Why I Don’t Debate Climate Change Deniers Anymore, But Unfriend Them


[ Lees dit in het Engels ]

Earlier today, I came close to unfriending a guy on Facebook over climate change.

He wasn’t even too rabidly fundamentalist about the topic. Nevertheless, his way of arguing his climate change point of view had all the hallmarks of the widespread climate change denial disinformation strategy. Which is why I refuse to engage in this debate any longer. And why anyone who tries to start a debate on my timeline, and will not cease after multiple warnings, suffers the fate this guy almost did.

“But debate is good,” I hear you argue. “Debate enables the changing of minds, the exchange of information and viewpoints, the sharing of scientific data to support either side. Silencing the debate only perpetuates dissent, and prevents change.”

That would be true if the given description of the added value of debate applied to climate change deniers.

But it doesn’t.

Debating a climate change denier, even one as mildly fundamentalist as this evening’s Friend, is like wrestling with an amoeba. Whatever pseudopod argument one refutes, it is simply withdrawn into the shapeless, immutable center, and several others thrown out. Worse, and unlike an amoeba, most pseudopod arguments thrown out look suspiciously similar to the ones one wrestled down a couple of debates ago. In other words, climate change deniers have a tiresome tendency to refuse to engage with rational counter-arguments, instead abandoning their position altogether and taking up a new one. Not debate at all, really, but a slippery, guerilla-like tactic not unlike the one used by anti-vaxxers, creationists, and other religious fundamentalists.

As a matter of fact, climate change denial has more in common with religion than science: arguing from a position of faith, but hiding that faith behind pseudo-scientific and seemingly rational arguments. Since the faith is the point, and not the arguments, the latter are readily abandoned like the unimportant outer defense systems they really are.

So one reason why I refuse to engage in debate with climate change deniers any longer is that there is nothing to be gained. The discussion just drags on as the denier tosses out the same tired old arguments again and again, regardless of how many times these have been refuted. The denier will not change their mind, and I will be left with a frustrated sense of time wasted and hands soiled with amoeba goo.

The second reason why I will no longer engage in climate change denial debate, and will ban anyone who attempts to on my timeline or website, is false equivalence. False equivalence is the logical fallacy by which two opposing sides of an issue are assigned equal validity by virtue of both existing. This fallacy is not only popular in the clmate change denial debate, but also in evolution versus creationism, anti-vaxx, and other topics where science and reason stand against religion or other types of irrationality.

Take the evolution debate as an example. If you pit an evolutionary scientist against a creationist in a televised debate, it will seem like a fair and balanced discussion. Both sides have equal representation, and both sides have ample opportunities to bring their arguments to the table. However, the evolutionary scientist actually has the almost unanimous consensus of the scientific community, and a century of research, behind them, while the creationist brings fringe and dissident science at best, and mostly argues from religion. Both sides of the argument exist, but having either side represented by a single spokesperson, and giving both sides an equal platform, creates an entirely false picture of equal value to their arguments.

True equivalence would be to pit a single climate change denier against a crowd of scientists, and give each and every one of them equal speaking time.

So I’m not going to engage in debate with climate change deniers any longer, because the screen time this gives the movement enhances the false equivalence fallacy. Even if every debate is another instance of pushing down the same tired old pseudopods.

Finally, I’m not going to engage in these debates any longer because the arguments have been refuted, the pseudoscience debunked, the logical fallacies exposed again and again and again, and the pattern is clear. In the past, I’ve gone through the trouble of looking into the issues climate change deniers brought up. Model errors. Unreliable data. Historical variability. Every single time, the science turned out to say No. Debunked. Refuted. Disproven.

But climate change deniers keep bringing them up, and if they run out of old ones, they invent new ones, often by cherry-picking dissident and fringe science, preferably from disreputable, pseudo-scientific sources. That pattern is sufficiently clear to me: refuting, debunking, disproving doesn’t make a difference, because climate change deniers don’t care about (or don’t even understand) the science, don’t give a crap about their own arguments. Their stance against climate change is a religion, as resistent to reason as any belief system.

What I am going to do is keep posting factual information, in the hope that this helps keep people from straying from the path of reason and science, and thus exposing their children to the very real danger of worldwide catastrophe.

And if I manage to piss off some climate change deniers in passing, all the better; after all, it’s much harder to be an effective fundamentalist debater while foaming at the mouth.


PS: Comments have been disabled for this post. If you want to respond, you’re welcome to visit my Facebook page.

PS2: This is a modified version of my identical stance on anti-vaxxers.

PS3: The image in the right margin of this post is the xkcd cartoon that triggered today’s debate, and that should be required viewing for every inhabitant of the planet.