The real reason why libertarians become climate-deniers

We live at a point in history at which the demand for individual freedom has never been stronger — or more potentially dangerous. For this demand — the product of good things, such as the refusal to submit to arbitrary tyranny characteristic of ‘the Enlightenment’, and of bad things, such as the rise of consumerism at the expense of solidarity and sociability — threatens to make it impossible to organise a sane, collective democratic response to the immense challenges now facing us as peoples and as a species. ”How dare you interfere with my ‘right’ to burn coal / to drive / to fly; how dare you interfere with my business’s ‘right’ to pollute?” The form of such sentiments would have seemed plain bizarre, almost everywhere in the world, until a few centuries ago; and to uncaptive minds (and un-neo-liberalised societies) still does. …But it is a sentiment that can seem close to ‘common sense’ in more and more of the world: even though it threatens to cut off at the knees action to prevent existential threats to our collective survival, let alone our flourishing.

Such alleged rights to complete (sic.) individual liberty are expressed most strongly by ‘libertarians’.

Now, before I go any further (because you already know from my title that this article is going to be tough on libertarians), I should like to say for the record that some of my best friends (and some of those I most intellectually admire) are libertarians. Honestly: I mean it. Being of a libertarian cast of mind can be a sign of intellectual strength, of fibre; of a healthy iconoclasm. It can entail intellectual autonomy in its true sense. A libertarian of one kind or another can be a joy to be around.

But too often, far too often, ‘libertarianism’ nowadays involves a fantasy of atomism; and an unhealthy dogmatic contrarianism. Too often, ironically, it involves precisely the dreary conformism so wonderfully satirized at the key moment in The life of Brian, where the crowd repeats, altogether, like automata, the refrain “We are all individuals”. Too often, libertarians to a man (and, tellingly, virtually all rank-and-file libertarians are males) think that they are being radical and different: by all being exactly the same as each other. Dogmatic, boringly-contrarian hyper-‘individualists’ with a fixed set of beliefs impervious to rational discussion. Adherents of an ‘ism’, in the worst sense.

Such ‘libertarianism’ is an ideology that seems to have found its moment, or at least its niche, in a consumerist economistic world that is fixated on the alleged specialness and uniqueness of the individual (albeit that, as already made plain, it is hard to square the notion that this is or could be libertarianism’s ‘moment’ with the most basic acquaintance with the social and ecological limits to growth as our societies are starting literally to encounter them). ‘Libertarianism’ is evergreen in the USA, but, bizarrely, became even more popular in the immediate wake of the financial crisis (A crisis caused, one might innocently have supposed, by too much license being granted to many powerless and powerful economic actors: in the latter category, most notably the banks and cognate dubious financial institutions…). In the UK, it is a striking element in the rise to popularity of UKIP: for, while UKIP is socially-regressive/reactionary, it is very much a would-be libertarian party, the rich man’s friend, in terms of its economic ambitions: it is for a flat tax, for ‘free-trade’-deals the world over, for a bonfire of regulations, for the selling-off of our public services, and so on. (Incidentally, this makes the apparent rise in working-class (or indeed middle-class) support for UKIP at the present time an exemplary case of turkeys voting for Christmas. Someone who isn’t one of the richest 1% who votes UKIP is acting as a brilliant ally of their own gravediggers.)

This article concerns a contradiction at the heart of the contemporary strangely-widespread ‘ism’ that is libertarianism. A contradiction that, once it is understood, essentially destroys whatever apparent attractions it may have. And, surprisingly, shows libertarianism now to be a closer ally to cod-‘Post-Modernism’ or to the most problematic elements of ‘New Age’ thinking than to that of the Enlightenment…

Libertarianism likes to present itself as a philosophy or ideology that is rigorously objective. Wedded to the truth, and rationality. Ayn Rand called her cod-philosophy ‘Objectivism’. Tibor Machan and other well-known libertarian philosophers today place a central emphasis on reason as their guide. Libertarians like to think that they are honest, where others aren’t, about ‘human nature’ (it’s thoroughly selfish), and like to claim that there is something self-deceptive or propagandistically dishonest about socialism, ecologism and other rival philosophies. Without its central claim to hard-nosed objectivity, truth and rationality, libertarianism would be nothing.

But this central commitment is in profound tension with the libertarian commitment, equally absolute, to ‘liberty’. For truth, truths, truthfulness, rationality, objectivity, impose a ‘constraint’. A massive utterly implacable constraint, on one’s license to do and believe and think whatever one wants. One cannot be Carroll’s Humpty Dumpty in a world of truth and reason. One cannot intelligibly think that freedom of thought requires complete license, or that moral freedom requires complete individual license, in such a world.

The dilemma of the libertarian was already laid bare in the progress of the thinking of a hero of some libertarians, Friedrich Nietzsche, in the great third and final essay of his masterpiece THE GENEALOGY OF MORALITY. Nietzsche can appear on a superficial reading of that essay to be endorsing a kind of artistic disregard for truth; it turns out, as the essay follows its remarkable course, that this is far from so; in fact, it is the opposite of the truth. In the end, taking further a line of thought that he began in the great fifth book of THE GAY SCIENCE, Nietzsche lines up as a fanatical advocate of truth: he speaks of drawing the hard consequences of being no longer willing to accept the lie of theism, and of “we godless metaphysicians” as the true heirs of Plato: “Even we seekers after knowledge today”, Nietzsche writes, “we godless anti-metaphysicians still take our fire, too, from the flame lit by a faith that is thousands of years old, that Christian faith which was also the faith of Plato, that God is the truth, that truth is divine.”

