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Reasoning with climate change deniers “pointless”

By Ed King

Debating climate change with steadfast contrarians is pointless, because their underlying beliefs are based less on scientific data and more on their life experiences.

That’s the view of author Will Storr, who has recently finished working on a new book exploring why many people refuse to accept commonly agreed facts.

Storr’s quest to meet ‘Enemies of Science’ saw him meet infamous climate sceptic Lord Monckton, who he termed a perfect ‘hero maker’, that is a person who cannot believe they are wrong about anything.

“There’s no point in debating with someone like Lord Monckton on the science. You could talk about the hockey graph and individual points of data – but underneath there is the whole story of his life,” he said.

“These little facts aren’t going to shift the story of his life. It’s shifting everything, and everything is not going to shift.

“The whole story of his life is that this is a devious plot by the totalitarian left, so one study, one meta-analysis is not going to shift that.”

Will Storr Interview from Responding to Climate Change on Vimeo.

Storr’s experiences while working on the book led him to subscribe to the theory that many people refuse to accept the concept of climate change because it would compromise their political principles.

In particular many who class themselves as ‘conservative’ are suspicious of any agenda supported by the ‘left’, especially if the solution involves any form of global governance.

Storr cites Monckton as an obvious example of this. When they spoke he railed against what he perceives is an attempt by the European Union and United Nations to create a form of world government

“He hates the word ‘consensus’, he describes himself as a lone wolf going against the pack,” Storr said. “This is how he sees himself and this is how lots of people see themselves – he’s not unique”.

But Storr’s interviews also revealed many distrust the motives of climate activists, especially those linked to environmental NGOs that have historically been to the left of politics.

“One of the guys I met was professor Jonathan Haidt, who is an expert on psychology of religion and psychology of our moral beliefs – and he said to me if you want to find irrationality seek the things that make people sacred,” Storr said.

“He said ‘I have no doubt that climate change is real and it will have a deleterious effect on the planet, but I do not trust the left to tell me the truth about climate change because they have made it sacred, and they cannot bear anything that goes against that narrative’.

“In the same way people on the right make the free market sacred, they have an ideological and emotional belief that the free market is a force for good in the world – and with these debates you have a clash of hero narratives.”

For more details on The Heretics: Adventures with the Enemies of Science by Will Storr visit the Pan Macmillan website

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  • Windy

    I’m surprised Jonathan Haidt has no doubts about climate science as there are growing concerns that climate sensitivity is wrong and 30% to 50% lower than being reported by the 2007 IPCC AR4 consensus. I don’t know of any other example where there is an error of 30% to 50% in the science and people like Haidt still have no doubt. Maybe Haidt just isn’t reading the peer reviewed literature for himself and holding on to his beliefs instead of taking a scientific approach. A recent study indicated that 64% of geoscientists and engineers (less theoretical scientists who look at real world data) see problems with climate science warming estimates and other claims. These are people that fully understand the laws of physics involved and see problems in model errors, altered data, poor quantitative methods and growing uncertainty boundaries. These are not low information climate science deniers. Even the main stream scientists are backing down from initial future damage claims as new evidence emerges in the Early Holocene and Eemian paleoclimate record indicate weather extremes far worse than any extreme weather we see now.

    It is the those that claim that our children and grandchildren are doomed that are the religious zealots and anti-science Mayan myth embracers.

    • Hu Men

      Don’t fall for the shill.
      “There is a critical point that must be made here – the worst case scenario is just as likely as the best case scenario. Those who argue that we can proceed under the assumption that the best case scenario is reality do so by cherrypicking convenient evidence and ignoring inconvenient evidence.

      So what does this all mean? The only way we can be certain to avoid catastrophic climate change is to take major steps to reduce global fossil fuel consumption as quickly as possible, following a similar path as in RCP 3-PD. The more we delay, the higher the risk of climate catastrophe becomes. And remember, we haven’t accounted for account for possible changes in the carbon cycle, like reduced ocean carbon absorption or releases from melting permafrost, or slow feedbacks which may amplify global warming further in the future.

      The problem is that at the moment we’re moving in the wrong direction. The rate of increase in annual global fossil fuel CO2 emissions was about 3 times faster in the 2000s than the 1990s, and the increases in 2009–2010 and 2010–2011 were two of the three highest annual emissions increases ever (data are not yet available for 2012). At a time when global emissions need to be flattening out and approaching a peak, instead they are accelerating. Power plants have lifespans of decades, so our decisions today lock us into a long-term emissions pathway. We need a global agreement to turn this trend around, and fast – we can’t just wake up 10 years from now and decide it’s finally time to take climate change seriously.

      Note also that ocean acidification is a problem which depends only on future emissions. No matter what the climate sensitivity, ocean acidification will do major damage to global marine ecosystems if we don’t get our CO2 emissions under control.”

      • Bernard

        Well I am sorry to disappoint you on your assumptions but they have all been studied and dismissed by many Expert Papers,if you want to keep up to date with the Science please visit,
        The world’s most viewed site on global warming and climate change.

        • john

          Anti and pro climate change advocates keep falling into the same trap. Anthony Watts was so certain that the data was fudged that he did his own independent study of temperature measurement locations across the USA. The results? Not good for him, the small errors recorded actually showed a slight bias towards cooling. Of course he only talks about the fact there were errors. The point is that people find what they look for and then stop looking. And that is why the deniers are wrong. They insist that people either stop looking, or ar that anyone who has looked beyond what they are capable or willing to see is a liar and a fraud.