Global warming skeptics vs. global warming deniers

The skeptic does not mean him who doubts, but him who investigates or researches, as opposed to him who asserts and thinks that he has found.
~Miguel de Unamuno

Okay, so I’m at it again. This time, I’m sick of the terms “skeptic” and “denier” being used interchangeably. These words do not mean the same thing, people. From dictionary.com, emphasis mine:

skep·tic
–noun
1. a person who questions the validity or authenticity of something purporting to be factual.
2. a person who maintains a doubting attitude, as toward values, plans, statements, or the character of others.

de·ny
–verb (used with object),-nied, -ny·ing.
1. to state that (something declared or believed to be true) is not true: to deny an accusation.

Now, I can imagine some idiots have a hard time fathoming the subtle difference between those two definitions.

I am very firmly in the skeptic’s camp. I am that in regards to everything. I doubt myself, my beliefs, and I often doubt others and their beliefs. I doubt the science that is given me and I question the philosophy that is offered to me. Even should I become a climate change believer, I will likely continue to question and doubt until global warming becomes as obvious as the effect of gravity. It’s just the way I am. I’ve seen convincing arguments in every direction on the issue. And no, my hatred of Al Gore has nothing to do with it. At least, not with the idea of climate change itself.

But it seems to me that some people think that to question is to deny.

I am not denying the possibility of global warming. I’m skeptical. I have not yet decided upon a position so I’m remaining on the fence until I have seen enough convincing evidence to pick a side. I’m not saying that global warming doesn’t exist, just as I’m not saying that global warming exists. The mental jury is still out.

If global warming believers wish to argue with someone, they need to please make sure to argue with the right people. And if global warming deniers wish to label themselves “skeptics” to make themselves sound better, they need to consult a dictionary before I strike them with one. Skeptic != denier. Agnostics and atheists are not the same, no matter how often they are lumped together.

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5 Responses to “Global warming skeptics vs. global warming deniers”

  1. Thank you for posting this… and your “Confessions” post. My understanding of global warming, as I learned it before it became the Big Issue it is now, was that the icecaps would melt and sea levels would rise by a few feet over the next 100-200 years – which is bad, but not anywhere near as bad nor as urgent an issue as overfishing or deforestation or plain old pollution. It’s reassuring to read from people who genuinely question the current trendy policy emphasis on climate change but clearly isn’t pushing some ulterior oil-industry agenda or something.

    The biggest problem I see is that the deniers will do everything they can to call themselves skeptics to gain that cred, and muddy the meanings of those words to the point where anyone who calls themselves a skeptic must either be a genuine skeptic which can only be shown through a long discussion or some careful reading of their prior writings, or a fraud whose statements must always be countered or ignored and never taken at face value.

    Maybe I’m making the situation too analogous to creationism, where the mass media assumes that “intelligent design” means theistic evolution, so in any discussion the crazies use that term instead of “creationism” to get their foot in the door before making their bait-and-switch once people start listening to them.

    But then again, there is no reason to make it any easier for the frauds and the crazies to be the one framing the issue.

  2. Dargon Says:

    Thank you for this. This is a problem the entire skeptical movement faces. The term skeptic, which I tend to define as “one who questions, investigates, and considers the facts on each issue” tends to get a bum rap as someone who doesn’t believe anything or is just plain bitter. Questioning is part of critically thinking, which is a good thing.

    And don’t get me started on the whole atheist/agnostic thing. That is another one where people need to consult the dictionary (preferably the Oxford English), as the two words actually pertain to different things.

  3. It seems pretty simple to me. If one dirties/pollutes their cage (in effect, that’s what a planet is at this point) it will affect change for the worse. Any animal left in a dirty cage will become ill eventually. Since we can’t switch cages, we have to keep the one we have clean or else get sick.

    Or you can try looking at it this way…

    CO2 levels don’t continue to rise and we do nothing and nothing happens…no problem!
    CO2 levels continue to rise and we do nothing and nothing happens…no problem!
    CO2 levels continue to rise and we do nothing and something awful happens…BIG problem!
    CO2 levels continue to rise and we DO something and we get a cleaner planet for our efforts…we come out ahead regardless of whether the CO2 is affecting change.

    It all seems fairly straight forward to me. Whether a person chooses to be a denier or skeptic about CO2’s effects on Climate Change, they can’t reasonably argue the reasons for needing to clean up pollution which by default will clean up many of the CO2 issues.

    • What’s not so straightforward is the fact that concentrating on a problem that may not turn out to be a problem at all, or a problem that’s not as big as it’s made out to be, will distract attention, funds, and problem solving skills from bigger issues. I do agree that we should continue to study climate change and work to reduce our CO2 emissions (after all, unloading a bunch of crap into our atmosphere is never a good thing), but I think we need to work a little harder on prioritizing issues in the green movement. Unfortunately, fear mongering goes hand-in-hand with environmental issues, so *every* issue, no matter how small or trifling, is going to be seen as disastrous.

      Another reason I’m not so much into “climate change” is that its presence or absence is not going to affect by behavior. I’m not in a position to quit driving the car completely, and I’m already using it as little as possible. I can’t really shrink my carbon footprint much more, so I’ve elected to concentrate on other problems.

      • jennaann Says:

        Well, I think we should be focusing much of that attention on cleaning up pollution in general. Living a “tiny life” certainly moves us in that direction doesn’t it? If we each live the best we can then that in itself will improve things for everyone. “Be the change you wish to see in the world” as Gandhi said. :)

        By the way, I really enjoy your blog! Keep challenging perceptions!

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