Verbal Warming: Labels in the Climate Debate

From the New York Times:

by Justin Gillis

“The words are hurled around like epithets.

People who reject the findings of climate science are dismissed as “deniers” and “disinformers.” Those who accept the science are attacked as “alarmists” or “warmistas. “ The second term, evoking the Sandinista revolutionaries of Nicaragua, is perhaps meant to suggest that the science is part of some socialist plot.

In the long-running political battles over climate change, the fight about what to call the various factions has been going on for a long time. Recently, though, the issue has taken a turn, with a public appeal that has garnered 22,000 signatures and counting.

The petition asks the news media to abandon the most frequently used term for people who question climate science, “skeptics,” and call them “climate deniers” instead.

Climate scientists are among the most vocal critics of using the term “climate skeptic” to describe people who flatly reject their findings. They point out that skepticism is the very foundation of the scientific method. The modern consensus about the risks of climate change, they say, is based on evidence that has piled up over the course of decades and has been subjected to critical scrutiny every step of the way.

Drop into any climate science convention, in fact, and you will hear vigorous debate about the details of the latest studies. While they may disagree over the fine points, those researchers are virtually unanimous in warning that society is running extraordinary risks by continuing to pump huge quantities of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

In other words, the climate scientists see themselves as the true skeptics, having arrived at a durable consensus about emissions simply because the evidence of risk has become overwhelming. And in this view, people who reject the evidence are phony skeptics, arguing their case by cherry-picking studies, manipulating data and refusing to weigh the evidence as a whole.

The petition asking the news media to drop the “climate skeptic” label began with Mark B. Boslough, a physicist in New Mexico who grew increasingly annoyed by the term over several years. The phrase is wrong, he said, because “these people do not embrace the scientific method.”

Dr. Boslough is active in a group called the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, which has long battled pseudoscience in all its forms. Late last year, he wrote a public letter on the issue, and dozens of scientists and science advocates associated with the committee quickly signed it. They include Bill Nye, of “Science Guy” fame, and Lawrence M. Krauss, a physicist and best-selling author.

A climate advocacy organization, Forecast the Facts, picked up on the letter and turned it into a petition. Once the signatures reach 25,000, the group intends to present a formal request to major news organizations to alter their terminology.

All of which raises an obvious question: If not “skeptic,” what should the opponents of climate science be called?

As a first step, it helps to understand why they so vigorously denounce the science. The opposition is coming from a certain faction of the political right. Many of these conservatives understand that because greenhouse emissions are caused by virtually every economic activity of modern society, they are likely to be reduced only by extensive government intervention in the market.

So casting doubt on the science is a way to ward off such regulation. This movement is mainly rooted in ideology, but much of the money to disseminate its writings comes from companies that profit from fossil fuels.

Despite their shared goal of opposing regulation, however, these opponents of climate science are not all of one mind in other respects, and thus no term really fits them all.

Read the entire article here.

Featured word cloud by woodleywonderworks