Tag Archives: climate deniers

Climate Deniers Part II: Ned Stark


Editors note 1: This whole post is one giant spoiler alert related to Season 1 of Game of Thrones. Read no further if you intend to and have yet to watch. 




Ned Stark, the Environmental Sector, and the Great Pause

This has been a heavy news cycle for climate change. The President addressed it head on in the State of the Union; there were a number of (slightly befuddling) votes in the Senate about the existence/drivers of climate change;the seemingly interminable battle over Keystone XL is reaching its climax; and it was recently announced that 2014 was the hottest year on record. The latter disproves the so-called ‘Great Pause,’ a common (though specious) argument made by climate change deniers/skeptics. Strikingly, the discourse surrounding 2014-as-a-record seemed, at times, to toe the line of celebratory. As if this was the last data point needed to assuage climate deniers’ concerns and move all of us towards collectively addressing climate change. Which, naturally, brings me to the subject of this post, season 1 of Game of Thrones.

After intense negotiation, my girlfriend and I recently agreed to commit to watch Game of Thrones. It’s well-liked, multiple seasons are available, and I have my friend’s HBO GO password (check, check, and check!). We both liked it… But one event, one predictable, inevitable event, really sullied it for me: the beheading of Ned Stark. My severe chaffing over his death was equally comprised of an attachment to the only honorable man in Kings Landing, and an unshakable sense of symmetry between Ned and the modern-day environmental movement. I am not lionizing Ned nor the sector of which I am a part – but at their core both are well-intentioned, principled, and let’s face it, naïve.

There is no better metaphor for the climate change discourse in the US  than Cersei’s response to Ned after he hands her the note from King Robert Baratheon, which makes Ned Protector of the Realm, and thereby removes Joffrey from power. Coldly, Cersei tears it up and asks, “Is this meant to be your shield Lord Stark, a piece of paper?” Or, to put it in terms of climate change, “Is this meant to be your argument, environmental community? Peer-reviewed literature and comprehensive reviews by thousands of climatologists?” Did we, and do we still, think data will overcome ideology? Basically, we just offered our Cersei yet another piece of paper, and they responded, as we should have expected, by voting in force that climate change is not anthropogenic (but that it does exist). Indeed, the IPCC’s fifth assessment may still be scattered about the Senate floor. As a slight aside, kudos to Senator Lindsey Graham of HURDL’s home state of South Carolina for being one of the few Republicans who didn’t toe the party line and instead voted consciously.

Meme cersei

The Great Pause is at best a fallacious argument – motivated reasoning at its worst and most deceptive. Proving that the Great Pause is over is no more a reason to celebrate than being stuck in traffic, late for a flight, because your friend didn’t take your advice about the [insert many expletives] Brooklyn Queens Expressway.

2014’s dubious honor of being the hottest year ever is no reason to celebrate; it is reason be pessimistic. It means, as I stated before, that the conservation community has all the evidence we need to sway the entirety of public opinion on anthropogenic climate change. Yet we haven’t. And if we think that this data will change the hearts and minds of climate deniers, we ought to save our breath for the heavy blade of Joffrey’s henchman. We must acknowledge the fact that the logic and processes we hold so dear don’t matter when we’re interrupting someone’s narrative. We were – we are – Ned Stark.

Climate Deniers Part I: Sun Tzu

To a surrounded enemy, you must leave a way of escape.

-Sun Tzu

Every once in a while I am asked a very troubling question: “Do you believe in climate change?” The phrasing “do you believe in” or any variation thereof feels like ice water being injected my spine. It demonstrates that the conservation community has all but botched the trial on climate change. If this were a criminal case, we provided means, motive, and intent, but couldn’t counter the defense’s wordplay, trickery, and jargon-laden half-truths.

Manifestations of this loss keep coming up. A few weeks ago I visited some old friends. Over a cocktail (or two), climate change worked its way into the conversation. Though not climate deniers per se, they fall somewhere in the skeptical-to-unconcerned range on the alarmist-to-denier continuum. And they are skeptical because, like most Americans, they don’t have time to fact-check the barrage of climate-related information they hear from myriad sources, including some that suggest climate change is not affected by human activity. These hard-to-check impressive sounding “facts” are the simultaneous danger and strength of climate denier’s misinformation campaign; they somehow transform scientific evidence into a viewpoint in a political debate. For those interested in forestalling serious climate legislation, a politicized hung jury in an increasingly partisan society is exactly what a win looks like. But, moral high ground or not, this is as much on those of us who see climate change as a major challenge as it is on those who argue against action or its existence.

Worse, the combined politicization and evident reality of climate change is a double-edged sword. Those who deny climate change have perverse disincentives to back away from their intransigence. They are in a corner: continue to deny humanity’s most pressing challenge or walk away from the denial discourse and face serious political ramifications in terms of their own legitimacy. It’s a nasty paradox. The scientific community and its political allies have, contrary to Sun Tzu’s advice, left our “enemy” no way of escape.

Take, for example, Marco Rubio – an outsized voiced in the Republican Party. When Rubio simultaneously denied climate change and announced his interest in the presidency my reaction was predictably visceral. Yet despite a driving temptation to lash out over his ignorance/delusion/lack of integrity, I no longer think vilification of deniers helps the climate discourse. Particularly whenever it takes the form of left vs. right. Whether he runs for President or remains a Senator, Rubio could face extraordinary political backlash and de-legitimization should the Republican Party suddenly start to embrace the science of climate change. This is why I believe the Republican Party has shifted from accepting the reality of climate change (see President Bush’s 2007 State of the Union) to the evolving party line of “La La La I can’t hear you” or “I’m no expert, but [insert economic platitude].”

Trapping our “enemies” in a particular corner of the climate change debate, and allowing the resultant discourse to be viewed as a left-right issue, has presented us with a deadlock that inhibits further progress. Maybe its time we stop fighting dogma with logic and politics with science. These are flawed strategies; it is asymmetrical warfare. Converting climate deniers is not an issue of showing them the science – we have done that. It has failed. It continues to fail. What we must do is find a graceful way out for the climate skeptics that we – I, for sure – have so long vilified. This is not to suggest we should let up on correcting the widespread dissemination of misinformation (John Oliver’s piece on this is perfect, if you haven’t watched it, do it now.). Only that accidental or intentional vilification offers little to the cause.

Our focus need be dispassionate advancement of meaningful climate change policy. We need to change the conversation and demonstrate the big Truth of climate change legislation: that it appeals to conservative ideals, even if not certain right-leaning constituents. This needs to be made more explicit. The Republican Party prides itself as responsible, long-term planners (see the budget discourse), yet are unconcerned about the widespread economic effects of climate change? Or the myriad impacts on impacts on national security outlined here? It just doesn’t add up.

So here is my proposition to those who recognize the importance of climate change but have been painted into a political corner: tell the conservation community what you need to advance meaningful policy without sacrificing your ideals, and yes, political ambitions. I am done shouting and am very ready to listen. Or to put it in the [cleaned up] words of one of an old baseball coach, “lead, follow, or get the [heck] out the way.”