He contrasts his stance with that of the legendary Assassins, who held that “Nothing is true, [and therefore] everything is permitted”. He admires their ambition, but absolutely cannot find himself able to simply agree with what they said.

Contemporary libertarianism is stuck in a completely cleft stick: stuck wanting to agree with Nietzsche’s considered position and yet wanting to endorse something like the Assassins’ creed too. Libertarianism, centred as its name makes plain on the notion of ‘complete’ individual freedom, inevitably runs up, sooner or later, against ‘shackles’: the limits imposed on one’s thought and action by adherence to truth. (Acknowledging the truth of human-induced dangerous climate change is only the most obvious case of this; there are many many others. )

This explains the extraordinary and pitiful sight of so many libertarians finding themselves attracted to climate-denial and similarly pathetic evasions of the absolute ‘constraint’ that truth and rationality force upon anyone and everyone who is prepared to face the truth, at the present time. Such denial is over-determined. Libertarians have various strong motivations for not wanting to believe in the ecological limits to growth: such limits often recommend state-action / undermine the profitability of some out-of-date businesses (e.g. coal and fracking companies) that fund some libertarian-leaning thinktank-work. Limits undermine the case for deregulation. The limits to growth evince a powerful case in point of the need for a fundamentally precautious outlook: anathema to the reckless Promethean fantasies that animate much libertarianism. Furthermore: Libertarianism depends for its credibility on our being able to determine what individuals’ rights are, and to separate out individuals completely from one another. Our massive inter-dependence as social animals in a world of ecology (even more so, actually, in an internationalised and networked world, of course) undermines this, by making for example our responsibility for pollution a profoundly complex matter of inter-dependence that flies in the face of silly notions of being able to have property-rights in everything (Are we supposed to be able to buy and sell quotas in cigarette-smoke?: Much easier to deny that passive smoking causes cancer.). Above all though: libertarians can’t stand to be told that they don’t have as much epistemic right as anyone else on any topic that they like to think they understand or have some ‘rights’ in relation to: “Who are you to tell me that I have to defer to some scientist?”

This then reaches the nub of the issue, and explains the truly-tragic spectacle of someone like Jamie Whyte — a critical thinking guru who made his name as a hardline advocate of truth, objectivity and rationality arguing (quite rightly, and against the current of our time, insofar as that current is consumeristic, individualistic, and (therefore) relativistic/subjectivistic) that no-one has an automatic right to their own opinion (You have to earn that right, through knowledge or evidence or good reasoning or the like) — becoming a climate-denier. His libertarian love for truth and reason has finally careened — crashed — right into and up against a limit: his libertarian love for (big business / the unfettered pursuit of Mammon and, more important still) having the right to — the freedom to — his own opinion, no matter what. A lover of truth and reason, driven to deny the most crucial truth about the world today (that pollution is on the verge of collapsing our civilisation); his subjectivising of everything important turning finally to destroying his love for truth itself. . . Truly a tragic spectacle. Or perhaps we should say: truly farcical.

The remarkable irony here is that libertarianism, allegedly congenitally against ‘political correctness’ and other post-modern fads, allegedly a staunch defender of the Enlightenment against the forces of unreason, has itself become the most ‘Post-Modern’ of doctrines. A new, extreme form of individualised relativism; an unthinking product of (the worst element of) its/our time (insofar as this is a time of ‘self-realization’, and ultimately of license). Libertarianism, including the perverse and deadly denial of ecological constraints, is, far from being a crusty enemy of the ‘New Age’, in this sense the ultimate bastard child of the 1960s.

To sum up. Libertarianism was founded on the love for truth and reason; but it is founded also, of course, on the inviolability of the individual. Taken to its ‘logical’ conclusion, truth itself is (felt as) an ‘imposition’ on the individual. The sovereign liberty of the self, in libertarianism, is at ineradicable odds with the willingness to accept ‘others” truths. And it is the former, sadly, which tends to win out. For, as we have seen, the denial, by libertarians, of elementary contemporary scientific truths such as that of the theory of greenhouse-gas-heat-build-up, is over-determined. When truth clashes with a dogmatic insistence on one’s own complete’ freedom of mental and physical manouevre, and with profit; when the truth is that we are going to have to rein in some of our appetites if we are to bequeath a habitable world to our children’s children…then the truth is: that truth itself is an obstacle easily overcome, by the will of weak only-too-human libertarians.

The obsession of libertarians with individual liberty crowds out the value of truth. In the end, their thinking becomes voluntaristic and contrarian for the sake of it. They end up believing simply what they WANT to believe. And, as explained above, they don’t WANT to accept the truths of ecology, of climate science, etc. . And so they deny them.

As Wittgenstein famously remarked: the real difficulty in philosophy is one of the will, more even than of the intellect. What is hard is to will oneself to accept things that are true that one doesn’t want to believe, and moreover that (in the case of some on the ‘hard’ Right) one’s salary or one’s stock-options or one’s ability to live with oneself depend on one not believing.

