The Arguments Against Action On Climate Change Aren't Monolithic
Global leaders are gathered in Paris to make a plan to combat climate change. There is broad scientific consensus that climate change is real, serious and caused by humans — but political consensus in the United States has been elusive, often clouded by doubt. Over the years, climate denial arguments have changed, but the result has stayed the same: blocked action on climate change.
In Wyoming, the nation's largest coal-producing state, it's not uncommon to hear climate change denial.
"For the last 18 years, we've had global cooling, instead of global warming." — Scott Clem, Wyoming State Representative
"We have 186 percent of normal snowpack. That's global warming?" — Mike Enzi, U.S. Senator of Wyoming
"The climate's changing, absolutely. The real debate is to what's causing it." — Larry Hicks, Wyoming State Senator
There is not just one argument against acting on climate change. In fact, over the years, dozens and dozens have emerged. It can feel like a game of Whack-A-Mole, with new reasons to doubt popping up whenever old ones fall out of favor.
If you ask Riley Dunlap, a sociologist at Oklahoma State University who studies climate change denial, if there is a pattern to denial he'll tell you that "there have been sort of four main themes, but they have evolved as the evidence evolves."
Number One: The Earth Is Not Getting Warmer
"There isn't any warming going on, there hasn't been. Nothing significant is happening." — John Coleman, Weather Channel
"There is no science that proves that carbon dioxide is anything more than an inert gas!" — Tracy Melmer, North Dakota farmer
Number Two: It May Be Getting Warmer, But It's Not Because Of Humans
"The hoax is that there are people who are so arrogant that they think they have the power to change climate. Now that's the hoax." — Jim Inhofe, U.S. Senator of Oklahoma
"Of course I believe [the] climate is changing. It's changing all the time." — Marti Halverson, Wyoming State Representative
Number Three: What's So Bad About A Warming Earth Anyway?
"Some warming would actually be good, for a lot of things and people!" — Rush Limbaugh, talk radio host
"There are lots of suggestions that more CO2 will be good for the world, will increase agricultural production…" — William Happer, physicist
Number Four: Maybe We Are Causing The Planet To Warm, But Doing Anything To Stop It Will Be Devastating To Our Way Of Life
"It seems that there is a significant cost to our economy, our jobs and to our own country's competitiveness." — John Barrasso, U.S. Senator of Wyoming
"It will make no difference at all, and yet we're destroying people's lives and livelihoods." — Carly Fiorina, 2016 Republican Presidential candidate
"If you took oil, gas and coal off the table and you still wanted the same amount of energy produced by wind turbines, you would have to have over 700,000 wind turbines in Wyoming. It would cover the entire state and part of Colorado. Now I don't know how the endangered species feel about that." — Matt Mead, Governor of Wyoming
Argument four is a long way from simply denying the existence of climate change, but Dunlap said all these arguments have something in common.
"All of these discursive moves, so to speak, are made with one firm, never-ending goal, and that is, block action to limit carbon emissions," he said.
Dunlap identifies lots of reasons why people don't want to act: fear of government regulation, concern about the economic consequences, belief that God wouldn't allow catastrophic warming. For all of those reasons, he said denial isn't going away anytime soon.In fact, with the Paris talks underway, Dunlap said it's likely we'll be hearing a lot more doubt.
Inside Energy is a public media collaboration, based in Colorado, Wyoming and North Dakota, focusing on the energy industry and its impacts.