Climate Denial — A New Strategy

Gwynne Dyer is a Canadian-born independent journalist whose column is published in more than 175 papers in 45 countries.

By Gwynne Dyer


What a surprise! The annual emissions report by the United Nations is now out, and greenhouse gas emissions are still going up thirty years after we first realised there was a problem with the climate. In fact, they have gone up 15% in the past ten years. So much for the promises of ‘early and deep cuts’ in emissions to avoid catastrophic heating.

Governments have been making these promises since the early 1990s, and they are never kept because the political pressures are far stronger from those who profit in the present – the fossil fuel industries and the automobile, shipping and aviation industries – than from those who are merely frightened for their childrens’ future.

Meanwhile, to keep the public at least neutral, the industries denied outright that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions were changing the climate. Never mind the science: just listen to this other guy in a white coat who says that it isn’t happening.

Flat denial became increasingly untenable in the early 21st century, however, and the emphasis of the deniers shifted to spreading doubt. The climate is always changing; lots of scientists don’t believe that the warming is caused by human activities; the jury is still out.

Those lies worked for another decade, but there is now no government in the world (except the United States) that goes along with the denialism, and every international body has accepted the evidence that climate change is actually happening and that we are the cause.

Time for another change of strategy by the fossil fuel industries and their allies, then. If they can no longer hope to discredit the science or confuse the public, maybe they can deflect and divert the pressure for effective action on climate change on to targets that do not directly threaten the sales of their products.

It was Dr. Michael Mann, Distinguished Professor of Atmospheric Science at Pennsylvania State University and director of the Earth System Science Center, who spotted the new strategy of the fossil fuel industry’s shills first.

“There is an attempt being made by them to deflect attention away from finding policy solutions for global warming towards promoting individual behaviour changes that affect people’s diets, travel choices and other personal behaviour,” he told The Observer newspaper early this month. “This is a deflection campaign, and a lot of well-meaning people have been taken in by it.”

What gives the deflectors credibility is that they seem to be on the side of the angels. They’re not denying that climate change is real; they just want you to use your bike more, eat less meat, and recycle your waste. What could be wrong with that?

Nothing, of course. You should be doing all those things: it’s a necessary part of the solution. But they want you to do that INSTEAD of campaigning (or at least voting) for action that directly targets fossil fuel use. If you feel that you’re already doing your bit in the climate emergency by changing your personal behaviour, then the pressure is off them.

The ‘deflect, divert, distract’ campaign is often hard to distinguish from genuine attempts to change people’s lifestyles in positive ways, and frankly there’s no point in trying. Just do what they’re advocating (bikes, meat, recycling, etc.) and remember to do the hard political and legal work of eliminating fossil fuel use too.

Simple to say, hard to do.

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