Science denial and climate change

Religious fundamentalists and the tobacco industry used to be the outstanding users of science-denial, but in recent years they have been joined, not only by the more unscrupulous of the supporters of the fossil fuel industry, but by a large proportion of the population of many countries, perhaps particularly the USA and Australia.

The burning of fossil fuels is widely recognised as the main cause of climate change, ocean acidification, sea level rise and ocean warming. The air pollution from the burning of fossil fuels kills millions of people world-wide each year. This is well understood by the science and critically-thinking communities, yet denied, or at least their human cause is denied, by many, many people, some of whom are in very influential positions.

I write this in late 2016, after Donald Trump, a man who has recently said that climate change is a hoax, has been elected President of the USA, the most militarily powerful nation on the planet. Trump has followed Tony Abbott, for a time Prime Minister of Australia, who notoriously once said that "climate change is crap".

That people can be elected to high office while holding such plainly false views, and such a large proportion of the population can be so ill-informed, seems to me to justify calling this the Age of Stupidity (in contrast to the earlier Age of Enlightenment).

Written 2014/01/04, last edited 2023/01/26
Contact: David K. Clarke – ©

Related page
Greatest crime

General acceptance of science and technology

Fossil fuel power, on the left, can be replaced with renewable power, on the right
Science has shown us that the burning of fossil fuels is damaging the planet and that we can replace fossil fuels with renewable energy.

The old (now shut down) coal-fired Northern Power Station (background) and the new solar power-tower of Sundrop Farms (foreground), Port Augusta, South Australia conveniently symbolise the end of fossil fuels and the rise of renewable energy.

From this point, just out of this view to the right and in the distance, another renewable installation could be seen, the 212MW Lincoln Gap Wind Farm.

In the early twenty-first century there would be very few people on the planet who are unfamiliar with mobile phones. A mobile phone is just one example of science being involved in our lives, there are many others, but it is a great example in a very small package. A modern mobile phone is:
  • A radio receiver and transmitter;
  • A GPS (Global Positioning System) receiver and computer able to work out where you are on the face of the planet by, among other things, comparing the timing of receival of time signals from a number of satellites down to sub-microsecond levels;
  • A high quality camera;
  • A photograph recorder and viewer;
  • An accurate clock capable of checking its indicated time against a central reference clock and capable of altering its indicated time depending on the time zone it is in;
  • A sound recorder and play-back system;
  • A general purpose computer;
  • A basic and/or scientific calculator;
  • A device capable of combining the above and other features for many applications;
  • Many other functions.
All of these things are technologies dependent on what science has allowed Mankind to discover in the last few centuries.

We accept the science in our mobile phones without questioning it, yet many of us question what this same science is telling us about climate change!

It can be easily shown that humanity has learned nothing from divine revelation yet many people still believe in a god in spite of the total lack of evidence.


What is science?

Science is defined in the English Oxford living Dictionaries as: "The intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behaviour of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment". It has undeniably allowed Mankind to understand the workings of the Universe to a degree incomparably beyond that achieved by any other method in any other age. (Relevant here is my page on Milestones in the development of human society.)

I have written a page dedicated to science elsewhere on this site. Considering how important science is to the world and to me it is remarkable that I hadn't written that page until 2020.

Technology: the application of science, has allowed the development of a great many amazing things (including mobile phones), some of them good, and some of them terribly destructive (for example, nuclear weapons).

Science is a tool that can and has helped us make sense of everything we can see and many things we cannot see. Science denial is a very selective ignoring of those things shown to us to be true by science that we don't want to believe.

The limits of science

Occasionally we hear people make statements to the effect that science cannot tell us how to live and that therefore science is no good to us. This is just as stupid as saying that a car will not get me to the top of Mount Everest, therefore a car is no good to me.

Science can tell us a huge amount about how the world works, but it cannot tell us how we should live our lives. Science is a very valuable tool, but like any tool it has its limitations; no tool can do every job.

We do not need spiritualism or religion or any other form of irrational mumbo-jumbo to tell us how to live our lives, what we need to turn to is moral philosophy, ethics, which uses rational argument and logic to give us answers.

Science denial in the Trump USA Presidency

I will write very little about this; you can read as much as you like by looking the subject up on the Internet, but I will quote from Scientific American's article titled "Donald Trump's lack of respect for science is alarming":
Americans have long prided themselves on their ability to see the world for what it is, as opposed to what someone says it is or what most people happen to believe. In one of the most powerful lines in American literature, Huck Finn says: "It warn't so. I tried it." A respect for evidence is not just a part of the national character. It goes to the heart of the country's particular brand of democratic government. When the founding fathers, including Benjamin Franklin, scientist and inventor, wrote arguably the most important line in the Declaration of Independence–"We hold these truths to be self-evident"–they were asserting the fledgling nation's grounding in the primacy of reason based on evidence.
Trump wants to throw this sort of realism out of the window.

