Friday, 5 May 2017

What percentage of climate denial is driven by fossil fuels?

Although some people claim denial of climate change is not happening, there is a clear consensus among scientists that denial is real, and that it presents severe and long-lasting risks to humanity. There is also a clear consensus that a large proportion of this denial has come from fossil fuel industry emissions.

Actually just a drained rice field in late summer
Some claim that the observed climate change denial is due to other sources, for example scientific research. However, it is difficult to find evidence of understanding of the scientific process within these claims. This is an important markers that we would expect to see if climate change denial actually had anything to do with science.

"But how much of the climate change denial we see recently can be attributed the fossil fuel industry?"
This is a question than often confuses scientists, since it is obvious that if there were no fossil fuel industry, there would be negligible anthropogenic climate change, and no denial. However, it is helpful to look more closely at this question. 

Winter, in case you forgot how it looked
Climate change denial is a complex phenomenon, and it is often difficult to separate primary causes from secondary and tertiary feedback. For example fossil-fuel generated denial can have a knock-on effect on coverage in the scientifically illiterate media and in right-wing blog posts. These can act as amplifiers, so a single fossil-fuel source that leaks into the media can result in thousands of pages on the internet, each of which can generate hundreds of comments.  

Reduction in fossil fuel industry-generated denial is an essential step to stopping denial. However, many of these secondary and tertiary effects are likely to continue long after the fossil-fuel industry has stopped the emission of denial.

Denial has other drivers including extreme libertarianism, religious dogmatism, contrarianism, and people just being stupid. While fossil industry denial is the biggest driver, some of these other forms can be much more potent. For example, libertarian denial can activate a broad spectrum of people skeptical about the power of government. 

There is also a strong danger of irreversible denial tipping points. Once people have denied scientific method and the media, they may permanently lose a reasoned understanding of the world they live in. This will not only make them pose a greater risk to the environment, but may also put them at a greater risk from an environment that will change around them because of their actions and in spite of their words

Clearly the fossil fuel industry must put in place policies and procedures to reduce denial, with a timeline for reaching zero denial. However, this will not be sufficient on its own, and we must also be wary of other sources of denial.