It takes strength, fibre, it takes a truly philosophical sensibility — it takes a willingness to understand that intellectual autonomy in its true sense essentially requires submission to reality — to be able to acknowledge the truth; rather than to deny it.

Leave a comment ?


  1. Very well put Rupert. However I consider myself to be a libertarian (in the dictionary sense) but am also an enthusiastic member of the Green Party. To me the two are easily reconciled – I believe, with John Stuart Mill (On Liberty (1859)), that each being should be free to do whatever he wishes in so far as this does not (significantly) impinge directly on the freedom or welfare of others, and this consideration should at all times be paramount. Damaging the environment does impinge on the welfare of others, so is not acceptable.

  2. s. wallerstein

    Most people are raised in or buy into a political culture as a whole. That is, they do not rationally determine their postures issue by issue, although they may imagine that they do: they generally rationalize their issue by issue postures with detailed arguments which serve to justify the fact they follow one or another “party” line.

    I would bet that almost everyone on the left (I’m on the left myself)favors healthcare as a human right financed by the state, criticizes the U.S. imperialistic intervention against the democratically elected government of Venezuela, supports the struggles of Native-American peoples for self-determination, believes that IQ scores do not measure intelligence, but rather social class or access to culture in early childhood and believes that global warming is caused by human beings.

    However, there is no necessary relationship between the above-mentioned leftwing issues. What happens is that when one buys into leftwing culture, one adopts the party-line posture on all those issues in order to become a card-carrying leftist. I’m one myself, by the way. In general, adopting the party-line posture on all the issues is not an entirely conscious process.

    Similarly, libertarians, although they consider themselves to be fierce individualists, tend to buy into a cultural set. There is really no necessary connection between beinging in favor of free market economics and denying climate change, but they generally go together

  3. Jim P Houston

    On economic issues not all libertarians are ‘right-wing’ – it’s perfectly possible to qualify as a ‘libertarian’ in the philosophical sense and hold that natural resources should be held in common (and wealth redistributed). And there seems no reason why those of that stripe can’t take on board the idea that the common ownership extends to the as yet unborn and endorse much of what Rupert would endorse.

    What our writer is seemingly doing is using the term for the diverse genus to identify what is the most popular (and unduly influential) species. And in a more ‘informal’ setting such as this that seems reasonable enough. Within that species it is, of course, perfectly possible to accept that climate change is occurring and that human activity is playing a very significant role in its occurrence (nothing about libertarianism forces you to deny that). Where the inevitable clash between left-leaning Greens and ‘right-wing’ economic libertarians will occur is on the question of what – if anything – to do about it.

    The claim that libertarians as libertarians ‘end up believing simply what they WANT to believe’ is a sweeping generalisation, and charitably supposing such remarks are ‘really’ only aimed at a subset of a subset i.e. those ‘right-wing’ libertarians who actually deny AGW is occurring (of which I’ve seen no evidence James Whyte is a member) it still seems an assertion that is un-evidenced and uncharitable. I see no argument against the rather obvious possibility that the causal connection between a certain brand of libertarianism and AGW ‘scepticism’ runs in the opposite direction to the one he supposes.

    I appreciate the author’s taste for ‘provocative’ claims, understand his frustration with those who do seem unwilling to accept the authority of climate scientists and share his distaste for certain forms of libertarian ideology. Still, I think philosophers qua philosophers are usually best off sticking to critiquing the arguments given by any given party for any given position rather than making assertions about what causes people to believe what they believe.

    We have enough of this kind of thing in debates about (a)theism – folk with no sociological or psychological expertise opining on why other folk (dis)believe in God. It seems better that we assume they have reasons for their position and attend to critiquing them if we actually want to engage in or provoke any form of productive debate that is inclusive of those with whom we disagree.

    There are perfectly legitimate questions to ask about why folk believe x. But I don’t think they are best explored when one also wants to ‘vent’ about the fact that some folk who hold to an ideology one very obviously has a strong distaste for believe, to your bitter (if understandable) frustration, that x is true.

  4. you have Thatcher to thank for current thinking, she made socialism a dirty word and stopped its development in its tracks

  5. I wonder how you claim to be a philosopher, a person in love with the truth, when you make such facile generalisations and care not to have even asked people why they believe (or not) in certain things.

    For instance, I promote liberty – with accountability (since there is no other, despite your amazingly incorrect generaliastions), and after thoroughly studying the climate change issue, have concluded that more CO2 at the current low levels of concentration of CO2 in the climate (less than 15 times they were in the past when we had ice ages, as well) is an unambiguous good for mankind and life on earth.

    Should you really care for the truth please read the two draft manuscripts below which will remove many of your misconceptions: and

  6. Sanjeev,

    After thoroughly studying the climate issue, I concluded the exact opposite of your conclusions? Why are we to be swayed by yours?

    My conclusions are shared by nearly all who perform research in the field and are are supported by thousands of concilient, peer reviewed studies, based on observational data and confirmed by physics.

    Your conclusions are shared by the same ideologically and financially motivate individuals and groups that denied multiple scientific conclusions in the past. More importantly, they are supported primarily by fallacious arguments.

