Slaying the Zombies of Climate Change Denial

The entire universe in blog form
June 11 2013 8:00 AM

Slaying the Zombie Ideas of Climate Change Denial

Climate denial zombie
Braaaaiiinnnnsss ... destroyyyy allll braaaaiiinnnnsss ...

Photo by Anton Brand/Shutterstock

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.”

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

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.

Advertisement

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.

TODAY IN SLATE

Foreigners

More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

What Charles Barkley Gets Wrong About Corporal Punishment and Black Culture

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

Three Talented Actresses in Three Terrible New Shows

Why Do Some People See the Virgin Mary in Grilled Cheese?

The science that explains the human need to find meaning in coincidences.

Jurisprudence

Happy Constitution Day!

Too bad it’s almost certainly unconstitutional.

Is It Worth Paying Full Price for the iPhone 6 to Keep Your Unlimited Data Plan? We Crunch the Numbers.

What to Do if You Literally Get a Bug in Your Ear

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 16 2014 7:03 PM Kansas Secretary of State Loses Battle to Protect Senator From Tough Race
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 16 2014 4:16 PM The iPhone 6 Marks a Fresh Chance for Wireless Carriers to Kill Your Unlimited Data
  Life
The Eye
Sept. 16 2014 12:20 PM These Outdoor Cat Shelters Have More Style Than the Average Home
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus Video
Sept. 16 2014 2:06 PM A Farewell From Emily Bazelon The former senior editor talks about her very first Slate pitch and says goodbye to the magazine.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 16 2014 8:43 PM This 17-Minute Tribute to David Fincher Is the Perfect Preparation for Gone Girl
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 16 2014 6:40 PM This iPhone 6 Feature Will Change Weather Forecasting
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 16 2014 11:46 PM The Scariest Campfire Story More horrifying than bears, snakes, or hook-handed killers.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.