Climate ‘Denial’ is not a ‘Cult’ | Connor Tomlinson
In an age where unpopular dissent is vilified, and outright criminalised, it is vital that environmental advocates protect the freedom of speech for those most likely to hold their worst excesses to account: climate change “deniers”. Scepticism of climate change rhetoric is not only warranted, but welcomed. Complacency of the scientific consensus has led to a history of inaccurate apocalyptic claims over the course of the last century. Such opposition to the climate crisis hegemony has been suggested to warrant legal penalties by 2020 Democrat Vice Presidential pick Kamala Harris. Twenty scientists and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse petitioned the Obama administration to prosecute climate change denial using the anti-mafia RICO act.
Far from the compassionate politics the international left claims to espouse, this lack of introspection as to why the current climate narrative alienates so many into “denialism” is the reason why the general public remains disaffected from environmentalist narratives. In the United States, environmental concern is almost exclusively concentrated in the Democrat voting population. Environmental issues register as a global threat for 66% of Brits; leaving almost half of the UK’s population either apathetic to, or against, ecological disaster-mitigating measures. The cause: undoubtedly, which solutions, and how said solutions, have been pitched to the everyday person.
Two crucial components comprise a successful campaign: achievable goals, and building your soapbox on issues relevant to the general public. Currently, the environmental narrative is too abstract, and borderline fanatical. Climate activism is represented by a vocal minority of radical socialists: the professionally jobless, emotionally unstable, and bizarrely theatrical. Discourse has degenerated into within-a-decade doomsday prophecies and pie-in-the-sky proposals to decimate and radically overhaul the economic and political systems of the West.
If one is to get the public invested in improving our environment, measures must be marketed with Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy of Needs’ in mind. People have closest affinity with causes which demonstrate immediate benefit to either themselves or their families. Abstract and utopian collectivist action—as Extinction Rebellion or Democratic Socialists of America argue is the catalyst to climate redress and repair—is off-putting in its irrelevancy to the everyday person’s aim to improve their economic and emotional condition. However, when climate-related policies and lifestyle choices are marketed as making life more convenient for the individual, they’re likely to be adopted. If people are made aware that food packaging wastage will decrease, or agricultural policy reform means the trend toward extinction for their morning coffee will be stopped, then this will have the wider public become invested in a narrative of demonstrable and incremental change.
In a time of resource and opportunity scarcity—such as the unprecedented economic downturn of our post-COVID modernity—the majority of each nation’s populous are primarily or solely concerned with job, meal, and housing security. Collective environmental action becomes a first-world concern; a privilege for those not experiencing unemployment or lightened wallets. Environmental policy must, therefore, be promoted as having an immediate relevancy to improving—or removing threats to—a person’s safety, or resource obtainability. For example, in 2020, the economic damage done worldwide by COVID-19 instigated an uptake of public opposition to China’s exotic animal slaughter-and-sale wet-markets, and gave many a newfound affinity for time spent in green spaces, and appreciation for lower light and noise pollution.
Another key amendment to environmentalist culture is to challenge its disturbing anti-natal sentiment, seeking to depopulate the Earth of humanity. Extinction Rebellion’s leadership and their ideologically-aligned acolytes repeatedly voice a Club of Rome-esque anti-human attitude. Senator Bernie Sanders, at a CNN climate change town-hall, advocated the United States repealing the Mexico City agreement to fund overseas abortion facilities, decreasing third-world population levels and, incidentally, lowering carbon emissions. Not only does this depreciate chances of increasing climate scientists and engineers in subsequent generations, but also decreases the investment of men and women in environmental causes, without reason to make a sustainable world for their children. This radical anti-life attitude must be excised by the left’s own central figures if we aim to collaborate on addressing the ills of our shared planet.
One also does not need to espouse all the essential tenets of climate activism to implement pragmatic, proven solutions to environmental issues. President Trump may have decried climate change as a “Chinese hoax”, but his administration’s environmental policy record blows his 2020 election opponent, Joe Biden’s, out of the water. His policies have simultaneously achieved record economic prosperity and workforce participation (pre-COVID) whilst also having the US lead the world in annual emissions reduction after withdrawing from the Paris Accords, and becoming a net distributor of fuel (relinquishing reliance on human-rights violating nations) for the first time since 1957. Therefore, purity tests must not be administered when building a coalition of environmental activism: those with practical approaches and sceptical perspectives are equally as, if not more, valued as researchers and rhetoricians.
Therefore, it’s important not to regard existing apathy toward environmental issues as careless or ignorant “climate denial”; rather, the onus is on policy aficionados and political activists to market more directly to the everyday person, who cannot afford to expand their sphere of concern beyond that which affects their immediate family’s safety and prosperity. It is an act of pure intellectual vanity to attempt to criminalise critique of the intellectual class, and this detachment from the concerns of the general public induces the same surprise at populist victories as were seen in 2016.
A study of centre-right think-tanks found an increase in articles critiquing climate science, with a decrease in articles providing or critiquing specific climate policies. It is the responsibility of free-market pundits and politicians to push for freedom-centric solutions to environmental issues, and place the concerns of everyday people at the centre of policies, platforms, and messaging. Groups like the British Conservation Alliance, American Conservation Coalition, and other affiliated organisations have made significant headway, but more must be done to include and address the concerns of struggling and disaffected people the left wrongly marginalises as ‘climate deniers.’