The denial method

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In the past month or so, there have been fascinating about-faces over global warming: Monday, Richard Muller, a scientist of considerable renown as a global warming skeptic, released a study indicating that global warming is occurring, and that humans are almost certainly the cause. The study was paid for, in part, by a group of opponents to climate change legislation.

Muller’s surprising result come on the heels of recent comments by the head of ExxonMobil, Rex Tillerson, who also rather surprisingly accepted that the planet was warming, before promptly downplaying the significance of such warming.

“Clearly there is going to be an impact,” Tillerson said, before following the comments up with, “We have spent our entire existence adapting. We'll adapt. … It's an engineering problem and there will be an engineering solution.”

It’s cast, of course, against a gallery of often partially informed commenters who quickly leap onto the comments section of any medium to inform readers and viewers that all climate science is junk science, that the scientists themselves are some sort of loose-knit conspiratorial cabal designed to increase their own research funding and any number of other vague slurs. (Cue the commenters.)

But leave all that aside for a moment and ask yourself just how well denial actually works as an effective coping strategy.

You go to your doctor, and he or she has a grim face on, sitting and thumbing through your test results.

“It looks like you could have cancer,” the doctor says. “We’d like to do some tests. What do you think?”

Is the right answer, “Let’s get a full workup and find out all the facts,” or is it “You’re just a shill for the international prescription drug conspiracy, and this is the last time you’ll be seeing me in this office”?

The bank calls: the mortgage payment is supposed to come out of your account, but there isn’t any money there.

Do you a) start talking about ways to pay or postpone your mortgage payment, or b) announce that the entire financial community is a global shell game, and that the concepts of interest and inflation are merely manufactured fakery designed to enrich the one per cent, and that, furthermore, you won’t be playing along any more.

Your car makes a horrible grinding noise. Do you take it to the garage and let specialists look at it, or do you turn up the radio real loud while insisting that any odd sound is actually the result of an inner ear infection you can’t address because you’re not speaking to your doctor (that international prescription shill) any longer?

The only thing that lets us continue to keep our heads firmly in the sand on issues like climate change is the fact that there aren’t immediate and direct impacts that we can recognize and tie to our own actions — or lack of actions.

If there are things we don’t know about the world’s climate and our impact on it, let’s find them out.

Organizations: ExxonMobil

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  • Eli
    August 02, 2012 - 09:18

    My first reaction to any kind of study or finding is who funded it. But it's hard to ignore the huge breakaways of our northern icecap. Pictures don't lie.

  • Winston Adams
    July 31, 2012 - 15:20

    The majority of comments here indicate a denial of global warming by humans. That's convenient because then you can avoid any responsibility or corrective action . I suggest to readers they look at the published evidence of historic cold water around our coast for the past 3 decades from ice melt up north and the labrador current, and ponder why the caplin and cod left and the crab and scrimp moved in. While we had short duration cold water in the past, there was nothing like this. More extremes in climate seems to be the norm now. You say there aren't immediate and direct impacts. Forunately the impacts are slow, which presents an opportunity to reverse course. Going forward, changes will not be so slow. There will be feedback mechanisms, like methane gas emitting from now frozen tundra, and from frozen methane below the ocean, that will not allow us humans to reverse course. And there may not be enough of sand for all the heads to hide.

    • David
      August 01, 2012 - 14:00

      What makes being a global warming skeptic the MOST convenient is that could quite realistically be the correct side to be on. The zealots of global warming include too many angry, irrational, societal misfits who would simply like to give the economy of which they are no part come to a complete, screeching halt. Not for the altruistic reasons they give, but for pure spite. Their mission is to create chaos, without any concern for negative consequences, or injustices, or any suffering that would result. They would revel in the resultant anarchy ---- well, at least until they were quite likely killed by it.

  • Brian
    July 31, 2012 - 10:59

    Richard Muller is not a climate skeptic. Do these words sound like a climate skeptic: "If Al Gore reaches more people and convinces the world that global warming is real, even if he does it through exaggeration and distortion - which he does, but he’s very effective at it - then let him fly any plane he wants."Oct. 7, 2008. "Let me be clear. My own reading of the literature and study of paleoclimate suggests strongly that carbon dioxide from burning of fossil fuels will prove to be the greatest pollutant of human history. It is likely to have severe and detrimental effects on global climate." Dec. 17, 2003. "There is a consensus that global warming is real. There has not been much so far, but it’s going to get much, much worse. The thing I would tell the president is that the global warming, according to the global consensus — that’s the IPCC scientists, who won the Nobel Prize — the global warming of the future is going to come from the developing world. It’s the exploding economies of China and India and Asia that are going to be responsible for the CO2. This causes a political problem because they are poor and have a low standard of living and shouldn’t have to pay for emissions cuts. So, the only way this is going to work is that we pay the expense of them cutting back. If all we do is set an example, the example we’ll have set is that once you’re a wealthy nation, you can cut back on CO2. If that’s the example, they will wait until they are wealthy and then they’ll cut back and it’ll be too late. Of course, if either one of the candidates said, we have to send $100 billion to China, they’d lose. But after the election maybe they can talk about that. Doing feel good things in the U.S. is fine. Going to biofuels is good for energy independence. Going to solar and nuclear is also good for energy independence and also good for global warming. But the U.S. is going to contribute less than 1 degree of warming to future warming. The future is primarily going to come from China. Their economy is growing at 10 percent a year. And their carbon footprint is growing even faster, 10 or 12 percent per year. The developing world is taking off. The OECD countries [a group of wealthier nations] are now contributing much less than one-half of the carbon dioxide. The non-OECD countries are growing and growing in their energy use. And we have to be happy about that. It’s a good thing because it means their standard of living is getting better. It’s even a good thing for population control to have people who are happy and healthy." Nov. 2, 2008. This is just a small sample of his views on said issue. The man has never been an AGW skeptic, he has had issues with the methodology employed by climate scientists. Perhaps the editor who wrote this article might want to do some solid research before putting fingers to the keyboard, or will there be a denial of the fact that Muller was a proponent of the idea of CO2 induced global warming

  • VanIsl Boy
    July 31, 2012 - 10:50

    Amusing that your piece brought out the tinfoil hat brigade in full force. Science is a multi-disciplinary field and yet not one of them generates research contradictory of the theory of anthropogenic global warming. But here's the kicker. The fossil fuel industry has potentially trillions of dollars at stake in refuting the global warming theory and, specifically because this is science and entails the scientific method, that should be dead easy if they were right. They've got the money, the motivation and the mechanism to prove their point a million times over and they have utterly failed. They have, however, been very successful with a public relations "denial" campaign that sweeps up the gullible like these commenters. Guess what kids? Your side is losing, badly.

  • saelcove
    July 31, 2012 - 10:17

    Slow news day

  • Skeptical Cynic
    July 31, 2012 - 10:02

    God help us all if the Wild Roses of the world ever achieve complete control. Humanity will be back to wearing skins, living in mud huts, and trying to predict the future from the entrails of goats and chickens.

  • John Smith
    July 31, 2012 - 08:14

    Only a few thousand years ago the entire country of Canada was under two miles of ice...not that I call climate change...LOL

  • Wild Rose
    July 31, 2012 - 07:35

    Global warming is a hoax to make the Gors and Suzuky's and other activist scientists rich. I pay enough taxes without baliling out these anti business radicals.