Denying climate change is worse than spreading the usual kind of conspiracy theory: it costs lives

Worse than the dottiest 9/11 conspiracy theorists, climate-change deniers — from our Tory Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson, to the US senator James Inhofe — are dawdling as the world’s poorest die.

Conspiracy theorists are often the subject of scorn or mockery; rejected and ridiculed by the rest of us, they hide away on internet chat forums where they blather on about the collapse of 7 World Trade Center, the rise of the Illuminati or the omnipresence of Mossad. Not the climate-change deniers. Unlike Israel’s intelligence agency, they really do seem to be omnipresent these days. Indeed, unlike the Illuminati, they even control national governments.
 
For instance, Australia’s new prime minister, Tony Abbott, has called the science on climate change “absolute crap” and already abolished the country’s Climate Commission. In 2012, Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee for the most important job in the world, was of the view that “we don’t know what’s causing climate change on this planet”. Here in the UK, the Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson, a Conservative, is, in the words of the Financial Times, a “known climate change sceptic”. So, too, is a Conservative member of the Commons energy and climate change committee, Peter Lilley.
 
Denialism abounds. In March, a YouGov poll found that only 39 per cent of the British public believed human activity was making the world warmer, down from 55 per cent per cent in 2008, while the proportion of Brits who believed that the world wasn’t getting warmer had quadrupled – up from 7 per cent in 2008 to 28 per cent.
 
Depressingly, you can draw no other conclusion from these facts than that the conspiracy theorists are winning. The deniers of global warming have come in from the cold. The “merchants of doubt”, to borrow a phrase from the science historians Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway, seem to have perfected the dark art of “keeping the controversy alive”, sowing seeds of doubt and confusion in the minds of politicians, journalists and voters, in spite of the scientific consensus.
 
Thus, I use both the terms “denier” (rather than “sceptic”) and “conspiracy theorist” advisedly. After all, they either deny that the world is warming or deny that mankind is responsible for this warming. Remember: 97 per cent of climate scientists agree the world is warming and that mankind is responsible. Consider also: a survey by Oreskes of every peer-reviewed abstract on the subject “global climate change” published between 1993 and 2003 – 928 in total – couldn’t find a single paper that rejected the consensus position on human-induced climate change.
 
The real sceptics are the cautious scientists of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change who, year after year, assess and reassess the new data and go through thousands of peer-reviewed studies, forming groups and committees to check and doublecheck the results.
 
As for the “conspiracy theorist” tag, let me be blunt: climate-change deniers are the biggest conspiracy theorists of all. In order to embrace the delusions of the deniers, you have to adopt the belief that tens of thousands of researchers, some of them awardwinning scientists, from across the world (not to mention the political spectrum) have conducted behind the scenes, undetected by the media, a campaign of peer-reviewed deceit in defiance of empirical data. How else to explain what the US Republican senator James Inhofe, a darling of the deniers, calls “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated against the American people”?
 
Yet it isn’t just barmy GOP politicians. Or the gaffe-prone prime minister of Australia. Take Richard Lindzen, the doyen of the self-styled “climate sceptics” and a tenured professor of meteorology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Earlier this year, I interviewed him for my al-Jazeera TV series Head to Head; unlike the vast majority of his fellow deniers, Lindzen has the advantage of being a trained scientist who has bothered to study our planet’s climate.
 
Why, I asked the softly-spoken professor, did he think national academies of science from 34 different countries – including the United States, the United Kingdom, China, India, Russia, France, Germany, Japan, Mexico, Canada, Brazil and South Africa – had all signed up to the IPCC consensus position on man-made climate change?
 
Richard Lindzen They’ve been told: “Issue a statement on this.”
Me Told by who?
RL Well, I’d rather not say, to be honest.
Me Why not?
RL Because in each case, it would be in some ways embarrassing – I mean, each of them are dependent [sic] on the goodwill of the government. And if they’re told “sign on”, they’ll sign on.
 
Huh? Are we expected to believe that 34 different national academies of science are all working hand in glove with their country governments to exaggerate the impact of carbon-dioxide emissions on the climate and cover up the supposed evidence of global cooling? To what end – and on whose orders? Greenpeace? Al Gore?
 
To be honest, I don’t have a problem with most conspiracy theorists. If they want to believe that the 9/11 attacks were an “inside job” or that the Nasa moon landings were “faked”, so be it. Each to his own. In any case, most of these cranks and clowns do no harm to anything, other than their own reputation (or non-reputation).
 
