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Water and drought

Climate Denialism: ‘We just don’t have time to debate this anymore’

Science communicators have been using their platform for decades to combat misinformation and denialism. But to some, it’s no longer worth the fight.

Nikki Piedad

July 22, 2023

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Climate change denialism and skepticism are losing the spotlight in California as experts and activists shift their focus to finding tangible solutions and engaging with communities that are actively living with the consequences of climate change.

Natural disasters in the state have become more intense and more frequent, following a global trend of extreme weather caused by “perturbations” in Earth’s climate. According to experts like Joseph DiMento, an environmental law professor at the University of California, Irvine, these are primarily a result of human activity like the burning of fossil fuel.

“[The word] ‘perturbations’ is used because the question of heating, global warming, doesn’t capture it fully,” DiMento said. “There is global warming in most of the world, but there’s also global cooling in some parts.”

Although denialism is becoming rare in California, it’s this nuance and the sheer scale of climate change which makes it difficult to understand, especially for affluent communities enjoying mild weather in coastal cities.

“You could find some people who deny almost anything that is scientifically proven, and I’m not saying they’re all unethical,” DiMento said. “I think some of them truly can’t allow themselves to believe it for one reason or the other.”

The advent of digital platforms has also been a large factor in the spread of misinformation. Extremist views can thrive in online spaces with little to no moderation.

Greg Halvorson grew up around environmentalism, supporting groups like the Sierra Club throughout the 90s. However, as the rhetoric surrounding climate change turned urgent, he became skeptical.

“The science has been corrupted because they’re getting grants from the government,” Halvorson said. “It’s a money circle.”

While some climate studies are funded by public grants, some government reports are done by volunteers or corporations. The existence of the climate crisis has been corroborated by experts across the world. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessments are fueled by a review process involving volunteers and thousands of scientific papers.

Halvorson, like many skeptics, aligns with the Republican Party. He sees climate change as a method to push a more liberal political agenda.

“They can literally tax everything, your cars, your tires, how far you drive,” Halvorson said. “They can, because it’s ‘good for the environment,’ limit how far you can drive. If you can limit a population’s mobility, you can completely control the population.”

Science communicators have been using their platform for decades to combat misinformation and denialism. But to activists like Ayn Craciun, it’s no longer worth the fight.

“We just don’t have time to debate this anymore,” Craciun said. “The reality is that the fossil fuel industry has, you know, its whole power structure, its profit structure is built on creating these harms that it has created for generations.”

As the Orange County policy director for Climate Action Campaign, a nonprofit watchdog, Craciun’s work concerns local climate legislation, like creating walkable neighborhoods. The organization has had some important wins, including the creation of the Orange County Power Authority, the first clean energy power agency in the area.

California is a world leader in climate policy, from regulating automobile emissions to creating energy-efficient infrastructure.

“Our market is a major source of revenue for the country,” DiMento said. “So once we take on an innovation it is copied, is replicated, in many states.”

While experts like DiMento aren’t necessarily concerned with skeptic’s vocal presence, he understands local politics can often slow progress on environmental issues.

Activists hope to move forward by putting their efforts into solutions and addressing threats more relevant to California.

“We have to do the best that we can with what we have, basically,” Craciun said. “So I can’t go back and fix the things that were done 50 years ago, 100 years now–none of us can–but I connect with great people who care a lot. And so that’s what gives me hope.”

About the author

Nikki Piedad is a 2023 JCal reporter from Orange County.

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