Sorry climate deniers, anti-vaxxers and alt right supporters, reality bites

Businessman with head stuck in sand at the beach

What do climate deniers, anti-vaxxers and alt right supporters all have in common?

They are desperate to recuse themselves from reality, but reality bites.

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Climate deniers and anti-vaxxers chortle with delight when they place their collective heads in the sand; their joy comes from recusing themselves from reality, but reality bites.[/pullquote]

Politicians in the state of Florida banned the use of the words “climate change” in official documents from its Department of Environmental Protection:

DEP officials have been ordered not to use the term “climate change” or “global warming” in any official communications, emails, or reports, according to former DEP employees, consultants, volunteers and records obtained by the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting…

“We were told not to use the terms ‘climate change,’ ‘global warming’ or ‘sustainability,’ ” said Christopher Byrd, an attorney with the DEP’s Office of General Counsel in Tallahassee from 2008 to 2013. “That message was communicated to me and my colleagues by our superiors in the Office of General Counsel.”

That is about as effective as King Canute’s command to stop the tides.

Canute set his throne by the sea shore and commanded the incoming tide to halt and not wet his feet and robes. Yet “continuing to rise as usual [the tide] dashed over his feet and legs without respect to his royal person. Then the king leapt backwards, saying: ‘Let all men know how empty and worthless is the power of kings, for there is none worthy of the name, but He whom heaven, earth, and sea obey by eternal laws.'”

Even back in the 11th Century, Canute realized that reality bites. No amount of commanding the tides was effective in stopping them just as no amount of banning the words climate change is going to stop large amounts of Florida from being claimed by rising sea levels.

So what’s going on here?

A disconnect between its political choices and climate reality is all too familiar in the Sunshine State. Florida’s newly re-elected U.S. senator, Marco Rubio, and its two-term governor, Rick Scott, are both climate-change dodgers. They shrug off the science that indicates 1 in 8 houses in their state will be lost to rising seas by the end of the century…

Meanwhile, an octopus swam into a Miami Beach parking garage in November during one of the city’s periodic “sunny day floods.” Massive sewer spills are poisoning Tampa Bay as local storms worsen. And beaches and shoreline are rapidly disappearing along the southeast Atlantic coast, where sea level rise is accelerating from 8 inches over the last century to a conservatively projected 3 feet by the end of this one…

Many Floridians imagine they can recuse themselves from the reality of climate change, but reality bites.

Anti-vaxxers in Italy have promoted fears about vaccination claiming (with no scientific evidence) that the risks outweigh the benefits because vaccines don’t work and the diseases they prevent aren’t so bad anyway.


In an update on the measles outbreak in Italy, since the beginning of the year through the end of April, 1,920 cases have been reported, according to Italian health officials.

One-third of the cases had at least one complication with diarrhea, stomatitis, conjunctivitis and pneumonia being the most common.

Nine out of 10 cases were fully unvaccinated and 176 cases were reported among health care workers and some nosocomial outbreaks have been reported…

Anti-vaxxers imagined they could recuse themselves from the reality of vaccine preventable disease, but reality bites.

Donald Trump is the apotheosis of recusing yourself from reality. He constantly vomits forth a barrage of lies, nearly all of which involve simple, but wrong explanations for complex problems and advocate simple, but wrong solutions that will never work. Trump is hardly alone. Brexit supporters in the UK, as well as Le Pen supporters in France also subscribe to the belief that they can change reality by pretending it doesn’t exist.

There has been a lot of discussion about the reason for the resurgence of alt right populism. Many have pointed out that a lack of education is a key factor. In my view, that’s probably just a proxy for the real difference. Most voters accept reality even when it is unpleasant; alt right voters insist on recusing themselves from reality, but reality bites.

It’s almost as if climate deniers, anti-vaxxers and alt right supporters are engaging in a massive game of “hide and seek.” Babies chortle with delight when they play because they believe that when they cannot see you, you cease to exist. The joy comes from the “power” of making things disappear. Climate deniers, anti-vaxxers and alt right supporters chortle with delight when they place their collective heads in the sand; their joy comes from recusing themselves from reality, but reality bites.

Why do some people imagine that they can recuse themselves from reality? Because social media enables them to do so. Facebook and Twitter (as well as old fashioned cable news) has allowed them create a carefully curated faux “reality” and then lash out at those who dare to point out that it isn’t reality at all. The rise of climate denial, anti-vax, and alt right populism reflect the effort to force that faux “reality” down others’ throats often through the power of the ballot box.

But as King Canute demonstrated 1000 years ago, such efforts are doomed to failure. The only remaining issue is how long it will take (and how many people will be harmed in the process) for those angrily recusing themselves from reality to acknowledge that reality bites.