Denialism and the ‘Scientific Consensus': Naomi Oreskes’ Attacks on Nuclear Energy and GMOs Expose Deep Divide Among Environmentalists


“We can think of scientific knowledge as a consensus of experts.”
–Naomi Oreskes

“There is a tendency among public intellectuals who are entirely reasonable in some areas to descend into the promotion of pseudoscience in others.
–Debunking Denialism, on Oreskes

Climate change scientists and journalists are still boiling over Naomi Oreskes’ denialism accusation.

In the wake of the global Paris summit in December, the Harvard historian wrote an article for The Guardian in which she chastised four eminent scientists, including former NASA chief scientist James Hanson, for being “climate denialists.”

Why? Because, she said, they drew public attention to the consensus science view on nuclear power–that it could play a key role as a green alternative to fossil fuels because of the still limited potential of alternative energy–a perspective heretical to old school environmentalists.

“There is also a new, strange form of denial that has appeared on the landscape of late, one that says that renewable sources can’t meet our energy needs,” she wrote.

It was a catalyzing moment, for it drew a unique line in the sand, dramatizing a critical divide in the climate change movement and a sharp split in the environmental community on a host of issues.

“It’s like liberals attacking Bernie Sanders for not being liberal enough,” noted scientist James Conca, writing for Forbes.

On one side are what are often being called the ecomodernists–liberal scientists and activists like Hansen and philanthropist Bill Gates who put pragmatism and cost-benefit analysis ahead of ideology. Pushing back are old school environmentalists–Naomi Oreskes, Jim Green, Alan Jeffery and Paul Ehrlich, among others, who are deeply suspicious of the role of modern technology to address environmental challenges such as climate change; new energy extraction techniques such as fracking; or global food security–the GMO —> Read More