There are three types of climate change denier, and most of us are at least one


Iain Walker, University of Canberra and Zoe Leviston, Edith Cowan University

Last week, amid the cacophony of reactions to Greta Thunberg’s appearance before the United Nations Climate Action Summit, a group of self-proclaimed “prominent scientists” sent a registered letter to UN Secretary-General António Guterres. The letter, headed “There is no climate emergency”, urged Guterres to follow:

…a climate policy based on sound science, realistic economics and genuine concern for those harmed by costly but unnecessary attempts at mitigation.

The group, supported by 75 Australian business and industry figures, along with others around the world, obviously rejects the scientific consensus on climate change. But this missive displays remarkably different tactics to those previously used to stymie climate action.




Read more:
Climate explained: why some people still think climate change isn’t real


The language of climate change denial and inaction has transformed. Outright science denial has been replaced by efforts to reframe climate change as natural, and climate action as unwarranted.

However, this is just another way of rejecting the facts, and their implications for us. Denial can take many forms.

Shades of denial

The twin phenomena 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 analysing 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.

The first form of denial is literal denial. It is the simple, conscious, outright rejection that something happened or is happening – that is, lying. One Nation senators Pauline Hanson and Malcolm Roberts, among others, have at one time or another maintained this position – outright denial that climate change is happening (though Senator Hanson now might accept climate change but denies any human contribution to it).

Interestingly, former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull yesterday blamed “climate change deniers” in his own government for blocking any attempt to deal with climate change, resulting paradoxically in higher energy prices today.




Read more:
Misogyny, male rage and the words men use to describe Greta Thunberg


It is tempting to attribute outright denial to individual malice or stupidity, and that may occasionally be the case. More worrying and more insidious, though, is the social organisation of literal denial of climate change. There is plenty of evidence of clandestine, orchestrated lying by vested interests in industry. If anyone is looking for a conspiracy in climate change, this is it – not a collusion of thousands of scientists and major science organisations.

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. For example, one might say climate change is just a natural fluctuation or greenhouse gas accumulation is a consequence, not a cause, of rising temperatures. This is what we saw in last week’s letter to the UN.

The most insidious form of denial

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 minimised 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.

Of course, some are unable to respond, financially or otherwise, but for many, implicatory denial is a kind of dissociation. Ignoring the moral imperative to act is as damning a form of denial as any other, and arguably is much worse.

The treatment of Thunberg, and the vigour with which people push away reminders of that which they would rather not deal with, illustrate implicatory denial. We are almost all guilty, to some extent, of engaging in implicatory denial. In the case of climate change, implicatory denial allows us to use a reusable coffee cup, recycle our plastic or sometimes catch a bus, and thus to pretend to ourselves that we are doing our bit.

Almost none of us individually, or we as a nation, has acted as we ought on the science of climate change. But that does not mean we can’t change how we act in the future. Indeed, there are some recent indications that, as with literal denial, implicatory denial is becoming an increasingly untenable psychological position.

While it is tempting, and even cathartic, to mock the shrill responses to Thunberg from literal and interpretive deniers, we would do well to ponder our own inherent biases and irrational responses to climate change.

For instance, we tend to think we are doing more for the planet than those around us (and we can’t all be right). We also tend to think literal deniers are much more common in our society than they in fact are.




Read more:
Extinction Rebellion protesters might be annoying. But they have a point


These are just two examples of common strategies we use to deny our own responsibility and culpability. They make us feel better about what little we actually do, or congratulate us for accepting the science. But they are ultimately self-defeating delusions. Instead of congratulating ourselves on agreeing with the basic scientific facts of climate change, we need to push ourselves to action.The Conversation

Iain Walker, Professor of Psychology, University of Canberra and Zoe Leviston, Postdoctoral research fellow, Edith Cowan University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Climate explained: why some people still think climate change isn’t real



Even people who accept the science of climate change sometimes resist it because it clashes with their personal projects.
from http://www.shutterstock.com, CC BY-ND

David Hall, Auckland University of Technology


CC BY-ND

Climate Explained is a collaboration between The Conversation, Stuff and the New Zealand Science Media Centre to answer your questions about climate change.

If you have a question you’d like an expert to answer, please send it to climate.change@stuff.co.nz

Why do people still think climate change isn’t real?

At its heart, climate change denial is a conflict between facts and values. People deny the climate crisis because, to them, it just feels wrong.

As I’ve argued elsewhere, acknowledging climate change involves accepting certain facts. But being concerned about climate change involves connecting these facts to values. It involves building bridges between the science of climate change and peoples’ various causes, commitments and convictions.

