The phrase ‘climate change denier’ clearly references the phrase ‘Holocaust denier’. The meaning of the latter is someone who denies the existence of the Third Reich’s extermination campaign against European Jewry. The occurrence of this campaign is not a matter of theory, it is as evidenced as anything in history: by visual and documentary material, by the personal testimonies of hundreds of thousands of its victims and witnesses. There is no serious issue as to the occurrence of the Holocaust. Certainly there are serious issues around it: the extent of the knowledge and acquiescence of the mass of the German population in this; whether this campaign was part of Hitler’s plans before the outbreak of war, or was constructed during it; whether this was a uniquely dreadful crime, or was on a spectrum with the slave trade, Stalin’s gulags, the Turkish massacres of Armenians, the extermination of the Tasmanian natives; what categories to use in its explanation – industrialised killing, the Enlightenment, a long tradition of anti-semitism, the NSDAP’s use of ‘Jewish finance’ as a surrogate for anti-capitalism.The case of ‘climate change denier’ could hardly be more different. For a start, let’s note that the relatively clear notion of ‘global warming’ has slipped into (whilst being contained within) ‘climate change’. The notion of ‘denialist’ refers both to those who do not believe in the occurrence of these putative meteorological events, and to those who reject the theory that human action is the major cause of these, and even, EVEN, those who are sceptical of these claims. For convenience, let’s use the phrase ‘the anthrogenic theory of putative global warming’ (ATPGW).
FACTS AND THEORIES
To point out that this is a THEORY is not at all to say that it is weak or ‘only a theory’. The conflation between the status of being a theory and being ‘only a theory’ is, of course, one of the standard moves of Creationists who drone on about the Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection being ONLY a theory. But no-one now says that about The Kinetic Theory of Matter, or the Heliocentric Theory of the Solar System. What makes all of these three THEORIES is that they do not refer to stuff that is directly observable, but to a construct which involves observations, experiments, predictions and lower-level theories. Admittedly there are a whole number of issues around the notions of direct observation, the possibility (or not) of theory-neutral observation, the epistemic status of inferred entities and so, but these are not here at issue. What is at issue is whether the ATPGW is as well-confirmed as those three theories (and we could add in The Special Theory of Relativity, the Quantum Theory, and loads more). Those who are traduced and slandered by the disgusting and vile phrase ‘climate change denier’ do not accept that there is such confirmation.
Where there, in fact a real similarity between Holocaust Deniers (HDers)and ATPGW-sceptics (ATPGW-s) we might expect that there would be a strong resemblance between the major works of the HDers and the ATPGW-s. It is up to those who make this spurious and odious comparison to show such a similarity. I am not aware that this has been done, and I do not expect that it will be.
BUTZ AND BOOKER
One of the major works of the HDers is A R Butz’s The Hoax of the Twentieth Century (Historical Review Press, 1977). Christopher Booker’s The Real Global Warming Disaster (Continuum, 2009) is an important thermo-sceptic argument. I’ve read some of the former (as much as I could stomach) and most of the latter. I do not believe anyone who is at all familiar with both can seriously maintain that they are in the same league. Were Booker’s arguments of the same kind as those of the HDers then we would expect that there would be refutations of his work which were of the quality of Deborah Lipstadt’s Denying the Holocaust – The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory, or of The Irving Judgement (transcript of Mr Justice Gray’s judgement in the case of David Irving v Penguin Books and Professor Deborah Lipstadt, 11 April 2000, publ Penguin 2000). If there are such, then it is up to those who make this analogy to reference them.
Booker’s book is a continuation of his (with Richard North) Scared to Death: From BSE to Global Warming – How Scares are Costing us the Earth (Continuum, 2007). This is useful reminder of those scares which, in their time, were said to be on the point of causing catastrophe: AIDS, the ‘Millennium Bug’, ‘Mad Cow Disease’. What Booker does not do, to my mind, is give any adequate explanation for the genesis and transmission of these ‘scares’. It’s been pointed out, I think by George Monbiot, that his failure to do so is a major weakness in his case. But then, I wouldn’t expect him to do. Because he is (using the term loosely) a ‘right-winger’, and such rarely give satisfactory explanations as to to the meanings of cultural events – not surprisingly, because to do so involves a conceptual distancing from hegemonic categories which is alien to the conservative sensibility.
