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With this plea, full of idealism and hope, Robin Williams encouraged his students in The Dead Poets Club. He was absolutely right. However, now, in the world of accelerated communication, the effect may not be so positive. We live in the times of the hoax. Times plagued by different types of denialism, and where the powerful try to hide truths that make them uncomfortable among hundreds of lies, so that it is more difficult to harm their interests.

Denialism is, without a doubt, a word that is in fashion. Proof of this is that never before has so much news been written about it. Historically, it has been applied to such disparate things as the Holocaust - with that usage the term took off - or climate change. But now it has gained new momentum with the COVID-19 pandemic. And it has become a term that is used in common debate on an almost daily basis. Often as a throwing weapon, and often a bit coarsely, as a sort of catch-all into which things fall that are not what the term strictly means.

Disinformation, fake news or fact-checking are other nicknames that have also become more common due to the influence of lobbies and pressure groups in the media, making the already difficult task of discovering what is true on complex issues such as climate change or pandemics increasingly difficult. And also making the crucial debate more diffuse: what should be done about it. The words infodemia or infoxication have not been coined by chance. We live in times where there is so much "information" that it is paradoxically more difficult than ever to know what is true and what is a hoax.

Denialism is defined as the way of thinking or the attitude that consists in the denial of very serious historical facts, or proven scientific facts. These are usually recent events. Author Michael Specter defines an even more dangerous phenomenon, group denialism, when "an entire segment of society, often struggling with the trauma of change, turns its back on reality in favor of a more comfortable lie."

In 2010, science historians Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway published one of the most important books on this subject: Merchants of Doubt, which later became a fantastic documentary film, tracing an unquestionable relationship between the tactics of different industries that had the same problem: the advancement of scientific knowledge went against their profits.

The tobacco industry, as well as the chemical or CFC industry used the same strategies and PR campaigns: sometimes they even used the same "scientists". Their product was to sell doubts. The fossil fuel industry simply "inherited" and copied these practices, perfecting them to try to avoid environmental legislation burying a large part of their lucrative business.

A conservative estimate by Robert Brulle of Drexel University of what is spent on climate denialism - strictly climate change, in the United States alone - averages about $1 billion each year in the first decade of this 21st century.

Let us define the various types of climate denialism that exist:

Literal denialists

The plain and simple absolute denial that the phenomenon is taking place. Former President Donald Trump is a clear example of this position. He used to call global warming a "hoax".

Often this figure, lacking any kind of proof, accompanies his ideas with criticisms, usually without head or feet, addressed to the scientific community.

These profiles are in danger of extinction. Hardly anyone dares to say this in public anymore because of the multitude of evidence of the negative effects and increasingly frequent extreme phenomena caused by climate chaos.

Partial denialists

They assume that climate change is real but deliberately misinterpret the evidence to twist it until it fits their version of events. For example, they may argue that humans are not responsible and that it is all due to "natural changes that have always occurred".

An interesting example of the latter is Bjorn Lomborg, author of The Skeptical Ecologist. An author who has been varying his position for economic gain, arguing that, in many ways, climate change will be a beneficial process. His claims have been widely disproved by the scientific community.

In these positions it is also common to appeal to uncertainty. That it is not all that clear-cut.

Necessary action denialists

One of the most dangerous positions. The denial of the importance of necessary action is also very dangerous because it numbs. It narcotizes. It prevents problems from being considered in coherence with the challenges they pose, and thus action from being taken commensurate with the seriousness of the issue.

Necessary action denialist positions allow corporations, lobbies and governments to continue to do the bare minimum while selling their insufficient actions as adequate. Denying that it is precisely these insignificant actions that prevent the necessary changes from taking place.

Another resource is usually to blame the individual, the individual actions, seeking to perpetuate the division between people who should unite precisely to provoke a systemic change that would go against the interests of this type of positions. It is not a question of individual actions being useless, of course they are, but they are undoubtedly insufficient and sometimes prevent us from having to face reality: either the production and consumption system changes or we will not be able to avoid catastrophic climate change.

When British Petroleum spread the concept of a personal carbon footprint, it was trying to avoid putting the spotlight on the system or the big companies, so that we could blame each other.


Another tactic left to many of these companies, lobbies, institutions and even governments is: "since we can't deny the problem, let's at least try to make money out of it".

Climate negotiationism is characteristic of many companies that have historically belonged to or supported the hard denialist camp, either because they are part of the fossil fuel sector or because they have interests in it.

Exxon, Shell, Total, Repsol...

The strategy to follow is clear:we must be able to differentiate truths from hoaxes in order to ignore the messages that obviously hide an interest, expose their strategy and reveal their motivations, refute the hoaxes they spread and point out and hold accountable the sponsors of these lies.

In conclusion, all these versions have in common a danger: they are delaying essential action, out of interest or ignorance they are playing against their own interests. We need to realize that only cooperation in the face of global challenges can solve them properly. If we all go about pursuing short-term gains without thinking about the common good, we cannot possibly succeed.

About the Author

Juan Bordera

Journalist and content creator.

February 24, 2022 — Juan Bordera

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