Denial happens when climate science rubs us up the wrong way. Instead of making us want to arrest the climate crisis, it makes us resist the very thought of it, because the facts of anthropogenic global heating clash with our personal projects.

It could be that the idea of climate change is a threat to our worldview. Or it could be that we fear society’s response to climate change, the disruption created by the transition to a low-emissions economy. Either way, climate change becomes such an “inconvenient truth” that, instead of living with and acting upon our worries, we suppress the truth instead.




Read more:
Five climate change science misconceptions – debunked


Negating reality

Sigmund Freud and his daughter Anna were the great chroniclers of denial. Sigmund described this negation of reality as an active mental process, as “a way of taking cognisance of what is repressed”. This fleeting comprehension is what distinguishes denial from ignorance, misunderstanding or sheer disbelief. Climate change denial involves glimpsing the horrible reality, but defending oneself against it.

Contemporary social psychologists tend to talk about this in terms of “motivated reasoning”. Because the facts of climate science are in conflict with people’s existing beliefs and values, they reason around the facts.

When this happens – as social psychologist Jonathan Haidt memorably put it – they aren’t reasoning in the careful manner of a judge who impartially weighs up all the evidence. Instead, they’re reasoning in the manner of a defence lawyer who clutches for post hoc rationalisations to defend an initial gut instinct. This is why brow-beating deniers with further climate science is unlikely to succeed: their faculty of reason is motivated to defend itself from revising its beliefs.

A large and growing empirical literature is exploring what drives denial. Personality is a factor: people are more likely to deny climate change if they’re inclined toward hierarchy and against changes to the status quo. Demographic factors also show an effect. Internationally, people who are less educated, older and more religious tend to discount climate change, with sex and income having a smaller effect.




Read more:
Climate explained: Why are climate change skeptics often right-wing conservatives?


But the strongest predictor is one’s politics. An international synthesis of existing studies found that values, ideologies and political allegiances overshadowed other factors. In Western societies, political affiliation is the key factor, with conservative voters more likely to discount climate change. Globally, a person’s commitment to democratic values – or not in the case of deniers – is more significant.

This sheds light on another side of the story. Psychology can contribute to explaining a person’s politics, but politics cannot be entirely explained by psychology. So too for denial.

The politics of denial

As the sociologist Stanley Cohen noted in his classic study of denial, there is an important distinction between denial that is personal and psychological, and denial that is institutional and organised. The former involves people who deny the facts to themselves, but the latter involves the denial of facts to others, even when these “merchants of doubt” know the truth very well.

It is well established that fossil fuel companies have long known about climate change, yet sought to frustrate wider public understanding. A comprehensive analysis of documentations from ExxonMobil found that, since 1977, the company has internally acknowledged climate change through the publications of its scientists, even while it publicly promoted doubt through paid advertorials. The fossil fuel industry has also invested heavily in conservative foundations and think tanks that promote contrarian scientists and improbable spins on the science.

All this is rich manure for personal denial. When a person’s motivated reasoning is on the hunt for excuses, there is an industry ready to supply them. Social media offers further opportunities for spreading disinformation. For example, a recent analysis of anonymised YouTube searches found that videos supporting the scientific consensus on climate change were outnumbered by those that didn’t.

Undoing denial

In sum, denial is repressed knowledge. For climate change, this repression occurs at both the psychological level and social level, with the latter providing fodder for the former. This is a dismal scenario, but it shines some light on the way forward.

On the one hand, it reminds us that deniers are capable of acknowledging the science – at some level, they already do – even though they struggle to embrace the practical and ethical implications. Consequently, climate communications may do well to appeal to more diverse values, particularly those values held by the deniers themselves.

Experiments have shown that, if the risks and realities of climate change are reframed as opportunities for community relationship building and societal development, then deniers can shift their views. Similarly, in the US context, appealing to conservative values like patriotism, obeying authority and defending the purity of nature can encourage conservatives to support pro-environmental actions.

On the other hand, not all deniers will be convinced. Some downplay and discount climate change precisely because they recognise that the low-emissions transition will adversely impact their interests. A bombardment of further facts and framings is unlikely to move them.

What will make a difference is the power of the people – through regulation, divestment, consumer choice and public protest. Public surveys emphasise that, throughout the world, deniers are in the minority. The worried majority doesn’t need to win over everyone in order to win on climate change.The Conversation

David Hall, Senior Researcher in Politics, Auckland University of Technology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.