01/16/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Global Warming Deniers: The New 9/11 Truthers

There is a resounding similarity between deniers of anthropogenic global warming and 9/11 Truthers: the refusal to let facts and reason get in the way of a preconceived, unfounded conclusion. The science remains uncertain, the naysayers say, even though their claims have been thoroughly debunked and the consensus is overwhelming among just about every known scientific institution on the planet. Virtually all have urged immediate and decisive action led by governments to help contain the problem.

There are a few brands of global warming deniers. The first is the free-market fanatics. In the minds of these McCarthy-lites, nothing, absolutely nothing, can get in the way of unscathed market freedom, and any reality-based phenomenon that warrants a moderating approach (such as rising inequality, growing poverty and now global warming) is a ploy pushed by Soviet-sympathizing communists who hate freedom. Their fetish for unadulterated capitalism precludes comprehending that a melting planet would indeed be worse than market-based reforms to promote green technologies.

The second brand is the unhinged "skeptics," who think the IPCC, the international scientific community, and every major government other than the Bush administration is perpetrating a conspiracy of earthly proportions. According to them, world leaders and renowned scientists regularly hold secret meetings in a smoke-filled room where they discuss how to perpetuate the scam. Why would they do such a thing? You'll have to grab some popcorn and ask the "skeptics."

The substance that inflames these dissenters is spewed primarily by fossil fuel executives and lobbyists, whose pursuit of wealth and power necessitates peddling fallacies. They've put forth large swaths of money and dedicated careers to marketing the viewpoint that global warming is a dubious theory. They've cleverly manufactured the opinion that this phenomenon is merely a liberal power-grab, which has motivated facts-optional right-wing partisans to reject it on impulse and latch onto the science-fiction that disputes it. It's a pity, because it seems as though the survival of our planet would be a fairly bipartisan issue.

The analytical approach of modern global warming dissenters shares remarkable common ground with that of 9/11 Truthers, who still believe George W. Bush brought down the twin towers. Both groups have a soft spot for conspiracy theories, and are convinced that they possess a special gift that affords them a uniquely superior grasp of reality. Facts and evidence are muffled by their messianic quest to inform society of its delusions and intellectual inadequacies.

It's interesting that these "skeptics" are without any scientific argument, and instead rely on fantasies of alleged uncertainties. But the theory behind this phenomenon is as robust as any: atmospheric greenhouse gases, which are compounded by activities such as deforestation and the burning of fossil fuels, have a warming impact on the planet as they absorb infrared radiation produced by the earth's atmosphere. This is the undisputed greenhouse effect, the modern extent of which is inextricably linked to human activity. So, on what scientific basis might one argue that human activity isn't exacerbating climate change? From increasingly severe wildfires and hurricanes to rising sea levels and melting ice caps, all of which are accelerating in the industrial age, the evidence is unequivocal.

Christopher Hitchens, a genuine skeptic, accepts that even if the science of human-caused global warming is uncertain, "we should act as if it is" certain, because "we don't have another planet on which to run the experiment." Hitchens argues that if humans turned out not to be contributing to global warming, we would merely have made a "mistake in analysis, which we could correct from," whereas if the doubters were wrong, inaction "would lead to disaster." This illustrates the difference between honest skepticism and zealotry.

Global warming deniers continue to make waves, just as 9/11 Truthers do. The latter have been written off and are irrelevant to the political debate. The former will soon join the club. They'll go down in the history books alongside the many who doubted that the earth was round until well after the science had been made obvious. They'll be mentioned in the same chapter as those who continue to doubt evolution to this day.

Or maybe there won't be a chapter because humanity never made it that far.