Climate change denialists are not skeptics no matter how much they try to make that claim. If they were skepticists they would probably be scientists, not denialists. Scientists are skeptics. They practice skepticism as part of the scientific process.
Scientists as skeptics seek evidence, proof of theories and, even then, they always leave the door of possible doubt at least somewhat open, just in case. Hence, gravity still remains a theory in the realm of science. It's a theory with a very high probability that it's right. The theory of anthropogenic global warming also has a very high probability that it's right. The theory of global warming, although relatively new (a century perhaps), has been steadily progressing in probability over the past three decades and is now well past 97%.
Denialists are like those other wackjobs, religious fundamentalists, who aren't concerned with knowledge, evidence, facts and proof. They substitute belief for those things. Faith trumps all. Reality, to them, is whatever they're told to believe it is.
Denialists are the dupes of powerful people and industries that cannot refute climate science and so instead seek to corrode the consensus with a cacophony of noise. If these powerful people and industries could use science to come up with evidence, facts and research undermining the theory of anthropogenic global warming they would do it in a heartbeat because, for them, trillions of dollars hangs in the balance. They have all the money in the world, they have the political classes "captured" and all they need is science that unravels the existing scientific consensus. Don't think they haven't explored those options and don't think their decision to go the denialism route isn't an act of surrender to the scientific consensus.
Oxford physicist David Robert Grimes explores how denialists have moved into the top ranks of today's decision makers.
The nay-sayers insist loudly that they're "climate sceptics", but this is a calculated misnomer – scientific scepticism is the method of investigating whether a particular hypothesis is supported by the evidence. Climate sceptics, by contrast, persist in ignoring empirical evidence that renders their position untenable. This isn't scepticism, it's unadulterated denialism, the very antithesis of critical thought.
Were climate change denialism confined solely to the foaming comment threads of the internet it would be bad enough, but this is not the case – publications such as the Daily Mail, Wall Street Journal and other Murdoch publications give editorial support to this view. Worse still, a depressingly large number of denialists hold office around the world. Australia's Tony Abbot decreed climate change to be "a load of crap", and a sizable chunk of the US Republican Party declare it a fiction. Even in the UK, spending on climate change countermeasures has halved under the environment secretary Owen Paterson, who doubts the reality of anthropogenic climate change, despite the fact the vast majority of scientists say unequivocally that the smoking gun is in our hands.
It should be no surprise that the voters and politicians opposed to climate change tend to be of a conservative bent, keen to support free-market ideology. This is part of a phenomenon known as motivated reasoning, where instead of evidence being evaluated critically, it is deliberately interpreted in such a way as to reaffirm a pre-existing belief, demanding impossibly stringent examination of unwelcome evidence while accepting uncritically even the flimsiest information that suits one's needs.
The great psychologist Leon Festinger observed in 1956 that "a man with a conviction is a hard man to change. Tell him you disagree and he turns away. Show him facts or figures and he questions your sources. Appeal to logic and he fails to see your point." This is the essence of the problem, and sadly, Festinger's words ring true today: the conviction of humans is all too often impervious to the very evidence in front of them.
Motivated reasoning is not solely the preserve of conservatives. While nuclear power has been recognised by the IPCC as important in reducing carbon dioxide emissions, staunch and uninformed opposition to nuclear power arises often from the liberal aisle. In the furore over the Fukushima nuclear disaster (which has claimed no lives and probably never will) many environmentalists lost sight of the fact that it was a natural disaster, very possibly exacerbated by climate change, that cost thousands of lives. Instead, they've rushed to condemn nuclear power plants.
...Nor is there any inherent contradiction in an environmentalist being in favour of nuclear power – George Monbiot, Mark Lynas and James Lovelock have written eloquently on the importance of nuclear power in mitigating the ravages of climate change.
If we truly wish to avoid catastrophe, we must be pragmatic and take action. Ideological differences need to take a back seat if decisive action is to be taken. When one's house is on fire, the immediate priority should be putting the flames out, not squabbling about the insurance. Let us hope we realise this before it's too late.