  7. Sanjeev, I began to read your link on climate. After seeing several grotesque denier deceptions, fallacious arguments, and appeals to the authority of multiple professional science deniers with long track records of more of the same, I deem the rest unworthy of my time.

    You sir, are the classic example of how education merely assists an ideologue in dismissing inconvenient realities.

  8. The one virtue of the popular climate debate is that it is easy to spot the difference between people dealing with arguments based on facts and people spitting tribal hate speech. The terms are clear: denier, alarmist, scam, hoax, conspiracy, shill. As soon as we see these, we know we are not in a discussion about atmospheric physics, but listening in on what passes for debate between the Hatfields and the McCoys.

    Nevertheless, It seems to me that the premise that in general left-ish, collective-ish, green-ish people tend to focus on the most alarming range of possibilities, while in general right-ish, individual-ish, free-market-ish people tend to focus on the most reassuring range of possibilities, does have some basis.

    I regard an analysis by a member of one tribe of the motivation of members of the other with suspicion, of course. Still, having read one of Jamie Whyte’s books, I wondered what he had done to attract this insult.

    The only climate-related position I have found for him is that New Zealand, with its tiny carbon footprint, should not unilaterally incur the costs of carbon reductions unless and until the large emitters do.

    I fail to see the “denial”.

  9. There are those who are ‘sceptical’ about what climate science predicts about changes in sea-level and temperature and so on and what they claim is causing the same – let’s call them ‘AGW deniers’ and put them to one side.

    More interestingly, there are those who do accept the science part of the story but doubt what climate scientists qua climate scientists have no qualification to judge i.e. that such changes will, as our author feels, amount to a catastrophe for future persons. Obviously there’s a value judgement involved in deciding what amounts to a catastrophe. But supposing we could agree what would constitute such a thing for future persons, there would still be those who would disagree with the claim that we are really facing is, as our author strongly feels, the collapse of civilisation.

    Some, as demonstrated on this thread, think such changes will, overall, be a good thing. More philosophically interestingly, amongst libertarians of a certain stripe there is the belief that the free market of a (presumed-to-be) wealthier future generation will be able to deal with said changes. We might call both types ‘catastrophe deniers’ but it is only the second type (call them ‘type b’) whose claims seem to have an obvious ideological connection with ‘right-wing’ economic libertarianism and its faith in ‘the market’ and economic growth. It seems to me that is where philosophical attention should be directed if one wants to talk about ‘logical’ connections between libertarianism of a certain stripe and ‘catastrophe denial’ (as now seems to me to be our author’s intent).

    ‘Catastrophe deniers’ of type b aren’t denying science because climate science can’t tell you anymore than Wittgensteinan scholarship can about how, and whether, future generations will cope with climate change. There simply is no science that can tell you the answer to that question as far as I can see. That, it seems to me, is the point at which what we are discussing isn’t a matter that can be decided by appeal to the authority of scientists, is where ideology comes in and is exactly where philosophers should be getting engaged (along with thinking persons from other disciplines).

    It may seem really pretty obvious that overall it would be much better for future generations if they didn’t face the climate changes we seem to be causing. And, in principle, the economic libertarian could accept that it would. But here, still, ‘the libertarian’ has scope to reject what left-leaning Greens would counsel.

    Supposing, as seems reasonable to assume, the argument that climate change will cause great harm and that being party to it is other-regarding and future persons ‘count’ goes through, the libertarian (depending on her stripe) might, in principle, concede that the state has the right and duty to intervene *if* it has the ability to actually prevent or significantly mitigate said climate change. But she still might argue that it would in fact be better for its future citizens if a given state didn’t introduce the policies the Greens would counsel because, realistically, said climate change just won’t be averted or significantly mitigated. The claim might go that any state that unilaterally adopted the type of policies that, if adopted by all or most big polluters, could avert or significantly mitigate climate change would be putting itself at an enormous economic disadvantage whilst making what would most likely amount to a very costly ‘empty gesture’ given that few are likely to follow them.

    Such claims don’t seem determined by right-wing economic libertarianism as such but do at least seem in line with the right’s traditional pessimism and are seemingly the type of thoughts more openly expressed by members of the ‘libertarian’ community (though I suspect they are more widely held amongst politicians actually involved in governance than their public utterances might suggest).

    It seems to me that ‘catastrophe deniers’ of type b have an unfounded confidence in the ability of the market to deal with the consequences of climate change. But some of them at least might agree that the state sometimes ought to do more than policing and that (as Adam Smith asserted) some goods won’t be delivered by the ‘invisible hand’. It seems to me the productive conversations to have with such folk are about what we can expect from and ought to do about preventing and/or coping with the effects of climate change.

    Simply asserting that their ideology is such that it precludes them from accepting ‘the truth’ about the impending collapse of civilisation just doesn’t strike me as warranted or productive. If one wants to persuade folk that the impending collapse of civilisation is what is on the cards and can be averted at a cost that doesn’t outweigh the benefits you need to actually argue the case, not just accuse folk of being too ideologically blinkered to accept that it is.

  10. s. wallerstein

    Hello Jim,

    I think that you’ve outlined the best case for where this discussion should head.

