Most people don’t reject science wholesale because they actually have a problem with the science. The same equations of radiative transfer and non-linear fluid dynamics that explain how our stoves work or how airplanes fly provide the basis of our climate models, too. Rather, people selectively reject a specific set of scientific findings: those they perceive to be a threat to their ideology or worldview, and hence to their identity.
How can the reality of climate change be perceived as a threat? First, there’s the pragmatic aspect: six out of ten of the wealthiest corporations in the world either extract oil or create the cars that use them. And there’s no getting around it – to fix the climate, we have to wean ourselves off fossil fuels as quickly as we can. These companies have a significant financial stake in muddying the waters on the science and delaying action on climate as long as possible; because every year that carbon emissions continue, they make an additional profit. Climate change solutions threaten their bottom line.
The true threat, however, is the delusion that our opinion of science somehow alters its reality. If we say we don’t believe in gravity and we step off the cliff, we’re still going down. Sea level will rise regardless of any legislation we may pass, and the climate is changing no matter how many politicians say it isn’t. The window of time to prevent widespread dangerous human interference with the climate system is closing fast. Rejecting this reality puts us all at risk.
Katharine Hayhoe, Canadian climate scientist
December 2017 issue of WIRED magazine