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Did 2021 Deal a Fatal Blow to Climate-Change Denial?

Did 2021 Deal a Fatal Blow to Climate-Change Denial?

Data and extreme weather events are making it harder than ever to ignore our warming world. But climate change denial has also taken on a new form.

From brutal heat in North America and Siberia to devastating flooding in China and Europe, 2021 delivered worsening climate extremes of the kind long predicted by scientists. Streetcar cables melted in Portland. A raging river swept away entire homes in Germany’s lush Ahr Valley wine region. And wildfires have set records across the globe in the past two years.

For many people, recent disasters have transformed human-caused climate change from a theoretical, far-off risk to an undeniable reality. And this summer, the United Nations dropped a landmark climate report, emphasizing that avoiding even worse impacts will require deep, rapid cuts in greenhouse gas pollution. But does that mean 2021 will be remembered as the year denial of climate change all but died?

At least one renowned environmental scientist believes so. “I think you have seen a seismic shift,” says Jonathon Foley, executive director of Project Drawdown, a non-profit that advances climate solutions. “Most of the conversation now is really more about what we should do, not denying whether or not climate change is happening.”

Other experts don’t go as far, saying denialism may be waning but is not yet dead. They also warn that promoters of climate denial now emphasize delaying action.

That said, even Harvard University science historian Naomi Oreskes, co-author of Merchants of Doubt, thinks something has shifted. Her 2010 book documented how politically motivated scientists teamed with corporate and other interests to cast doubt on the science of many issues, starting with tobacco and leading to global warming. Now, years later, she says, “This is a glass half-full, half-empty problem. There are certainly a lot of things to feel good about.”


Data and extreme weather events are making it harder than ever to ignore our warming world. But climate change denial has also taken on a new form.
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