If all the climate-change denial coming from the Beltway these days tells us anything, it is that the politicians who espouse it are also likely to champion policies that further entrench social and economic inequalities, as well as undercut civil liberties.
Let’s look at a few examples. As we all know, President Donald Trump considers climate change science a “Chinese hoax.” During his service as a senator, Attorney General Jeff Sessions proclaimed that “carbon dioxide does not hurt you” (a position that does not bode well for what he’ll do to enforce federal environmental laws). As soon as the 115th Congress convened, Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-Missouri) got “right to work,” and on January 24, 2017, proposed a bill (H.R. 673) “to prohibit United States contributions to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, and the Green Climate Fund.” Downplaying the role of human activities in climate change, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) has declared that “climate change occurs no matter what.” And, of course, it’s hard to forget that Sen. James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma) brought a snowball to the Senate floor to prove once and for all that climate change simply does not exist.
All of these men support policies that, for example, undercut voting rights, target immigrants, support militarized policing of poor and primarily African American communities, attack reproductive rights, weaken labor protections, privatize public services and dismantle our social safety net.
At the same time, they are champions of Wall Street, deregulation, tax policies that favor the rich and foreign policies that fill the coffers of our military-industrial complex.
What their policies in these areas suggest is that climate-change denial itself is, generally speaking, inextricably bound up with, and perhaps motivated by, “deniers'” firm commitment to an unequal society. In this way, Trump’s and others’ denial is not so much a disbelief on their part in climate science (a disbelief which, as I have argued elsewhere, we should reject outright as pure fiction). Instead, it is an expression of an overarching ideology of domination to which these men (and women) adhere, one that casts the economic, social and political needs of the many — including, radically enough, our collective need to avoid climate change annihilation — as that which can be rationally sacrificed for the benefit and well-being of the few.
So the questions we should be asking are not some variation of, “Why don’t you believe the science?” or “What is wrong with the science?” These are dead-end questions that don’t get to, or expose, the underlying ideology behind climate change denial. Indeed, they ensnare us in endless conversations with “deniers” about science and data and certainty and what have you, conversations in which they never intend to concede that the evidence of human-induced global warming is overwhelming and, for that reason, frightening.
Instead, we should be asking ourselves how climate-change denial, and the policies that flow from it, further inequality and subordination. We should wonder how climate-change denial is being used to create the conditions that will enable those in power to economically, politically and geopolitically profit from climate change catastrophes (Nestlé chairman Peter Brabeck-Letmathe illustrates a case in point; he both denies the role of human activity in climate change and aggressively seeks to privatize our ever-dwindling water supply).
And given the other unjust policies our climate change-denying politicians stand behind, we should confidently assume that even as they deny climate change, as they proclaim the science a hoax — Chinese or otherwise — they are nevertheless committed to securing for the future the climate-survival of primarily white male elites.
Climate change denial is absolutely a hoax.