I don’t say this often, but there’s a very good piece by The Guardian’s George Monbiot, about how we’re losing the battle against climate denialism.

Monbiot is usually my exemplar of the right-on people’s-poet lefty who has stepped straight from The Young Ones and into The Guardian’s op-ed pages. But on this he is dead right.

Listening to Malcolm Turnbull being assailed by a febrile Alan Jones on Monday — the transcript of which remains unreleased by Turnbull’s office, perhaps understandably — it was easy to laugh as Jones peddled the line that climate change was a hoax intended to cover up a plot to establish one world government.

Yes, Jones is listened to tens of thousands of mostly geriatric Sydneysiders, but world government? He may as well have been condemning the communist plot of fluoridation, publicising the Protocols of the Elders of Zion or reading the entire contents of Foucault’s Pendulum. Fortunately, “Pastor” Danny Nalliah of the lunatic Catch The Fire sect has come out today to support Jones with a press release warning “One World Government is nearly here!” Both Jones and Nalliah rely on the views of Christopher Monckton, or “Lord Monckton” as he apparently prefers to be known, a British classics-trained former Conservative adviser who is so extreme in his claims about a world government conspiracy that he was criticised by arch-conservatives Glenn Beck and John Bolton during a recent US trip.

Janet Albrechtsen, the dimmest bulb in the conservative chandelier, wasn’t going for the world government angle just yet, but today was insisting, like Jones, that “ordinary people” are beginning to question the science of climate change.

Are they right?

Before we proceed, we should perhaps have a terminological discussion. The majority of people who do not accept climate change should not be classed as “sceptics”. Scepticism is one of the cornerstones of western culture. It is honourable and important. Far too many of us are not sceptical enough. But genuine scepticism accepts the possibility of being convinced by evidence or argument. The alternative, embodied by most of those who reject the science of climate change, is denialism. People can jack up about the alleged Holocaust implications of the word all they like, but there’s no other word for a reflexive dismissal of something regardless of the evidence for it or the compelling logic of it.

As Monbiot correctly notes, the idea that climate denialism would be defeated by evidence and rigorous argument has turned out to be incorrect. There is no arguing with climate denialists. The evidence mounts almost daily that climate change not merely exists but is occurring at a significantly faster rate than previous worst-case scenarios predicted, and yet denialists continue to claim it’s a hoax, or a giant conspiracy.

Much denialism is driven by ideology. That’s why the ranks of denialists are rich with right-wingers, who hate the idea that someone, somewhere on the Left might have ever been right about anything, and who can only see climate change as a left-wing argument which must be refuted no matter how sound it might be. But, scarily, perhaps Monbiot is correct, and the real driver of denialism is an emotional inability to accept that we’re in serious trouble.

In that context, Albrechsten may well be right, in a way — the worse climate change seems, the more people will reflexively react against it, even as we experience the effects of climate change, costing lives and jobs.

Still, denial is only one stage. At a certain point people make the mental adjustment and stop denying the obvious. Those who want action on climate change have to push through this barrier.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey