There is a good post over at Grist on the proper nomenclature for what are generally called ‘climate skeptics’ or ‘climate deniers.’ It argues that calling them skeptics is inaccurate, since they don’t actually treat information with skepticism:
Skeptics can be convinced by the facts, but not the delayers [the author’s preferred term]. Skeptics (and real scientists) do not continue repeating arguments that have been discredited. Delayers do. Skeptics believe in science, in well-tested theories backed up by real-world observations, but delayers do not.
“Denier” is also problematic, both on its own and as a half-reference to Holocaust deniers. This is both because they don’t generally outright deny the existence of climate change and because their ‘denial’ concerns something ongoing, on which action must be taken, rather than something that has already passed.
The piece makes some good points about the state of the discussion:
By calling them “deniers” we are making the focus of our response the climate science; we are fighting on their turf, so they still win. In fact, the science has long since passed the realm in which the delayers try to debate it. The key question for humanity today is not whether human-caused global warming does or does not exist — it is not even whether human-caused global warming is a serious problem. It is already past a serious problem. The only serious question facing the human race now is whether we will act strongly enough and quickly enough to avert a catastrophe that is both beyond historical comparison and probably irreversible for centuries, if not millennia.
Despite the unambiguous nature of the science, that really doesn’t seem to be the understanding that is dominant within popular culture. It is not clear whether additional scientific evidence or reports would ever change that. As such, the kind of rhetorical arguments that this post is addressing have considerable importance.
In general, I see good reasons for using the term ‘delayer’ but, unless it catches on fairly widely, it will always be necessary to explain it. I plan to do so by linking back to this post.