Every now and then, I’ll be reading about someone who consistently argues that there’s no such thing as climate change and, besides, the climate has always changed so it isn’t man-made… Of course, when I say consistently, I don’t mean that their arguments are consistent with each other; I simply mean that they’re one of those who consistently argue with whatever evidence is put before them. At some point, said person will object to being labelled a climate change denier, because the word “denier” places them in the same camp as the holocaust deniers.
They may have a point. Language is powerful. Take the recent ABC tweet:
“Far-right activists and young men of African appearance have clashed at St Kilda Beach, after the activists refused to stop filming the men while they played soccer.”
The comments that followed basically fell into three categories: Those who questioned the need to point out that the young men were of “African appearance”, those who objected to the term “far-right activists” and those who warned that young men of a darker complexion playing soccer made people feel unsafe so we need laws to change so that police can arrest such people for the crime of inciting racism by their appearance.
Of course, I wondered why the tweet didn’t read:
“Adult male filming attractive teenagers at the beach refused to stop even after police request”
It seems less loaded with emotive language like “far-right activists”. Still, I can’t help wondering why the ringleader, Neil Erikson, would object to the term. He certainly has been busy, what with his conviction for inciting contempt toward Muslims, so one would have to think that “activist” is more appropriate than “far-right couch-surfer”. As for “far-right”, given his tweets and retweets demonstrating his contempt for the left and his suggestion that Australian governments of all political persuasions were letting us down, he’d hardly be flattered by the term centrist. He’s even retweeted Mark Latham!
And, of course, the term “African appearance” is used as some sort of code for those who look like the ones who – according to Border Force Master Dutton – make us afraid to go out to dinner in Melbourne. It’s not used to refer to Algerians, Egyptians or Moroccans. And it’s certainly never used about people like Oscar Pistorius.
In the lead-up to the Victorian election, we were often warned about “African gangs”, and I’m not denying that there are some people of “African appearance” involved in criminal activity. I’ll even concede that the “African” crime rate of about one percent is slghtly higher than it should be compared to the number of “Africans” in the state. However, before I make any firm conclusions that have me fearing for my safety every time I see a group playing soccer, I’d like to know how the percentages compare with other young people in the same areas rather than the overall crime rate.
But back to the climate change deniers. Yes, language is an important thing. And yes, scientists have been wrong before. So is calling people who are sceptical about global warming, deniers really an attempt to label them in such a way that they sound as loopy as holocaust deniers? (Ok, before anyone starts defending holocaust deniers, I do understand that calling Hitler “far-right” offends Godwin’s law, so can we just leave that argument to another day, because I’ve really picked enough fights for today.)
I have nothing against scepticism. Scientists should be sceptical. In fact, whatever we’re being told, we all should examine the evidence with a healthy distrust of conclusions. However, the reason the word “denier” is entirely appropriate for a number of people is the simple fact that it’s exactly what they do.
“Since 1997 the world has been cooling.”
‘No, that’s not true. The latest evidence from NASA suggests that…”
“NASA? I wouldn’t trust them. They’re a government agency.”
“Well, what about your own experience. Surely you’ve noticed that it’s been hotter lately.”
“No, it was distinctly colder when I got up this morning.”
“But that’s because yesterday was 40 degrees.”
“Exactly. It’s much colder than yesterday.”
“40 degrees in December. That’s not normal.”
“Of course it is. Back when I was growing up we used to get days over 100!”
“But you were using Fareheit, so the temperatures were higher.”
“Exactly. It’s been getting colder.”
“That’s ridiculous! Even if you’re right and it’s getting colder, that’s part of climate change too.”
“Then why is it called global warming? Look, I don’t care what you say, I think it’s all a gigantic con to justify giving money to science because we don’t really need scientists any more because they just tell us one thing one day and something different the next. Good on Tony Abbott for eliminating the Ministry of Science and Donald Trump for declaring climate chage a communist plot!”
Yep, language is powerful. Sometimes more powerful than presenting the facts.