Motivation, Rejection Of (Climate) Science, Causes, Tools and Effects

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If you missed last month’s lecture at Bath University on the psychology of Climate Change denial by Professor Stephan Lewandowsky of Bristol University, it’s now available online in video form along with the slides– here.

If you have been curious why some people continue to deny climate change science, then this lecture provides lots of insight into the subject and is well worth watching.

Some brief notes taken from the lecture:

  • 97% of climate scientists are in agreement than man is causing climate change
  • Prof Lewandowsky made an important distinction between sceptics and denialists; all scientists are sceptics, in that they question the scientific literature, but many denialists call themselves sceptics
  • He divided denialists arguments against climate change into 5 main areas:
    • Fake experts
    • Logical Failures
    • Impossible Expectations
    • Cherry Picking
    • Conspiracy Theories
  • A good example of Cherry Picking might be to find two points of the graph above of global temperature rises to prove that global cooling was actually taking place
  • He has also carried out some interesting physiological experiments to isolate the subject from the statistical data, by asking mathematicians and statisticians to comment on contrarians interpretations of climate data, by for example translating artic sea ice extent data into the performance of a company, asking for comments on a company’s performance without telling the subjects that they are actually commenting on sea ice – in an attempt to isolate bias
  • We drew very strong comparisons with the relationship between tobacco and cancer in the 1980s, and how in the same way denialists, who consumed cherry picked/fake reports produced by tobacco companies to ‘prove’ there wasn’t a causal link. And how now although the science isn’t disputed, the argument is now largely about individual freedoms.
  • He also demonstrated a strong correlation between free market libertarians and contrarians, stating that almost all libertarians were contrarians
  • He provided some interesting statistics on the correlation between views on climate change and a person’s level of education in the US:
    • For Republicans, the more educated you were, the more likely you are to deny climate change science
    • For Democrats the converse is true

One possible explanation is that perhaps Libertarian views might be influencing educated Republicans?

  • Ultimately for things to change he felt that you need a greater percentage of the public to believe in climate change and as with tobacco this would then lead to the needed policy change. At the moment only 67% of Americans think there is a scientific consensus on climate change, despite 97+% of scientists being in agreement. This figure needs to increase before policy will change
  • When asked whether he thought it was worth trying to persuade denialists of the fallacies in their argument he said not, because a. it would make little difference and b. your time is between spent on persuading those currently undecided and increase the 67% consensus above
  • When asked about whether educated republicans really did not believe in climate change, he said they probably did believe in it, but it was convenient for them to promote the opposite view, so that they could maintain their current lifestyles.
  • As interesting test he promoted was to ask them to bet on next year’s weather statistics, e.g. is next year going to be warmer than this year? To date he hasn’t had any acceptances for this bet from deniers, which he suggests they don’t really believe in their own denial arguments
  • He was asked what has changed recently. He said that the media is now less interested in ‘falling for’ climate sceptic science
  • He also said people’s personal experiences e.g. the recent flooding in Somerset are making people believe more in the science of climate change
  • But he said there had recently been a shift to ‘Luke Warmism’, so now that Exxon is struggling to win the argument over the science, they are shifting to selling fracking (natural gas produces lower emissions than coal) as a ‘solution’ – rather than renewables
  • He was again asked what the way forward was, and he said targeting those ‘sitting on the fence’ was the best way of eventually forcing a stronger policy shift

Update (5th April 2016): The Guardian has an interesting article on a similar subject – “The similarities between Trump support and climate denial