    This is a philosophy blog, and as such, as you point out above, we should be discussing ideas, not speculating on whether others are in the pay of the coal lobby, the CIA, Mossad or the Kremlin.

    We are all supposed to be rational adults, capable of judging the merits of each others’ arguments, not swayed by the fact that someone may have received a paycheck from the Vatican or the ghost of Hugo Chavez and even though we may not be as rational as we often imagine that we are, playing that we are is how we play the game by the rules and it’s marvellous, literally marvellous, that we manage to play our game by the rules in this world where the rules matter so little.

  11. Rupert Read,

    “In the UK, it is a striking element in the rise to popularity of UKIP: for, while UKIP is socially-regressive/reactionary, it is very much a would-be libertarian party, the rich man’s friend, in terms of its economic ambitions: it is for a flat tax, for ‘free-trade’-deals the world over, for a bonfire of regulations, for the selling-off of our public services, and so on.”

    I can explain all this……hopefully, I can explain all this.

    Now, I don’t know what the term for this is, but sometimes the words can have completely different meanings for different people. In languages these are false cognates. A word in German that looks similar to, or is spelled the same as a word in English, may be the same word, and have the same meaning. Or, it may not, and have a completely different meaning. Gift is an example, it means poison in German. “Happy Christmas…I brought a poison for you, your husband and children”…

    The false cognates exist within languages. Freedom is one of those words. It cannot be misunderestimated the diversity of interpretation of the word – to the point the interpretations are in direct conflict. Naïve liberal intellectuals often assume their interpretation of the word, with its’ implied reciprocity is the universal interpretation. It is not. The right-wing interpretation is the freedom from reciprocity itself. It’s the freedom to be a racist. It’s the freedom treat your children as you please. It’s the freedom to control who the woman who lives down the street sleeps with. The freedom to exclude those who do not conform.

    I’ll try to illustrate this further through explaining UKIP policies (they do have policies). I’ll explain the ‘free trade’ policy – this goes over so many heads, because it is just too loopy to believe someone is saying it, but Nigel Farage is. Nigel wants the countries of the world to have free trade policy for British goods and services…but he wants to institute protectionist policies for British industries so they don’t have to compete with foreign goods and services. This is one reason he wants to take Britain out of the EU. He wants access to the EU open market, but to close the British market to the EU. It doesn’t make sense because it’s like a greedy child suggesting to another child, that they must share their sweets with them, but that the greedy child gets to keep all their sweets and not share. In the old days, Britain could enforce lopsided trade policy with gun boats – it goes without saying, the world has changed, but some still dream.

    Now, to explain American, or Tea Party freedom. What does all this ‘states rights’ you keep hearing about actually mean. It means what it did in the civil rights era.

    Ecological concerns. Again it’s something similar. The CEO of Exxon is suing to stop fracking near his home. He’s very concerned about the environment….near his home.

  12. I disagree on the use of the term, “denier”. It has a recognized definition and is usually used to describe people who exemplify that definition. No other term generally used in its place is nearly as accurate and some are grossly inaccurate, such as “skeptic”.

  13. Kyle,

    ‘Denier’ does indeed have a recognized definition – it denotes somebody who denies something.

    You are confusing ‘denier’ with ‘denialist’.

  14. (Where you are right though is to point out the difference between one who denies a claim and one who is skeptical about the truth-value of said claim – folk who merit one ascription don’t merit the other. Point granted.)

  15. Jim, I don’t know your location. Here in the US, denier has the recognized meaning appropriate for “climatards”. How’s that for a politically incorrect term?!

    We don’t refer to holocaust denialists or science denialists. Denier is, and long has been, the proper operative term here. In fact, I can’t recall ever seeing or hearing the term applied to those who reject the findings of climatology.

  16. Dear Prof. Read,

    Thank you for this excellent article, your critique of the ideals behind libertarianism are spot-on. The one thing I object to is that you make it sound as if those who oppose the notion of greenhouse-gas-heat-build-up do so on an irrational basis, in denial of a truth which you and those of like mind possess. This is not the case, since, as you say, it is a theory, not a fact. It is a very good theory, but a theory nonetheless. Certainly there are scientists who have arrived at the conclusion that this interpretation of the data is incorrect, even if they are in the minority. So I think, in this instance, it is a mistake to frame it as a case of “truth” versus “denial.”

  17. John, there is no rational basis for denying the truth of greenhouse-gas-heat-build-up. You make the same mistake as creationists with the “it’s only a theory” error.

    A scientific theory is not equivalent to the colloquial use of theory, which ranges from meaning hypothesis to wild-ass guess. In science, a theory is the highest level of knowledge; far above mere facts. It’s an explanation that is consistent with the evidence, has withstood attempts to disprove it, is consistent with all physical principles, and possesses both explanatory and predictive powers. Unlike the denial propaganda, AGW fits this description in its entirety. It has for a very long time.

    There isn’t just a minority of dissenting conclusions. Among those actually trained in related fields and researching climate, the number is vanishingly small. Most quibble on a point or two. The handful that actually deny the core conclusions are – every one – ideologues and paid shills that have long histories of dealing with facts and criticisms in ways that no truth-seeking scientist would ever do. Every field has cranks. The majority of denier “scientists” are like creationist biologists – engineers, lawyers, PR specialists, weather men, at best, scientists working outside their field and not actually working; not doing science.

