Recently, I was drawn into an argument (of sorts) at work, on the nature of climate change. My interlocutor insisted that he did not recycle because:
a) the whole climate change thing is not man made but a big conspiracy by scientists who are making money from supporting the claims and would be out of work if they didn’t
b) the zealotry of environmentalists is akin to that of fundamentalist religion, in that anyone who doesn’t agree is ostracized and condemned.
This individual, who, according to a recent poll, is one of about half the population of the UK who holds such an opinion, was brought to this point of view by Nigel Lawson (whose book on the subject is favourably reviewed here and by a climatologist here), not, unsurprisingly, a scientist, but a conservative politician.
To address point a), here is a thorough list of the arguments against climate change and the appropriate scientific proof refuting them.
I want to skip quickly past that point, since I think it’s been handled adequately elsewhere. It boils down to a refusal to understand the scientific method, the water cycle, and the carbon cycle.
Moreover, the idea that there is some evil consortium of mustache-twisting scientists bent on filling the world with windmills, rather than a varied group of climatologists, oceanographers, entomologists, meteorologists, geologists, biologists, microbiologists, astronauts, rocket scientists, ecologists, and other ‘ists’ and ‘auts’, who spent several years in school learning about how science works, stumbling across information in their research which all points to the same conclusion, is as absurd as thinking that the whole ‘world is round’ thing was a conspiracy of cartographers and sailors bent on making millions with new and more complicated maps rather than a discovery of something already extant.
Which brings me to his point b. While at first blush one can see the same kind of passion in really enthusiastic environmentalists as one sees in evangelical Christians or Mormons – people who desperately try to convert you because they really, honestly think that you will suffer endless torment if they don’t – a little more attention uncovers the problem with the comparison, which is the same problem that religious people come across when railing against atheists:
Religion is based on faith. Science is based on observation, tests, and adequate repetition proving causation. Religion is about convincing yourself, science is about letting the data convince you.
People who accept (rather than ‘believe’) climate change is man made and harmful react negatively towards those who don’t not because of some religious fervor, but because the deniers’ behavior (voting, not recycling, driving SUVs) affects them.
Deniers aren’t skeptics, looking askance at meager and poorly conveyed dogma, they are jerks who don’t want the hassle of changing their behavior, or people who don’t like or ‘believe in’ science.
But the thing with science is, you don’t have to believe in it, it’s there whether you like it or not. No matter how confusing math might be to any given person, 2 + 2 = 4. The world is round even if you’re not high enough up to see.