If you’re skeptical about everything, you’re not skeptical about anything.
I heard this sentence on Steven Bonnell’s stream and it brought me to write this article.
A skeptic is not merely someone who doubts everything, it’s someone who challenges ideas, because of their authenticity or their factual basis. Being skeptical means to examine claims in their context, rather than accept them on their face value. Contrary to what the label suggests, climate skeptics are not skeptical, at least not when it comes down to climate science.
The context of climate science
The fact that all climatologists from all countries agree that the Earth is
rapidly warming due to our greenhouse gas emissions should make you pretty confident about the validity of the theory of anthropogenic climate change. The wider context shows scientists from all fields, governments, NGOs and even oil companies who all came to the same conclusion through different types of research. Sorry to break it down for you, if you look at this context and you decide to be skeptical, it means that it’s really unlikely that you’re a skeptical person, at least not about climate science. This doesn’t mean that you’re unskeptical about any issue, but apparently in the context of climate change, some sort of irrational belief, idea or some sort of emotion like fear, guilt or helplessness is holding you back from making a reasonable judgment.Being ‘somewhere in the middle’, also shows your lack of critical thinking about this topic. Statements like ‘I believe that the climate is changing, but I doubt that humans have a big impact on it ‘ is nothing short of pure and complete denial of the scientific observations. And I’m pretty sure that you wouldn’t accept this middle-ground approach on many other topics.
Examples of unskeptical “skeptics”
You know that everybody takes antibiotics and that all doctors agree that antibiotics are an effective way of fighting infectious diseases. In this context, you are most likely not skeptical about the doctor’s expertise. When you are very sick, you take the antibiotics and you avoid dying from a horrible infection. Well, most of us do. Some people doubt that they should take antibiotics, and sometimes they pay for it with their lives. I wouldn’t call these people skeptics.
Believing in the theory of evolution is skeptical. All scientists from many various fields of study agree that the theory of evolution through natural selection is the mechanism which created all life on Earth, including us. That doesn’t mean that all scientists agree about every aspect of it. That’s not how science works. Scientists might have different explanations about some very particular details related to a certain theory, but that doesn’t undermine their complete agreement on the fundamentals. On the contrary, having a common understanding is what allow them to disagree about extremely complex details. Believing a random person on YouTube or in your church who denies evolution is unskeptical.
If you don’t believe in the theory of evolution it doesn’t mean that you’re a completely gullible person, maybe you think skeptically about other issues, but clearly not about evolution. Probably some type of belief or a lack of education is not allowing to think about this subject critically. You might believe in evolution, but many people don’t and they see themselves as skeptics.
And finally, I think that almost everyone reading this would agree that the Earth has a spheroid shape. We have very good reasons to believe this. We saw photos, scientists from various fields confirm it, and it’s been known for thousands of years… Given this context, it would be really unskeptical to believe that the Earth is flat. But some people do. And I dare to say that even a flat-earther might be skeptical about another topic, but in the case of the shape of the Earth, they are clearly incapable of thinking reasonably. Some sort of belief or emotional state is causing them to think very irrationally about this. And surely, in this context, you wouldn’t see a middle-ground position, between a sphere and a flat plane, as being anything close to rational.
Why deny the obvious?
In conclusion, I would say to any climate denier to examine the emotions that might be driving their attitude on this topic. Many psychological reasons could be pushing us towards denial. Maybe you’re too afraid that you might have to give up some part of your material comfort, maybe the thought that we’re destroying the Earth is too traumatizing, or maybe you feel like that if climate change was real you wouldn’t be able to fix it and this thought makes you feel helpless. Maybe you realize that climate change would contradict some other beliefs that you hold dear, like the ability of the free market to organize our society in a good way, or the fact that humans could have so much power over nature contradicts your intuitions about our place in this world. Something is clogging your critical thinking skills and makes you very unskeptical about climate science.