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Are old white men really to blame for climate change denial?

22 September 2017

5:04 PM

22 September 2017

5:04 PM

Funnily enough, you don’t come across too many pieces in the Guardian blaming black people for crime or women for bad driving. The newspaper would perhaps consider itself a pioneer in trying to drive out racial and gender stereotypes from daily life. It seems a different matter, though, when it comes to the inadequacies of white men, or, more specifically, elderly white men, to throw in a bit of ageism as well. An extraordinary piece in today’s Guardian tries to link what it calls ‘climate denial’ to race, gender and age.     

Let’s leave aside this rather oddly-expressed phenomenon —  I have yet to meet, or even hear of, anyone who denies that the Earth has a climate – and assume that what the author means is that an overwhelming number of people who are sceptical about climate change are elderly, white and male. It isn’t just the Guardian which has reached this conclusion, either – the piece links to a couple of papers of pseudo-scientific guff purporting to show that you are proportionally more likely to be sceptical of climate change if you are of Caucasian appearance and in possession of a willy.

It has never occurred to me to undertake a racial and gender analysis of people expressing views on climate change but I guess it is true that most are white and male, and a few of them are getting on a bit, too. But then an awful lot of the people who bang on most about climate change being an ominous threat to Mankind look pretty white and male to me, too. Al Gore, Nicholas Stern, George Monbiot, Lord Gummer and all the rest. Come to think of it, I can’t recall ever seeing a young black female propounding on climate change, either positively or sceptically. It might have something to do with the fact that Western civilisation in general, where a lot of this science is done, after all. Is still predominantly white. Or maybe the entire field of climate science is what the Guardian would call institutionally racist and sexist.


But I don’t see how going down this route really gets us very far on the debate over climate change. What I would like to think matters more than the colour of the scientists is the quality of the evidence – which when it comes to climate change varies from very high quality to utter drivel, such as this, reported in the Guardian in July, which tries to establish a link between rising temperatures and suicides of Indian farmers. There are just a few other factors than temperature, surely, which deserve to be taken into account when assessing causes of spikes in suicides.

People who absolutely deny any change in the climate are rather few. Rather more common are people who can see the difference in quality in research and who are sceptical of that which seems to be making exaggerated claims which do not live up to the evidence. But, as I experienced in my recent meeting with Al Gore, when you come up against the zealots of climate change you are not allowed to be sceptical of anything; to paraphrase George W Bush you are either with Al Gore or you are with the deniers.

If there is a link between age and climate change scepticism it might have something to do with experience, of course. Older people have been around long enough to remember that we had hurricanes, floods and heatwaves before anyone thought to blame fossil fuel emissions for them, and therefore are less impressed when someone tries to cite a single extreme weather event as evidence of climate change. John Gibbons, author of the Guardian piece, quotes as an apparent example of an elderly white male climate change denier Richard Lindzen, a retired physicist from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Is there any other field of knowledge where the most experienced people are dismissed on the grounds that they are old? Gibbons also notes that many of the people he labels ‘deniers’ are meteorologists. Aren’t they exactly the sort of people whom we should be listening to on climate change, rather than the gobby comedians whom Gibbons quotes in support of his case?

His point seems to come down to the same horrible prejudice that blames old people ‘for stealing our future’ over Brexit. How ironic that the Guardian, which never ceases to detect racism and sexism in places few others can see it, is happy to print a piece making such a blatant racist, sexist and ageist charge against scientists whose insight into climate change ought surely to be regarded as valuable.

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