  18. This is turning into a rich discussion. I especially appreciate Jim’s insights into the effect of the libertarian mistrust of government’s ability to deal with climate change on what may seem only on the surface to be an outright denial on the part of some libertarians, but I disagree with his conclusion that the discussion needs to be limited merely to the weight of the competing arguments. The subject is already too politicized. When the tiny minority of climate scientists who deny climate change are mostly funded by a small number of billionaires on the far right, what you have is no longer an objective philosophical debate. There may still be an objective philosophical debate hidden in there somewhere, but it is far beneath the surface. In such an environment understanding the various subterranean motivations on all sides is vital. Creationism shouldn’t be given equal time in science classes and neither should Oil Industry propaganda.

  19. s. wallerstein


    I agree that creationism shouldn’t be given equal time in science classes, but this isn’t a science class. It’s a philosophy blog. There’s no reason, for example, why intelligent design shouldn’t be debated in a philosophy blog or class.

  20. Kyle,

    I’m in the UK but have participated on this site and elsewhere in discussions with English-speakers from all over the world on ‘climate change’ topics and haven’t yet come across the phenomenon of folk ceasing to use the value-laden term ‘denialist,’ walked away from the dictionary definition of ‘denier’ and started using it in place of what we already have a perfectly good and ‘current’ term for. If that’s what has occurred in your circles that seems a pity but you shouldn’t infer that this has happened outside of them.

    I try to refrain from using the word ‘denialist’ – and would suggest you stop using the word ‘denier’ with the intent of meaning ‘denialist’ – because the inference that somebody hasn’t just happened to come to the wrong conclusions given what information they have been exposed to but is in fact in a state of ‘denial’ about reality is a strong (psychological) claim that is seldom justified and, in the absence of very good warrant, is uncharitable as well as insulting enough to preclude useful debate with those with whom you are in dispute.

    I see Rupert didn’t use the term ‘denialist’ but he may as well have.

  21. Jim P Houston


    I appreciate your appreciation :razz: (though perhaps you meant Jim T?)

    As I said earlier there are perfectly legitimate sociological/psychological questions one can ask about why folk believe x. In such contexts whether x is true or not is no answer to those types of questions and one can ask exactly the same questions about why folk believe in ‘AGW Catastrophism’ as we can ask about why folk disbelieve in it.

    In my opinion such discussions should be conducted separately from discussions about whether x is or is not true and, I certainly think, if one wants to be both responsible and productive one should keep such theorising free from claims about x being obviously true or false.

    In principle a responsible theist or atheist could look into the question of what causes people to believe other than they themselves do but though perhaps they ought to declare their own position (a matter of declaring ‘interests’ as it were) their own opinion shouldn’t ‘seethe’ through the thesis.

    One should also be wary of the genetic fallacy – that y causes folk to believe x is no argument against x actually being true.

    There are vested interests on the part of those who publically go along with the ‘consensus’ view on AGW. If we want to start playing the game of ‘look at who is funding them/what are they gaining’ climate ‘deniers’ of various stripes can quite reasonably answer back with similar claims. I don’t think it productive to engage in that.


    My view regarding AGW, for what it is worth, is that it is something that only climate scientists and a few others in related fields who are in any position to make a judgement about.

    Philosophers or politicians, in my view, typically are no more qualified to make a diagnoses and prognosis about the climate than they are about a cancer. All they can do, in my opinion, is point out that it is rational to believe what the vast majority of relevant experts believe about a topic *in their field* (whether that field is climatology or oncology).

    With the exception of climate scientists (or those in related fields) I don’t think there are very many people who could be qualified to hold a dissenting opinion about AGW (even if the consensus view turned out to be wrong). But I don’t think one should assume at the outset of any given conversation that a disbeliever in ‘AGW’ hasn’t earned his opinion.

    And what I would concede to the ‘sceptics’ is that if they want to say that climate science is a matter of making educated guesses they may well have a point, and if they want to say that climate scientists have no particular competence when it comes to the question of what we should actually do about AGW they most certainly do.

  22. Jim P Houston

    To access the pay-walled content of Rupert’s link to Jamie Whyte’s WSJ article you can go here:

  23. Jim P Houston

    [Whether the content shows Whyte is in denial about reality because he just can’t deal with ‘an inconvenient truth’ is, of course, a rather different matter.]

  24. None of these criticisms of libertarianism apply to the libertarian economist, David Friedman. His libertarianism is consequentialist and ultimately based on utilitarianism. On his blog, he argues that there is no empirical evidence that the net costs of climate change will exceed the net benefits.

  25. Jim, it must be a US thing. Here, for example, nation wide news outlets, such as newspapers, magazines, radio, and TV, all refer to “holocaust deniers” and have for decades.

    I’ll try to make the switch. Here, those so described complain that the term is being used deliberately to draw comparisons to “holocaust deniers”.

  26. Jim P Houston

    Hi Kyle,

    Thinking about it talking about ‘deniers’ given the connotations probably isn’t helpful.


  27. I reserve the term for those truly in denial. They tend to make it very obvious. When they refuse to acknowledge fallacious reasoning when it’s revealed, repeat an error immediately after it was unequivocally debunked, etc., you know you’re not dealing with the merely misinformed.

