Time to knock out climate change name-calling

Anticipation is building ahead of Friday’s release of the major report on climate change from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.  The report is sure to draw strong reactions from those with a wide range of opinions on how serious climate change is.

But a plea: let’s debate this issue constructively and avoid name-calling.

Deep-six the term “denier” and abandon “alarmist”. Let’s get “warmist” out of the way, too.

All such terms are – for the most part – intended as insults. Those who use them often are trying to demonize those with views different from their own, rather than engage constructively.

Related: Classifying beliefs about climate change

I completely understand that some people use these terms to cast light on individuals they feel are close-minded, unwilling to learn, and/or completely blind to data and facts.  But, in my view, it would be far more productive to simply point out those who perpetuate bad ideas, flawed arguments, and outright falsehoods through example(s), rather than call them names.

Marshall Shepherd, president of the American Meteorological Society, wrote these sage words in an opinion piece at CNN:

As I write this commentary, I am watching football highlights. I debate football vigorously with my friends, but we always walk away friends. Irrespective of viewpoint, calling people “deniers” or “warmists” is counterproductive and inflammatory. There are deep-rooted feelings that have created zealotry, and at times, all sides have crossed lines of civility. I am proud to say that I enjoy very solid collegial and personal relationships with people who I sometimes disagree with on climate science.

Like Shepherd, I have friends and colleagues not to mention readers who hold very different perspectives on climate change than I do.  This doesn’t make them nefarious and I still respect them. They are simply viewing an incredibly complex issue through a different lens.

In debates about climate change, because the issue has such a range of objective and subjective dimensions (spanning science, economics, politics, psychology and ethics) there is enormous room for different ideas and perspectives.

In a sense, name-calling is an attempt to simplify this complexity by casting people into “right” and “wrong” camps.  But this tactic polarizes the climate debate, and fails to either enrich it or move it in the direction of compromise and solutions.

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