In his paper ‘A General Theory of Climate Denial’ published in the May 2012 edition of Global Environmental Politics Peter Jacques seeks to argue that “denier” is an appropriate label for those who question the theory of catastrophic global warming, and further, that comparisons with holocaust denial are indeed valid. In the course of making his argument, Jacques makes a number of rather tenuous and dubious assumptions and statements, which should not go unremarked.
Jacques begins by asking why there is no generally agreed upon label for those who question the theory of catastrophic anthropogenic global warming (CAGW). He notes that “skeptic” is widely used, but rejects that label because:
the skepticism in environmental skepticism is asymmetrical. As skeptics cast doubt on ecological science, they have an abiding faith in industrial
science and technology, free enterprise, and those great institutions of Western Enlightenment (9).
This really is a quite extraordinary argument to try and make. What Jacques is saying here is that faith in one field of inquiry or endeavour precludes legitimate skepticism in another! It’s like saying that because someone has faith in biological science, their skepticism regarding genetically modified crops is not valid. Of course, people are generally skeptical of that which seems unlikely, and which there is insufficient evidence for. The very fact that so many people are skeptical of the theory of CAGW speaks to the yawning gap between claim and evidence.
This is disappointing enough. But Jacques’ central premise is itself fatally flawed. Like his argument over the “skeptic” label, it is quite simply invalid. Jacques makes a structural argument regarding skepticism. Although he admits that holocaust denial and skepticism over CAGW are not equivalent, he asserts that the denier label is appropriate because “climate denial is not an atrocity in the strict sense, but the framework fits” (10). In other words, the schemata of climate skepticism is comparable to holocaust denial.
It doesn’t take a whole lot of thought to see that this is simply not a sustainable position to take. The holocaust is an historical fact. When Earth Day Co-founder Pete McCloskey gave a speech about “the so-called holocaust” it aroused such anger because he was seen as having questioned a verifiable historical fact. You can still go to Auschwitz and other camps and see the machinery of death there. You can watch film of the camps and the wretched inmates. It did happen. But CAGW is very, very different than that because it has not yet happened (otherwise, what is the point of Jacques’ paper? To what end if catastrophe is already upon us?). Thus the argument that “climate denial is not an atrocity in the strict sense [like holocaust denial], but the framework fits” is palpably absurd. Being skeptical of claims that there will be a Third World War in the next few years is not comparable to denying that the Second World War took place. This is self-evident, and one wonders why Jacques and others appear almost unwilling to acknowledge the distinction.
Sadly, this lack of rigor is characteristic of Jacques’ paper throughout. For example, he talks of “the email hacking of climate science computers at the University of East Anglia” (12). There is simply no evidence for the claim that computers at the University of East Anglia were hacked. The more likely explanation by far is that the files were leaked by a disgruntled employee or ex-employee at the university. Given that not only has no one been arrested for the supposed hack (police have not even named any suspects in relation to this case despite hundreds of hours of investigation), the copious circumstantial evidence, and the fact that over 80% of computer security breaches are internal, there is simply no justification for making this statement.
In short, Jacques’ paper seems to lack rigor and makes a series of arguments which do not stand up to closer examination. This can perhaps be explained at least in part by an obviously ideologically-driven belief that “climate science” shows that the “world political economic structure” is “irreparably unsustainable” (15). Once again, we seem to end a paper on “climate science” with the finding that capitalism and the political system of the world today have to go. Well well.