  28. Jim P Houston

    Some of my last (now self-deleted) remarks weren’t particularly courteous or constructive and for that I apologise to our author. I should think he has earned his right to an opinion on the reality of AGW and the harms it will cause. Clearly I’m not convinced about the warrant and utility of pathologising those who take a contrary or more ‘sceptical’ view but that sentiment can, of course, be expressed in more courteous and constructive terms than those used.

  29. Native Americans spoke of a cleansing of the earth; “global warming” could be perceived as nature-based; that it may be time for Mother Nature to do some housecleaning. There have always been partial dissolutions and it is likely there will be more before the current race of humans have the wherewithal to deal with the problem.

    There is the notion that predestination takes care of everything; ‘an invisible hand’ carrying in its wake unfettered selfishness, which predestination supposedly allows. It is strange to use absolutes to justify selfish behavior. Maybe a cleansing of the mind is also necessary. Principles that strive to untether the mind turn into ideologies. The will needs to be invigorated and returned to a pristine state.

    If it is the case ‘that we cannot step into the same river twice’ problems should be approached taking what is relative into account. In considering “global warming” or any problem, judicious action appears to have the greater merit. And it is considered genius when it rises to the level of a true perception of reality.

    Changelessness underlying change is an interesting concept, Democritus may be right; otherwise to what is the world of relativity relative. While there may be disagreement over whether or not there is changelessness, it is the case that in the world of relativity there are no absolutes; truth in the relative sense is a moving target, not an ideology.

  30. Jim P Houston

    Hi Kyle,

    I see that Oxford dictionaries’ online entry on ‘denialist’ gives ‘denier’ as if it were a synonym in the US version but not the UK one.

    Both versions give ‘denier’ as ‘a person who denies something’ and that’s where the US version stops (though the examples are suggestive) whilst the UK version continues with “especially someone who refuses to admit the truth of a concept or proposition that is supported by the majority of scientific or historical evidence” (which is the definition of “denialist” in both versions).

    Indeed in both online versions the term ‘deny’ has the ‘1.1.’ meaning of ‘refuse to admit the truth of (a concept or proposition that is supported by the majority of scientific or historical evidence)’.

    The physical copy I possess (which is an edition last revised in 2006) has no mention of this usage but then it has no entry for ‘denialism’ either. A number of other more recent dictionaries (e.g. Collins) have entries for ‘denialist’ but don’t list usages of ‘deny’ or ‘denier’ synonymous with what is said of a ‘denialist’ though.

    So, although I could point to dictionaries to say I wasn’t using the word incorrectly – ‘denier’ still has the old meaning of one who asserts that something asserted is untrue – clearly you can point to dictionaries and reasonably say ‘denier’ (and indeed ‘deny’) have picked up meanings connected with ‘denialism’ and that ‘denier’ isn’t a helpful word to use if you don’t mean to imply ‘denialist’. (And as I’ve previously conceded you’re quite right about not using ‘denier’ where one means to be inclusive of those who merely doubt).

    Sorry for nor checking my facts before responding to you and indeed the tone of my previous comments.

  31. Dennis Sceviour

    Jim P Houston,
    How do you [self-edit] remarks? Is that a priviledge for registered authors?

  32. Jim P Houston

    I am a registered author.

  33. Jim P Houston

    Yes sorry it is yes. For some reason I read a ‘not’ where there isn’t one.

  34. I see Rupert is casting around for something to write about now the Jury is back in on Global warming..with a not guilty verdict.

  35. There is another group that claim freedom: the anarchists. I get the feeling that the difference is a naive form of social Darwinism.

    Libertarians like to speak of freedom a lot, but as they themselves like to say often: look at what they do, not what they they say.

    Libertarians complain about taxes and environmental regulations. Most of them do not complain about the size of the military or police, or about power abuse by the state or more powers for secret services. In fact a considerable part seem to be fans of Pinochet.

    If it was about freedom, the latter topics would at least be as important as taxes and global warming.

  36. The author has a lot of reading to do on libertarianism and economics if he wants his criticism to approach competency. We don’t object to social cooperation, we merely believe it should be voluntary. The state is nothing more than institutionalized force. It is a mafia with a better ideological garb thrown over it by sycophantic political commentators and court academics. These sycophants attempt to convince the public that the state must have thus and such control over their lives or unimaginable evils will occur. These are boogeyman.

    The author should, if competency is his goal, check out the Property and Environment Research Center and Walter Block on libertarian environmentalism.

  37. Where do my arguments go wrong? Though no one reading this blog-post would know it, I did give arguments for my AGW scepticism.

    Your speculations about my motives are irrelevant.

  38. Why Do Environmentalists Hate Liberty? » Climate Resistance - pingback on June 6, 2014 at 3:21 pm
  39. Paul Matthews

    There is a substantial response to this article by Ben Pile, “Why Do Environmentalists Hate Liberty?” (see pingback for link).

    Pile ruthlessly exposes Read’s woolly thinking, failure to understand libertarianism, failure to explain what he means by ‘denial’, and lack of self-awareness.

