November 22nd, 2017

Can’t we discuss climate politely?

By Lethbridge Herald Opinon on November 5, 2017.

Gerry Bowler


“Blatherskite.” “Trained seal.” “Dim-witted saboteur.” “A piece of sh-.”

All these terms have been deemed “unparliamentary language” in Canada; use of them, and 102 other specified pieces of verbal abuse, may result in penalties levied by the Speaker of the House of Commons upon members of Parliament.

To this list we must now add “climate Barbie,” a phrase so steeped in vileness that both the offending MP and the leader of the Opposition were forced to apologize.

To suggest that the federal minister of the Environment was possessed of no more scientific insight than a child’s toy was, indeed, a low blow. But that minister, Catherine McKenna, has also been disrespectful in her speech. She has referred to some of her opponents as “climate-change deniers,” a far more insidious charge and one much more corrosive of democratic values. By using the word “denier,” she’s engaging in several kinds of linguistic nastiness.

First, those who are contrarians or skeptics about the climate consensus do not deny that long-term weather patterns are subject to change, so McKenna, who is a smart lawyer and surely knows this, seems to be engaging in a deliberate misrepresentation of the views of Canadians who disagree with her.

A good rule for public debate is to state your opponent’s arguments as clearly as possible, in a way that the person who holds this position would accept as fair.

Politicians seldom do this but it’s not unfair to hold a federal minister to this standard, especially when she has complained about being slurred.

But what’s worse is that the term “denier” seems slyly meant to associate skeptics with genocide or insanity. To be a Holocaust denier is to contradict the evidence of mass murder by Nazis. And so, by insinuation, to be doubtful of the effects of atmospheric carbon dioxide is to be “climate Hitler.”

It’s a neat linguistic trick and surely not accidental.

Furthermore, to be in denial is to maintain an alternate reality, at odds with the facts. “In denial” is a phrase used in psychiatry to describe an irrationality, a defence mechanism to guard the psyche against disturbing facts and ideas. So if one states that temperatures today are no higher than during the Medieval Warm Period, do we suffer from “climate insanity”?

The debate about the future of our climate is enormously important, with billions of dollars and (perhaps) billions of lives at issue.

Pipelines, hurricanes, mass migrations, jobs, hydro projects, drought, education, taxation, investment – scarcely any aspect of modern life is free from possible effects.

Name calling doesn’t help a democracy come to the right conclusions. Attributing bad motives to an opponent doesn’t make the issues any clearer. Banning opposing viewpoints from journals or academic posts only engenders ill will.

This topic is too important for cheap shots from ministers or their opposition.

Gerry Bowler is a Winnipeg historian and a senior fellow at the think-tank Frontier Centre for Public Policy. Distributed by Troy Media.

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5 Responses to “Can’t we discuss climate politely?”

  1. Not much chance climate can be discussed politely! Too many vested interests and strong beliefs are involved.

    “The impetuosity of passion shall prevail when reason fails”, Isaac Hawkins
    Browne, 1822

    Browne’s musings on religion from 200 years ago fit perfectly.

  2. petie150513 says:

    Who is Gerry Bowler? Why yet another another flunky of the widely disparaged group that includes the Fraser Institute. Here’s his info:

    My Oxford dictionary does not mention genocide under the definition of denial.

    “denial |dəˈnīəl|
    the action of declaring something to be untrue: she shook her head in denial.
    • the refusal of something requested or desired: the denial of insurance to people with certain medical conditions.
    • a statement that something is not true: official denials | his denial that he was having an affair.
    • Psychology: failure to acknowledge an unacceptable truth or emotion or to admit it into consciousness, used as a defense mechanism: you’re living in denial.
    • short for self-denial.
    • disavowal of a person as one’s leader.”

    • zulu1 says:

      Firstly, the Fraser Institute is only disparaged by left wing liberals, so I guess it depends on where you fit on the political spectrum. Secondly, despite your dictionary, the term climate deniers was chosen quite specifically, and deliberately, to implicitly connect ” climate deniers ” to ” holocaust deniers” in order to impair their credibility., While warmists are quite aware that most skeptics do not deny that the climate is changing, they just differ on the degree and how culpable mankind is in the process.

  3. Fescue says:

    Where is Johnny57 when we need him to stamp out the insidious creep of the hot coals of ‘political correctness’?

    Oh well, in the spirit of promoting harmony amongst discussants, perhaps instead of using the term ‘climate deniers’ we use the term ‘climate science consensus disavowers’?

    And while we’re at it shall we change ‘tar sands’ to ‘bitumenous aggregate that should stay in the ground’?

  4. diplomacy works says:

    “It’s a neat linguistic trick and surely not accidental.”

    When I first heard the term denier applied to climate change skeptics I did not (brace yourselves) think of the WWII Holocaust.

    In fact I think this is an entirely manufactured bit of victim hood that again, keeps us from actually talking about climate change.

    In fact, this entire piece bemoans everyone being rude — and doesn’t say anything about climate change.


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