awareness of climate research. Shapiro says: “Their reasoning is based on an invalid binary: Either the climate is changing or it’s not, and since it’s always been changing, there is nothing new here and no cause for concern.”

           No matter the cognitive distortions of climate deniers and despite their black-and-white thinking, the conclusions of the world’s scientists cannot be ignored: The current warming is on par with nothing ever seen by humans and intense warming in the past led to disasters and massive extinctions.

           To read the original article, find it at The Conversation with this URL:

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