Have you ever met a climate denier?
I don’t mean gawking over President Donald Trump’s audacious comments on live TV or avoiding eye-contact with some conspiracy theorist on the side of the street — I mean in the flesh. Well, fortunately for you, I have some of my own encounters that come to mind.
The first is from my seventh grade life science class. I remember it vividly: My classmate was called out for not believing in global warming. Her rebuttal? “I don’t know, it’s not like you call the world getting colder … global cooling.” Neither teacher, nor my smart-aleck self, had anything to say.
Another example is from high school. I expressed my opinion on climate science with a friend, believing we shared the same opinion until she interrupted me mid-roast.
“I just think that whatever happens is meant to happen.”
This stance encapsulates a common trend today — the rejection of reputable scientific evidence for an outlook that relies on destiny instead. This outlook labels climate science as a form of hysteria, instead referring to climate activism as “climate alarmism.” It rivals the voice of Swedish environmental activist phenomenon Greta Thunberg. And, it happens to take the form of another European teenage girl.
Naomi Seibt — referred to as the “anti-Greta,” — is paid and promoted by the Heartland Institute, an American conservative think tank. She questions the scientific consensus that human activity and greenhouse gas emissions are causing climate change. Instead, the German poster child argues that climate activists are unnecessarily panicking, despite countless scientific reports that greenhouse gas emissions are the primary cause of warming since the mid-1900s.
As a piece of conservative propaganda, the anti-Greta can also be considered a pawn for monetary gain — the Heartland Institute is closely allied with the Trump administration, which has repeatedly denied climate change reports while pursuing a pro-fossil fuels agenda. By dichotomizing climate activism and climate “realism,” Seibt’s platform highlights an issue beyond fiscally driven political agendas, revealing lackadaisical approaches to critical issues. The magnitude of urgency in responding to conflict — whether it be climate change or perhaps the coronavirus — depends on mania, privilege and how political motives continually compromise the divide between state and religion. Frankly, “climate alarmism” as a concept is alarming.
In the case of the rift between climate activism and climate “realism,” one side substantiates itself on accredited scientific evidence while the other believes in a predestined course of events. This aspect bolsters “God’s will” as a mechanism for being skeptical and equating any contradictory opinion to hysteria— what will happen is meant to happen.
At the end of the day though, this mindset transforms an ostensible bipartisan issue to one that just attempts to expose the other side as frantic. We see this through climate change, when skeptics parade climate activism as “alarmism,” but also through the coronavirus. Despite health promotion experts’ advice to stunt the spread of the virus, deniers are weaponizing “hysteria” to undermine the pandemic — just look at the college students partying in Miami right now.
Moreover, climate “realism” submits to a hands-off approach in light of this worldwide crisis. For example, a denier who has the means to invest in fossil fuels, benefits from calling climate change “fake news,” disregarding science and the bulk of humanity. To reiterate a privileged mindset: It may not directly affect them, so it just does not bother them.
This is a kind of ignorance embedded in conceit; after all, climate change disproportionately affects lower socioeconomic groups. Although this issue caused by human activity has the potential to be humanity’s downfall, it most strongly impacts the most vulnerable. Sound familiar?
While the anti-Greta epitomizes fallacies of climate science dissent, idolizing the real Greta means more than accepting scientific fact. It involves waking up to a reality where urgency is masked as mania to protect religious freedom, yet secularism allows religious freedom. By understanding these reasons beyond science skepticism, we can only attempt to catalyze others’ transitions from climate skepticism to climate activism.
As alarming as other perspectives can be sometimes, we must take the time to dissect them before hysterics can be used as a counterargument. Ultimately, we should engage with people like that girl in my seventh-grade life science class. We should attempt to understand my high school friend’s train of thought. We should decipher the significance of the anti-Greta. Perhaps now is the time to remain calm and just listen — then act.
Matthew Eck is a sophomore writing about culturally relevant social issues. His column, “The Eck’s Factor,” runs every other Thursday.