As a liberal with an interest in science, you can pretty much guess that I’m a believer in global warming. The argument seems pretty basic:
1. As carbon dioxide in the atmosphere increases, it causes the global temperature to increase (because carbon dioxide absorbs more infrared radiation than oxygen, the gas it replaces).
2. Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is steadily increasing.
Therefore, global temperatures are increasing. Done.
But of course, that’s not good enough for everyone. For example, I have a friend who’s a smart guy, but he’s not a science dork like me and he spends a lot of time hanging around with conservatives. Result?
“You know, I’m not convinced that global warming is being caused by human activity…”
Now there are many arguments used by global warming deniers, but the “not sure it’s caused by human activity” thing is a common complaint, and the one that I find the most baffling. Okay – so you accept that carbon dioxide causes global warming, but somehow we’re not causing it? You do realize that what comes out of our car tailpipes is carbon dioxide, right? You know that burning coal and all other fossil fuels releases carbon dioxide?
“Yeah, but I’m just not sure that’s what’s really causing the rising temperatures.”
What else is causing the rising temperatures? “I don’t know, maybe the sun’s getting warmer.” Then shouldn’t the other planets be getting warmer? Shouldn’t that be the easiest thing to prove ever? Here’s some easily-findable data clearly proving that wrong.
But you know what? Who cares what’s making it warmer? If the world is getting warmer for some unknown reason and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere also makes it warmer, then maybe we should stop releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere whether global warming is our fault or not.
“Ok, but I’m just not sure it’s our fault.”
It’s a frustrating experience. You get the sense the denier is going to forget this entire conversation within minutes. Then tomorrow he’ll go back to yupping it up with his other conservative buddies about how global warming is natural/not happening and plutocratic scientists are cooking up some scheme to raise energy taxes and further oppress the downtrodden fossil fuel industry.
The problem with confronting this irrationality is that global warming deniers don’t have a single, well-thought-out, competing theory. Instead, they jump at the first hint of a reason not to worry about this troublesome idea that they’re contributing to a massive global disaster so they can feel powerful in their big vehicles.
Therefore, you get these shape-shifting denialist arguments. Among global warming believers, the theory is simple: carbon dioxide released by burning substances we pull out of the ground causes global warming. But among deniers, it’s all the fuck over the place. The sun is getting warmer. No wait, global warming is a massive completely made up conspiracy by scientists. No wait, global warming is real, it’s just not going to be that bad. No wait, some other shit. In fact, a website devoted to disproving the deniers has collected no less than 173 of these doubts-du-jour, all debunked (and those are just the mainstream ones).
Fighting this swarm of ridiculous theories is like trying to wipe out malaria by swatting individual mosquitoes. Killing a single one will just make room for another. As long as these theories have suitable hosts with their intellectual defenses down, they will continue to thrive in whatever form they take.
So can we, the global warming believers, win when no one wants to listen to us? How can we win when it’s so much easier to just say “not convinced” and be comfortably oblivious? I’m not confident. More and more, I’m getting the sense that we’re just not
smart thoughtful enough to solve this problem, and that we have to start quantifying the impact and learning how to cope with it with as little suffering as possible. How that can be done isn’t something I have a good answer for, and chances are, I’ll be close to dead before the real problems begin anyway – sometime around 2050 or so. So sorry about the problems we’re giving you, future people, just be aware that there were some of us who gave it a shot.