THE TWIN PHENOMENON of denial and inaction are related to one another, at least in the context of climate change. They are also complex, both in the general sense of “complicated and intricate,” and in the technical psychological sense of “a group of repressed feelings and anxieties which together result in abnormal behaviour.”
In his book States of Denial, the late psychoanalytic sociologist Stanley Cohen described three forms of denial. Although his framework was developed from analyzing genocide and other atrocities, it applies just as well to our individual and collective inaction in the face of the overwhelming scientific evidence of human-induced climate change.
Cartoon by Justin Bilicki.
1. The first form of denial is literal denial. It is the simple, conscious, outright rejection that something happened or is happening—that is, lying. 1
2. The second form of denial is interpretive denial. Here, people do not contest the facts but interpret them in ways that distort their meaning or importance. 2
3. The third and most insidious form is implicatory denial. The facts of climate change are not denied, nor are they interpreted to be something else. What is denied or minimized are the psychological, political, and moral implications of the facts for us. We fail to accept responsibility for responding; we fail to act when the information says we should. 3
The paragraphs above were lifted from “There Are Three Types of Climate Change Denier—and Most of Us Are at Least One” by Iain Walker and Zoe Leviston (
To read the article in its entirety, click HERE.
1 The word literal means “adhering to fact or to the ordinary construction or primary meaning of a term or expression” and “free from exaggeration or embellishment.” (Merriam-Webster) This word is being misused with alarming frequency among younger readers.
2 I hope we all know what interpretive means.
3 The word implicatory is derived from imply, which means “to involve or indicate by inference, association, or necessary consequence rather than by direct statement.” (Merriam-Webster) The term implicatory denial seems a tad awkward.