Which brings us to the nub of why the bien pensants sling around ‘climate change denier’ (Godwin’s Law on acid, and occurring right at the start of any discussion). Acceptance of ATPGW is now a shibboleth, or perhaps ‘fetish’ (in its original sense), in the ‘culture wars’. Other such issues are pro-Palestinianism, acceptance of trans-genderism, opposition to the death penalty. The meanings of these issues are different, but related. What they have in common is that positions on them have little to do with the internality of these questions, of argument, or evidence – rather they are to do with positioning the self as a person of a certain kind in relation to persons and positions constructed as of another kind.
Anyone who has expressed scepticism as to ATPGW will have it pointed out that most of such sceptics are right-wingers. Donald Trump, of course, is a perfect example of this. But why is this? I’m not at all sure, my own feeling is that for many rightists thermo-scepticism is a way of saying ‘Bollocks to “Political Correctness” ’. But that begs the question as to why bien pensery is so … er … hot on ATPGW. I think that part of the answer is simple, part is very complex.
The simple part is well expressed in the phrase (due, I think to George Monbiot) that ‘global warming is the greatest enemy of the world’s poor’. No longer is the enemy the slave owners, the feudal lords, the business-class, the Stalinist bureaucracy, the mega-corps. We are now ‘all in it together’, it’s up to us all to ‘do our bit’ – especially appealing to Brits with their folk-memory of the “Second World War”. Gracie Fields had a wonderful song which was a paean to the power of collective labour,see
The point was that each person’s work was a moment in a collective organism. The fetish for putting garbage in the correct bin is a kind of parody of this, where labour is individualised. This is essentially the ethics of the Good Folk – ‘if everyone did as I do, everything would be all right’.
The bien pensants, like the Pope, are all for helping the poor, just so long as the poor remain The Poor. When the exploited classes constitute themselves as a collective subject to effect a political transformation, then the Good Folk start blubbing about ‘reconciliation’, ‘we’re all human beings’ and so. Warmism has become a substitute for a transformative politics, just at the moment in history when the objective conditions for a post-capitalist order are being constructed (massive automation, nano-tech, IT enabling for the first time a monitoring of total societal labour-time without the media of the market or central planning).
‘EVERYTHING IS RELATIVE’, EXCEPT FOR GLOBAL WARMING
The complex part is to do with the role of science in the culture wars. ‘Common-sense’ has a weirdly split attitude toward science: on the one relativism (‘that’s only your opinion’, ‘we all have our own truth’); on the other hand a superstitious reverence for the utterances of scientists (as in the absurd credence given to the sophomoric remarks about the existence and likely nature of ET’s by Steven Hawking and Brian Cox).
This spilt is reflected in the strange fact (little noticed, as far I’m aware) that the very ‘oppositional’ culture which most valorises ATPGW grew out of a profound and many-faceted criticism of the very notion of the scientific. Greenism in part derives from the such streams as ‘The British Society for Social Responsibility in Science’, the journals Science for People and Radical Science Journal. A deep philosophical hostility towards the knowledge-claims of science has been a major part of the ‘common-sense’ of the ‘cultural Left’ for four decades (from some versions of the Frankfurt School, through Foucault to Derrida and Baudrillard). A good read read on this is Alan Sokal and Jean Bricamont’s Intellectual Impostures.
And yet, now, this same culture takes as … well, gospel a claim made in the immensely complex sciences out of which has come ATPGW.
It’s worth noting – though I’m not myself at all sure what to do with this fact – that the postmodernist denial (yes, denial) of the possibility of historical knowledge makes it logically impossible to combat Holocaust Denialism in any but moral (or moralistic terms). One of the key defence witnesses in the libel action brought by Irving against Lipstadt and Penguin Books was the historian of The Third Reich, Richard J Evans. He went to great lengths to show how Irving had misquoted, used forged documents, disregarded contrary evidence and had written works of propaganda masqued as pseudo-history. Evans uses this experience, to great effect, in his philippic against postmodernist historical relativism, the fine book In Defence of History.
This leads me to the feeling that pursuing the analogy between HDism and ATPGW may not at all work out in the way that the Warmists would like it to.
It would be hard to invent a finer example of the bigotry and contempt for argument of the bien pensants, the Good Folk, the liberal-bigots than this disgusting epithet.