How thick is the line separating skepticism and denial? It varies. While I may be skeptical that any variety of low fat chocolate ice cream is as tasty as Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Therapy, I can’t deny that the former is the healthier product. That’s a thin line. While I may be skeptical that a bungee cord will keep me from hitting the water below the Kawarau Bridge in New Zealand, I can’t deny that a bungee cord will keep the overstuffed trunk of my parents’ car closed on trips to the Jersey Shore. That line’s a little thicker. And while I might be skeptical of Tom Cruise’s level of devotion to the Church of Scientology I can’t deny that his association with that religion has not hurt him at the box office. I'm not sure of that line’s thickness!
There is a far broader line between skepticism and denial with regards to climate change. Despite overwhelming evidence of the existence of climate change, and the role humans play in its existence, denial is widespread. In this case, self-proclaimed skepticism has morphed into denialism.
In a recent article published in the New York Times titled “The Price of Denialism,” author Lee McIntyre outlines the shift in attitudes regarding climate change. What was once a skeptical outlook based on unfulfilling evidence is now a full-fledged denial of fact.
The difference between skepticism and denialism lies in the facts, or the lack thereof. McIntyre suggests that, “When we withhold belief because the evidence does not live up to the standards of science, we are skeptical.” Whereas, “When we refuse to believe something, even in the face of what most others would take to be compelling evidence, we are engaging in denial.”
Like my feelings toward Skinny Cow low-fat ice cream, deniers of climate change sprout notions based upon opinion rather than fact. I prefer to ignore the comparatively healthier nutrition labels of the fat-free variety ice creams while praising Ben & Jerry’s as the best ice cream in any and all aspects. Climate change deniers treat the facts supported by 97% of scientists in the same fashion.
This willingness toward ignorance among people, many of whom are educated members of the electorate, creates a culture unwilling to put out a fire that they helped to create. Ideologically biased news outlets only add fuel to the fire by cherry-picking facts skewed to their argument.
Co-President of Climate Justice Boston College (CJBC) Delia Ridge Creamer MCAS ’16 said “I don't really know what to say to the deniers anymore besides facts. I think climate change really needs to move from a ‘belief’ to a ‘fact.’ Whether someone believes or does not believe in it, is not going to prevent it from happening.”
As the saying goes, the first step in solving a problem is recognizing that there is one. Just as a constant diet of Ben & Jerry’s may result in weight gain and the subsequent dietary switch to fat-free options, the willful ignorance of an issue with consequences forces conditions to decline and action to be taken. Ignoring the facts will not cause sea levels to stop rising and temperatures to stop shifting. A denial of climate change is a denial of reality. And a separation from the reality of this world of love, pain, beauty, strife, diversity and so much more would be cruel.