But the climate-change deniers of today, with their astonishing combination of manufactured doubt, faux outrage, mass paranoia and evidence-free pseudoscience, are endangering our planet. According to the World Health Organisation, “climatic changes already are estimated to cause over 150,000 deaths annually”. The poorest countries, incidentally, bear the brunt of these preventable fatalities.
 
It’s no laughing matter. This particular conspiracy theory costs lives. 
 
Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the political director of the Huffington Post UK, where this column is crossposted
The deniers of global warming have come in from the cold. Photo: Getty

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

This article first appeared in the 30 September 2013 issue of the New Statesman, The Tory Game of Thrones

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The Women's March against Trump matters – but only if we keep fighting

We won’t win the battle for progressive ideas if we don’t battle in the first place.

Arron Banks, UKIP-funder, Brexit cheerleader and Gibraltar-based insurance salesman, took time out from Trump's inauguration to tweet me about my role in tomorrow's Women’s March Conservative values are in the ascendancy worldwide. Thankfully your values are finished. . . good”.

Just what about the idea of women and men marching for human rights causes such ill will? The sense it is somehow cheeky to say we will champion equality whoever is in office in America or around the world. After all, if progressives like me have lost the battle of ideas, what difference does it make whether we are marching, holding meetings or just moaning on the internet?

The only anti-democratic perspective is to argue that when someone has lost the argument they have to stop making one. When political parties lose elections they reflect, they listen, they learn but if they stand for something, they don’t disband. The same is true, now, for the broader context. We should not dismiss the necessity to learn, to listen, to reflect on the rise of Trump – or indeed reflect on the rise of the right in the UK  but reject the idea that we have to take a vow of silence if we want to win power again.

To march is not to ignore the challenges progressives face. It is to start to ask what are we prepared to do about it.

Historically, conservatives have had no such qualms about regrouping and remaining steadfast in the confidence they have something worth saying. In contrast, the left has always been good at absolving itself of the need to renew.

We spend our time seeking the perfect candidates, the perfect policy, the perfect campaign, as a precondition for action. It justifies doing nothing except sitting on the sidelines bemoaning the state of society.

We also seem to think that changing the world should be easier than reality suggests. The backlash we are now seeing against progressive policies was inevitable once we appeared to take these gains for granted and became arrogant and exclusive about the inevitability of our worldview. Our values demand the rebalancing of power, whether economic, social or cultural, and that means challenging those who currently have it. We may believe that a more equal world is one in which more will thrive, but that doesn’t mean those with entrenched privilege will give up their favoured status without a fight or that the public should express perpetual gratitude for our efforts via the ballot box either.  

Amongst the conferences, tweets and general rumblings there seem three schools of thought about what to do next. The first is Marxist  as in Groucho revisionism: to rise again we must water down our principles to accommodate where we believe the centre ground of politics to now be. Tone down our ideals in the hope that by such acquiescence we can eventually win back public support for our brand – if not our purpose. The very essence of a hollow victory.

The second is to stick to our guns and stick our heads in the sand, believing that eventually, when World War Three breaks out, the public will come grovelling back to us. To luxuriate in an unwillingness to see we are losing not just elected offices but the fight for our shared future.

But what if there really was a third way? It's not going to be easy, and it requires more than a hashtag or funny t-shirt. It’s about picking ourselves up, dusting ourselves down and starting to renew our call to arms in a way that makes sense for the modern world.

For the avoidance of doubt, if we march tomorrow and then go home satisfied we have made our point then we may as well not have marched at all. But if we march and continue to organise out of the networks we make, well, then that’s worth a Saturday in the cold. After all, we won’t win the battle of ideas, if we don’t battle.

We do have to change the way we work. We do have to have the courage not to live in our echo chambers alone. To go with respect and humility to debate and discuss the future of our communities and of our country.

And we have to come together to show there is a willingness not to ask a few brave souls to do that on their own. Not just at election times, but every day and in every corner of Britain, no matter how difficult it may feel.

Saturday is one part of that process of finding others willing not just to walk a mile with a placard, but to put in the hard yards to win the argument again for progressive values and vision. Maybe no one will show up. Maybe not many will keep going. But whilst there are folk with faith in each other, and in that alternative future, they’ll find a friend in me ready to work with them and will them on  and then Mr Banks really should be worried.