This past September, just in time for all the coverage of the Climate Change Conference in Paris, the Associated Press changed its style guide to suggest that the terms "climate-change deniers" and "climate-change skeptics" be dropped in favor of "climate-change doubters."
It's a name that suggests a more quizzical set than I've encountered. "Doubters" are but two whimsical questions and a tiddly-pom away from being "ponderers." Doubters are practically Pooh and Piglet strolling through the Hundred Acre Wood, feeling "just a little eleven o'clockish" but entirely open to the idea that, if they don't start paying attention, The Sandy Pit Where Roo Plays will get very large and A Nice Place For Picnics will eventually be gone.
Silly old doubters.
The AP's stated reasons for this switch were twofold.
First, actual skeptics, those who labour to debunk pseudo-science and mysticism, resent people who reject overwhelming scientific evidence encroaching on their world.
It must gall genuine skeptics to be associated with a fringe minority who, eschewing empirical evidence, lean toward secret-society-type conspiracy theories instead. Skeptics can't possibly appreciate being lumped in with people who frequently cite statistics without context and with no apparent understanding of the meaning of many of the words they're chanting; stats like spells.
Those who reject mainstream climate science are the pre-eminent magical thinkers of our age.
The phrase "climate-change deniers," meanwhile, was rejected because the word "denier" was said to invoke Holocaust deniers. Few people want this connection, as there's a consensus among reasonable, informed people that denying the Holocaust is dangerous, often part of a larger political and ideological agenda, and ridiculous.
There's a similar consensus among reasonable, informed people that the Earth is warming, and that human activity causes that warming, and that claiming otherwise is dangerous, often part of a larger political and ideological agenda, and ridiculous.
"Deny," meaning "refuse to accept the truth," is a useful word, one I think we'll regret ceding to neo-Nazis. How about we let them have "outrage" and "vacay" instead?
I suggest that if we must cater to the delicate sensibilities of those who reject mainstream science, we employ a new nomenclature, one that recognizes the infinite variety of these fascinating creatures and makes spotting them easier, and so I present A Field Guide to People Who Are Really Wrong About Climate Change.
- Call: “Most of the world’s scientists are wrong, the Earth stopped warming 15 years ago!” This cry is followed, if ostriches are presented with proof that, over the past 15 years, our planet has accumulated heat at a rate equivalent to four Hiroshima atomic-bomb detonations per second, by a piercing “Look, I just want to wait until all the facts are in!”
- Population: Once common, the climate-change ostrich is now a rarer bird, its call having lost much of its resonance as acceptance of the reality and menace of climate change has become mainstream, even in conservative circles. But quite honestly, call aside, it was always a big, silly bird that had a lot of trouble mating anyway.
- Habitat: The climate-change ostrich has lost much of its territory to better-camouflaged species of climate-change wrong-abouters but can still be found at unavoidable family gatherings, on Reddit, and – on particularly cold winter days – making half-joking but not really joking remarks on TV.
- Diet: Subsists mainly by cherry-picking and on the patience of its own family members.
- Call: The climate-change loon is distinguished from the climate-change ostrich mainly by its loud, warbling call: “Wake up, sheeple! Ninety-seven per cent of the world’s scientists are not wrong about climate change, they’re lying; the scientific community is in the pocket of sinister Big Penguin!” The climate-change loon is a long-winded bird.
- Population: Builds rookeries in basements, tacks posters to walls. Periodically attempts to mate with cyber porn, leaving population stable, in one sense of the word.
- Habitat: Comment sections, two-hour-long YouTube videos that they assure you will refute the entirety of modern science if you’ll just watch the whole thing, the graphics are awesome!!!!! And how is 396 views and 89 thumbs up not “peer reviewed”?
- Diet: Frozen pizza, which is cold, like January, so case closed!
Climate-Change Cardinal Sinner
- Call: “Climate change is happening but has nothing to do with human activity!”
- Population: Difficult to track as they tend to shift positions as new evidence arrives.
- Habitat: My inbox shortly after this column comes out.
- Diet: Shredded copies of the Fifth Assessment Report of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which states with 95-per-cent confidence that humans are the main cause of current global warming.
- Call: “Climate change is happening, but all the species of the world will evolve, so it won’t be a problem and warmer’s better anyway!”
- Population: The dodos are the group statistically most likely to guess the Earth’s age with a number they hope some day to have following them on Instagram; like millions!
- Habitat: Everywhere that’s not a science lab.
- Diet: Selectively chosen scientific theories, digested with minimal comprehension.
- Call: “Climate change is happening but there’s very little we can do about it, so worry about something else, like kids today, some of whom are studying liberal arts and not science, that thing I am ignoring.”
- Habitat: Radio call-in shows. Newspaper columns. The wrong side of history. The climate-change lark thrives in these environs, trolling the waters and nurturing its old. Although, it’s hard to say what the future holds for them. If the subject at hand is science, I will, 100 per cent of the time, accept the findings of 97 per cent of scientists over the musings of 50 per cent of newspaper columnists. When the subject is Ten Items in a List I Put Together So I Didn’t Have to Work During the Holiday, that statistic may differ.
- Population: Declining, but stubborn.
- Diet: Their own young.