Disclaimer: The views expressed within this article are entirely the author’s own and are not attributable to Wessex Scene as a whole.
Before Greta Thunberg set sail to the Americas on her solar-powered yacht, she told interviewers that: ‘there’ll always be people who don’t understand or accept the science. I’ll ignore them’. She is right to do so – wasting time on the notorious climate change deniers/delayers of the Trump and Bolsonaro administrations would only give them the fuel to decry her cause even further. But surely, on a larger scale, there is a better way to eliminate climate change denial than by simply ignoring it? Because that sounds pretty dangerous and boring to me.
Greta has indeed shown an intelligent and tactical strategy in not engaging with the deniers and delayers personally. If you’ve ever jumped into a debate (in person or online) with a climate change denier, you’ll remember that the discussion likely could’ve lasted forever. That’s the nature of an argument between two totally irreconcilable sides – both individuals believe they are utterly correct in their opinions because both believe their facts and research to be – well, utterly correct.
A climate change denier believes their ‘facts’ about the global warming hoax with just as much conviction as we believe our facts about microplastics in the Arctic. It’s virtually impossible to convince deniers/delayers with facts and statistics, and by attempting to do so, we make no headway in reducing their numbers. In fact, these debates tend to entrench them even further in their beliefs, as we can often come across as aggressive or elitist in our frustration.
So if ignoring climate change deniers/delayers risk the expansion of their numbers, and it’s fruitless (or even harmful) to debate them down, what methods are left?
Well, prepare to be disappointed, because I think it’s about understanding. Don’t get me wrong, we definitely won’t be smiling and nodding along with the claim that the Arctic sea ice is growing any time soon, by ‘understanding’ I mean recognising the root causes of why people become enthralled with Trumpian alternative facts. It requires a kind of empathy, because your typical supporter of a right-wing populist leader (Trump, Farage, Bolsonaro etc.) is someone who needs to work two or three jobs to support themselves. Someone whose parents and grandparents, due to insufficient social care funding, are suffering for the last ten or twenty years of their lives. Someone whose kids, due to insufficient state-educational funding, are getting roped into drug trafficking.
It’s no wonder that those who feel disenfranchised by the establishment and the elite turn to people like Trump and Farage when they declare ‘climate change is a hoax and a distraction from the issues that plague you!’ In that sentence, you can replace ‘climate change is a hoax’ with ‘immigration is dangerous’, ‘globalism is harmful’ or ‘gun restrictions are bad’ – any opinion expressed by a populist right-wing leader, really.
The long-term solution for stopping and reversing the growth of climate change denial is found in understanding that right-wing populist leaders gain their support-base from the disenfranchised. That in the past few decades, our governments’ economic policies have compounded the ailments of the working class, and their social policies have kept ‘the elite’ ever out-of-reach. Only by giving our full support for tangible change to our economic policies – investment in state education, the NHS, social care, thoughtful methods of crime-fighting, and higher taxation for the very wealthiest – can we shrink the wealth gap in our Western democracies, and tackle right-wing populism at its roots.
Subsequently, climate change denial will fade out of prominence as our populaces begin to trust in politics, facts, and science. As a people united in saving the planet, we will have removed the biggest obstacle in our way to achieving that goal.
I talked about these issues in front of a small crowd last month at a Surfers Against Sewage fundraiser event in Lymington, along with many other attendees who shared their personal experiences of combating climate change. Many insightful ideas and opinions were shared about what our next steps should be to get rid of the plastic polluting our oceans, and the passion for change there was truly uplifting. If you’re interested in supporting Surfers Against Sewage and their Plastic Free campaign, visit their website here.