Sunday, October 11, 2015

Denial101x: The Psychology and Spread of Climate Change Denial

Denial101x: The Psychology and Spread of Climate Change Denial

Naomi Oreskes reiterates the themes of Merchants of Doubt (2010), "If I have one message that's what my message has been all along and it still is: this is not a scientific debate; it's a political debate. But it's a political debate being made to look like a scientific debate." The question is why hasn't that message permeated the political cultures of western societies deeply enough to provoke substantial fossil fuel emissions cutbacks? Increasingly, the science of climate change has been known for decades (even Exxon has known since 1977) yet inaction or inept commitments to future action appear to have delayed mitigation to perhaps too little and too late. 

Oreskes and many others demonstrate through evidence based research that the problems are not a lack of access to information. Rather the implications of climate impacts are unfavourable to the many businesses primarily responsible for these ever increasing emissions. Those most responsible reject greater regulations and government actions required to mitigate climate change. Researchers have found that the largest correlating factor to climate change denial is ideology or political affiliations which support free market economics or laissez faire, and less democratic government. Those most adamant in climate change denial appear all pillars of the right wing or conservative world view.

Contributors present the case that the conservative media, thought leadership and politicians are all a magnified minority arguing from the top of an ideology. They are all saying that climate change is not an issue and will find a minority of scientists among the remaining 3% who are more or less inclined to agree with them. The question then becomes, "Why is a small yet vocal and heavily status quo invested magnified minority denying the science of climate change? 

Greater democratic government oversight and carbon pollution controls will reduce the power and authority of the ideological right. These actors have sought to minimize the roles of democratic government in an economic system that appears not to know how to turn the fossil fuel taps off. The psychological and social ideological positioning has attempted to find a role for politicians in science where there is none and made a political debate out of the issues of climate change. This magnified minority has perpetuated inaction and demeaning, devaluing and discrediting the scientific evidence and global scientific consensus that climate change is real and CO2 emissions are heavily contributing to it.  

Spread of Climate Change Denial

John Cook reveals that the fossil fuel industry is borrowing tactics from the tobacco industry to curry doubt as the product with, "the best means of neutralizing scientific evidence." Three psychological methods of perpetuating and maintaining doubt regarding the 97% agreed scientific consensus include: a) casting doubt on evidence through misrepresenting, cherry-picking, falsifying or proposing conspiracy theories b)casting doubt upon researchers through personal or professional attacks through abusive emails, disruptive freedom of information requests or blogs and c) casting doubt upon scientific consensus. All of these interfere with the urgency for action to impede the general public from gaining awareness that there is scientific consensus on global climate change. Climate change denial reduces the freedom of scientists to conduct and communicate their results.  The principles of academic freedom are therefore subjected to academic censorship and the underestimation of climate change impacts found in reports such as the IPCC are an attempt to reduce hostile public responses. 

It seems the public is tired of hearing about the less than optimistic climate change impacts on the horizon. The Merchants of Doubt have done their work extremely well and almost no preparations seem to be apparent that will adequately minimize climate change impacts as a result. These "Dragons of Inaction" are described as: 
  • discounting of climate change impacts in distant places in the future
  • dynamic overconfidence or excessive optimism in assessing climate risks
  • pessimism that an individual can do nothing (can't even take a course on the topic?)
  • behavioural group-think not doing their part is status quo response (why be different?)
  • insignificant actions such as token recycling and bulb changing (I'm alright Jack)
  • false political perception of a scientific debate on the topic and consensus gap 
  • perceptions of climate change concerns and beliefs based on ideology not science

For example, large media networks indicate climate change topics generate zero ratings so sneak the topic into other formats to attempt to inform public. Large fossil fuel companies like Exxon have had scientific evidence that supports the consensus world view yet actively campaigned to suppress and undermine the scientific consensus on global climate change since as early as 1977. The far too numerous climate change denial campaigns over the past few decades can repeatedly be traced to, "dark money." 

A few general links to recent posts on climate denial misinformation campaigns:
Breaking through: producers warm up to climate change stories (Oct., 2015) Read more:
Dark Money Funds Climate Change Denial Effort (December, 2013)

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