22 November 2010

Groupthink or . . . Beware of Climate Labels

What should WE call THEM?
climate skeptics
climate deniers
yellow bellied sap suckers
this question is insane

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Over the weekend I was on an email list of prominent environmental journalists, bloggers, academics and activists in which one blogger raised the question of what terminology to use to describe those folks, you know, the skeptics or deniers.  I watched in disbelief as people that I respect entertained the question in all seriousness.  A climate scientist helpfully made the political connection explicit by recommending the term "inactivists."  Several of the people on the list had in the past used such terms to try to delegitimize my work.

I about blew a seam.  Seriously.  I emailed the list explaining that this exercise was insane, and about as useful as debating what to call people with dark colored skin -- I can think of a lot of terms used for that purpose.  But why go there?  The answer? Because there is an US and a THEM, and being able to tell the difference is important if we are to put people into bins and delegitimize them.

Of course on the email list there was no consensus as to who the US is and who the THEY is, but they did agree that WE needed terms for THEM.

It would have been totally depressing except for the fact that one journalist spoke up to show some uncommon common sense, suggesting that describing context might be more useful than stripping it away.  Some folks did not engage, so perhaps there is additional hope.  Our ability to have healthy discussions on climate change remains quite challenging.

I've asked to be taken off the list, as I am clearly not one of them.  Put me in the category of people who think that trying to divide the world according to views on some aspects of climate science is just a bad idea. It is especially a bad idea for journalists and policy wonks.

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