  40. If Anthropogenic global warming were real, why is there a need to falsify data to prove its existence?

    Global warming is just a scheme to set up a world “carbon credits exchange” whereby you take from one group of people and redistribute the wealth to people who “live greener”

    Why on earth you let politics influence and corrupt real, genuine climatology is shameful. Worse yet, you are whitewashing the fact that the earth is actually COOLING so now the “global warming” crowd is renaming itself the “climate change” crowd just to cover the 50/50 chance that the earth is temporarily in a cooling period.

    Why not protest the fact that the earth’s magnetic field occasionally reverses polarity? The earth has NEVER had a static climate EVER NOT A SINGLE CENTURY SINCE THE BIG BANG so why on earth should we libertarians trust the very same people people, parties, and ideologues we have caught red-handed falsifying data and lying straight to our faces?

    The earth, its climate, and in fact all of science is totally free to break from scientific consensus in case you make the argument that “99% of climatologists are in agreement.”

  41. Jowels McGee: “If Anthropogenic global warming were real, why is there a need to falsify data to prove its existence?”

    In the raw data the temperature increase since 1880 is 0.6°C per century, in the data where non-climatic changes have been (partially) removed, the temperature increase is 0.8°C per century.

    I happen to work on the quality of station measurements. Thus if you have any question about that 0.2°C difference, please shoot.

    Do you have any evidence for your claim that the data is “falsified”. That would be highly appreciated.

    Global warming is just a scheme to set up a world “carbon credits exchange” whereby you take from one group of people and redistribute the wealth to people who “live greener”

    Thanks for you honesty. That fits well to the title of this post: The real reason why libertarians become climate-deniers.

    Although a libertarian could also see it as a problem of property rights. You also do not have the right to dump your trash in your neighbors garden.

    Why on earth you let politics influence and corrupt real, genuine climatology is shameful. Worse yet, you are whitewashing the fact that the earth is actually COOLING so now the “global warming” crowd is renaming itself the “climate change” crowd just to cover the 50/50 chance that the earth is temporarily in a cooling period.

    Could you provide proof for the claim that the Earth is COOLING?

    Are not only the station temperature measurements wrong, but also the satellite measurements of RSS and UAH? Are the ice caps and the glaciers not melting? Is the ocean not warming? Do species not move towards to poles and up the mountains? Do plants not start blossoming earlier? Doesn’t the ice on natural rivers break earlier?

    Why not protest the fact that the earth’s magnetic field occasionally reverses polarity? The earth has NEVER had a static climate EVER NOT A SINGLE CENTURY SINCE THE BIG BANG so why on earth should we libertarians trust the very same people people, parties, and ideologues we have caught red-handed falsifying data and lying straight to our faces?

    Congratulations, that is the number one talking point of the people discussed in this post. The standard answer can be found here at Skeptical Science.

    The earth, its climate, and in fact all of science is totally free to break from scientific consensus in case you make the argument that “99% of climatologists are in agreement.”

    Yes, nature is free, you cannot negotiate with it, it does not change because we would like it to. I guess that is more of a problem for the kind of people discussed in this post.

  42. It is deceptive to refer to yourself as a skeptic. You are a denier; perhaps you would prefer “denialist”. Words have meaning. You may actually think you’re a skeptic, but if you do, it’s only because you’ve been hoodwinked by the denial industry. That doesn’t let you off the hook though. In the information age, ignorance is a choice. If you truly believe that you’re a proper skeptic, you’ve had to employ vast amounts of confirmation bias to reach that conclusion.

  43. The real reason libertarians are climate change skeptics (I am not sure how anyone who accepts the reality of the ice ages can deny climate, or its changing nature) is very simple.

    They are people who place a value on thinking for themselves, on critical evaluation of evidence and who reject group-think.

    Now lest examine the real reason why philosophers join political parties and stand for election on a green agenda, and where that places the value of anything they have to say.

  44. Leo Smith: They are people who place a value on thinking for themselves

    That idea does not fit too well to the consensus among conservative Tea Party member that global warming is NOT due to humans. A consensus without scientific evidence sounds a lot more like group-think to me than one with evidence.

  45. s. wallerstein

    What does it mean, if anything, to “think for yourself”?

    We all get our ideas from somewhere. Some of us are more creative about putting our ideas together in new combinations, but new combinations of ideas are not necessarily true.

    Even someone like Descartes who claims to reject all his ideas and to start from zero does not really start from zero, but relies on hundreds or thousands of assumptions about the world which come from the language he uses and from the zeitgeist of his era.

    At times I am unaware of where my new ideas come from, but when I examine them, I generally find that they are the product of my culture, my education, my social class, my upbringing, the current zeitgeist, etc.

    So I genuinely do not understand what it means that libertarians think for themselves.

  46. hi Jamie!
    Thanks for joining us.

    Of course you gave arguments for your ‘scepticism’ (sic.). Just like the tobacco-lungcancer-deniallists give arguments — and the Holocaust-deniallists, for that matter…

    Sadly, my speculations about your motives are not irrelevant. E.g. “It is very difficult for a man to believe something when his salary depends on him not believing it”. More important: I would love it if you would engage with my argument on why in the end truth is an imposition on freedom. That’s the philosophical nub of my piece.

    BW, Rupert.

  47. Science deniers have a lot of bare assertions and conspiracy theories, but the only science they have is distortion and lies.

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