When the climate change debate became inflamed in Australia this month, because of the government’s plans to introduce carbon tax, researchers at the Australian National University received death threats.
Denialists – those who deny reality as a way of avoiding uncomfortable truth – have over the years attacked evolution, the cause of AIDS, and the link between smoking and cancer. They see conspiracy in everything.
Cristine Russell, president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing, thinks that denialists get caught up in a bigger, anti-science movement.
“These are people who do not know the facts and they become actively involved in the anti-science crusade without consciously knowing it,” she said.
Russell said some of them derive their views from religion, while others are driven by business motives.
“[The latter] is deliberate, calculated use of nonsense,” said Philip Hilts, director of the Knight Science Journalism Fellowships at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, United States.
Climate denial is a good example of the clash between scientific findings and political and economic expediency, Alan Leshner, chief executive officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, told the conference earlier.
“The scientific evidence is actually quite clear. But if you acknowledge it, if you say: ‘Aha! The world is warming’, you have to do something about it.
“It is much more convenient to deny it: the consequences on a personal level [in the US] are actually quite small.”
So that explains why the noise of climate denialists in Africa and the developing world is so muted.
Little to lose, and much to gain, by accepting it.
Munyaradzi Makoni, SciDev.Net contributor in South Africa