Is climate change denial evil?

“I believe that climate change denial is not just ignorant, it is malign, it is evil, and it amounts to an attempt to deny human rights to some of the most vulnerable people on the planet.”
Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland (2019)
“The real question underlying the question of evil is the following: What is the good? All my philosophy strives to answer this question.”
Alain Badiou, philosopher (2001)

Climate change denial is not new. It is certainly misleading. But is it evil? What you see may depend on where you stand. However, it seems obvious that who is behind the denial is an important factor. If a politician or a journalist denies global heating then this is particularly pernicious. This is because it has a negative impact on public opinion. It is even worse for a scientist to deny reality, especially if it is at the behest of a powerful corporation. Nevertheless, the ethical issue is less obvious when an ill-informed member of civil society makes an inaccurate statement.

On one level, we should all be accountable for our words and deeds. But we are social animals. This means that our opinions are in part shaped by those of our friends and colleagues. A progressive perspective may flow from education or from the consumption of liberal media. To claim that a reactionary view is the result of an evil disposition would be a bit of a stretch.

Asking questions is central to philosophy. And it is also a key element of the scientific method. We should all respect the huge amount of evidence that supports the global heating hypothesis. But if individuals do not share our valid belief it is counterproductive to use the evil label. Persuasion has to be conducted in a reasonable manner. Our knowledge about the urgency of the cause should not lead us into the use of clumsy language.

Cultural wars become toxic quite easily. And it is hard for society to get along if insults are thrown around in a casual way. The international political economy has entered a period of potential turbulence. If we want to keep the planet cool, we will need to maintain cool heads.

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