Slaying the Zombie Ideas of Climate Change Denial

Contributed by
Jun 11, 2013
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As someone who speaks out against those who deny climate change—again and again and again and again—I knew exactly what Marshall Shepherd, the 2013 president of the American Meteorological Society, meant the moment he talked about having to slay the “zombie theories of climate science.”

These are ideas that cannot be killed, no matter how thoroughly they are debunked. They always rise to shamble again, reanimated by the deniosphere. “The hockey stick is broken,” “the world hasn’t warmed in 16 years,” “Antarctic ice is growing.” These ideas are all wrong, demonstrably so, but they are still walking the countryside, looking to eat innocent people’s brains.

The only way to slay these undead specters is to keep hammering them, repeating the facts, getting the word out there, and making the message palatable to the folks who may not have all the information they need to make an informed decision on global warming.

Which brings us back to Shepherd. He gave a great TEDxAtlanta talk where he takes on the teeming mass of climate change denial zombie ideas.

I love this guy. He’s reasoned, genial, and calm. My favorite part was at 11:34 into his talk, when he says weather is your mood, but climate is your personality. This one is important because the deniers love to say, “what global warming?” every time it snows. Incredibly, though, this type of claim seems to work; people tend to believe more in global warming after a hot summer and less after it’s cold. Slaying that particular zombie would go a long way toward more folks accepting that global warming is real.

Tied to this is the idea that we can’t be certain what the future holds. Climate models aren’t perfect, so we can’t be 100 percent sure how much the world is warming.

However, when it comes to knowing that climate change is real and we’re in for trouble, the models are already good enough. The hockey-stick graph is quite real and has withstood years of slings and arrows flung at it by the deniers. And in fact the models are getting better all the time; it’s getting hotter, and in the next few decades we’re in for a hell of a time.

We need to be doing something about this, and now. We need to be investigating nonfossil fuel energy sources far more, really leaning in on finding more efficient uses of the fossil fuels we do have to use, and legislating ways of making sure there are incentives for people and companies to do so.

But instead we have to waste our time fighting the horde of zombie denials and trying to be heard above the well-funded and very loud groups who rely on distraction and false doubt to spread their viral ideas. This is the zombie apocalypse, and, unfortunately, it’s all too real.