Scientific denial refers to a partial or total questioning of the main premises of scientific consensus: that climate change exists, that its causes are human-driven, that it is the most important challenge facing humanity, and that something can be done about it and we have the moral obligation to do it.
Other terms have been used to refer to this behaviour such as scepticism, contrarianism or climate countermovements. Scepticism (Jacques, Dunlap, & Freeman, 2008) is the term those actively involved in challenging climate science usually apply to themselves. However, it is semantically problematic since scepticism has traditionally played an important role in science, whereas the so-called climate sceptics do not appear to comply with common standards of scientific scepticism given that the majority of them persistently deny evidence (Powell, 2011). Contrarianism is almost interchangeble with denialism, since it refers to those who challenge what they see as a false consensus in climate change (McCright, 2007). Climate countermovements refers to the individuals and organizations that not only deny or contradict scientific evidence but advocate against government policies that attempt to take substantive action to mitigate climate change (Boykoff & Olson, 2014; Brulle, 2014).
Denialism, on the other hand, is the term preferred by the strongest critics of the phenomenon, like NGOs and critical scholars, to refer to organizations that have attempted to undermine and obstruct the scientific consensus around climate change or policy solutions to climate change, arguing against the recommendations of the scientific community that countries must act urgently to reduce carbon pollution (Greenpeace, 2013). Dunlap (2013) has described the “denial machine” as a coalition of interests made up of conservative think tanks, front groups established by the fossil fuels industry, contrarian scientists, conservative politicians and conservative media (joined since the mid 2000s by bloggers).
Boykoff, M. T. & Olson, S.K. (2013). ‘Wise contrarians’: a keystone species in contemporary climate science, politics and policy. Celebrity Studies, 4(3). 276-291.
Brulle, R. J. (2014). Institutionalizing delay: foundation funding and the creation of U.S. climate change counter-movement organizations. Climatic Change, 122:681–694.
Dunlap, R.E. (2013). Climate Change Skepticism and Denial: An Introduction. American Behavioral Scientist, 57(6): 691-698.
Greenpeace (2013). Greenpeace Briefing. Donors Trust: The shadow operation that has laundered $146 million in climate-denial funding. Greenpeace: http://www.greenpeace.org/usa/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/DonorsTrust.pdf
Jacques, P. J., Dunlap, R. E., & Freeman, M. (2008). The organization of denial. Environmental Politics, 17, 349-385.
McCright, A.M (2007). Dealing with climate contrarians. In: S.C. Moser and L. Dilling, eds. Creating a climate for change: communicating climate change and facilitating social change. Cambridge, UK: Cambrdige University Press, 200-212.
Powell, J. L. (2011). The inquisition of climate science. New York, NY: Columbia University Press.