The same Scientific American article stated that Scientific American has "strived to assert in our reporting, writing and editing the principle that decision making in the sphere of public policy should accept the conclusions that evidence, gathered in the spirit and with the methods of science, tells us to be true."

Trump, it seems, wants to ignore evidence and disregard science.

I've written more about Trump in my page on The Real USA.

Science denial in the Australian Abbott Government

Prime Minister Tony Abbott and his Business Advisory Council Chairman, Maurice Newman

The Australian Abbott Government, elected in 2013, was opposed to action to reduce the mining and burning of fossil fuels and therefore also opposed to increasing the deployment of renewable energy in the country. Since then the Turnbull and Morrison governments have shown themselves to be no better.

Jamestown turbines
Wind turbines near Jamestown, South Australia

While Prime Minister Tony Abbott himself (and most other members of the parliamentary Liberal Party) does not publicly deny climate science, PM Abbott appointed outspoken climate science denier Maurice Newman as the chairman of his Business Advisory Council. Mr Newman was reported in The Australian (2013/12/31) as saying:

Hottest years on record

Just a few days after Mr Newman's obviously false statement it was announced by the Australian Bureau of Meteorology that 2013 was Australia's hottest year on record. (Since then, 2014 and 2015 were hotter again.)

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Authority (NOAA) in the USA listed the 16 hottest years on record; all of these occurred since 1998; 2015 was the hottest year ever, 2014 was second.

Coral bleaching on Australia's Great Barrier Reef (Peter McCutcheon, ABC, 2015/03/29) at 95% in northern section. Probably the worst on record.
"A reliable way to make people believe in falsehoods is frequent repetition, because familiarity is not easily distinguishable from the truth."
Daniel Kahneman

"The scientific delusion, the religion behind the climate crusade, is crumbling. Global temperatures have gone nowhere for 17 years."
For a statement like this to come from a person in such a position is truly incredible!

"Scientific delusion"?
It is science Mr Newman, the delusion is with you.

"Religion behind the climate crusade"?
Religion is a belief not supported by evidence. There is ample evidence for anthropogenic climate change.

"Global temperatures have gone nowhere for 17 years"?
Look at the evidence!

Mr Newman is practiced in puting multiple falsehoods into a short statement. In January of 2012 he managed to get nine fallacies into one sentence about wind power.

If PM Abbott was not opposed to action on climate change why would he put a man like Mr Newman in such a influentual position?

Abbott Government's world view
Abbott government's 
world view
Image credit RenewEconomy

What Mr Newman is telling us

"When necessary, the IPCC resorts to dishonesty and deceit"

What the science is telling us

It is not just the IPCC (International Panel on Climate Change) that is telling us that climate change is a fact, it is virtually all of the climate scientists in the world together with all of the relevant scientific organisations. Can anyone seriously believe that the vast majority of climate scientist, acting independently all around the world, are involved in some sort of organised and secret deception? Organisations such as the World Bank, the International Energy Agency and the United Nations accept the reality of anthropogenic climate change. I cannot accept that Mr Newman believe his own claims; it is he who is involved in a deception. (For more information, see Why accept climate science?)

Climate articles
Graphic credit: James Lawrence Powell
The pie chart on the right shows graphically what climate scientists have been trying to tell us for years; that the science of climate change is settled.

There's about as much doubt about global warming as there is about whether the Earth is flat or round.

Is it caused by Man?
Graphic credit: The Berkeley Blog
While the graph above shows how the vast majority of climate scientists accept that the climate is warming, the one on the right shows that the vast majority of climate and earth scientists accept that global warming is largely caused by Mankind.

Reconciling religion and morality?

PM Abbott is openly a very religious man; how he can reconcile his unethical stance in supporting the ever-expanding use of fossil fuels in the knowledge of the harm it is doing to the planet?

The fact that the PM accepts the misleading and dishonest public statements from his advisor without comment implies that he condones them. The New Testament is very clear in its condemnation of the pursuit of wealth and both Old and New Testaments condemn lying in a number of places, see Open Bible.

PM Abbott wants to stop climate change action, condemning the planet to irreversible damage for the sake of chasing quick and unsustainable profits. How Mr Abbott can live with his conscience, considering his Christian beliefs, is a mystery to me and must be to many.

Hornsdale substation
Science denial (and blatant lying) is also very prominent among the opponents of wind power.

This photo is of a small part of the Hornsdale Wind Farm in Mid-North South Australia. As well as a few of the turbines the substation is visible on the left with the two 'big batteries' beyond it.

A higher definition version of the image is available by clicking on it. Some more photos of the wind farms in the same area can be seen on another page on this site.