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Climate Science Denial Explained: The Denial Personality

Posted on 24 April 2018 by DPiepgrass

Continued from Part 2

When it comes to pseudo-skeptic behavior and motives, I'm no expert, but I'd like to share my sense of the kinds of behavior they use based on my debates with them. I'm sure frequent readers of SkS have their own impressions and I'd be interested in hearing about them.

They come in many flavors, but they tend to have some attributes in common. The core characteristic I noticed in debates was this: they will not engage with facts they don’t like.

If you make a weak argument (or if they misunderstand your argument), they will attack it relentlessly. But if you make a clear case that their reasoning is fallacious, or give them data they can't explain away, they will not engage. They simply ignore it, as though you had said nothing at all. Instead they will change the subject. I suppose how it works is, their brains contain a mental model in the form of a network of interconnected facts, myths and fallacies. They can let go of one or two fallacies temporarily, because the network has many more myths ready to compensate for the loss of one or two. But if you get too close to demolishing their core belief, they must ignore you to protect it, ?like a Doctor Who perception filter.

Perhaps the key is that learning takes energy and deliberate effort, while ignoring is easy. If they make an effort to understand what you're saying, they risk overturning their own beliefs. Why should they bother? Their goal is to convince you, not to let you convince them. So they ignore you and push their narrative. If you do debate a pseudo-skeptic (and you shouldn’t until you spend some time studying the science and the myths), you’ll have to watch closely for the key arguments they have ignored, call them out on those, and spend little or no effort on the other points. It’s probably a bad habit that I tend to spend a lot of time doing research and write long responses; the longer it is, the easier it becomes to ignore you. Don’t waste your time. (Peter Hadfield suggests an easier approach, have a look.)

Here are some other characteristics I noticed:

  • They probably know more about climate science than you do, having learned from denial books or web sites. But they typically know less than I do, and far less than any climate scientist. Perhaps their greater knowledge?—?compared to random strangers on the internet?—?convinces them they know better than the experts.
  • They virtually never admit that they got anything wrong, not even little things. (If you spot someone admitting they were wrong about something, congrats! You may have stumbled upon a real skeptic!)
  • They tend to have a poor mental model of how the climate system works. After all, they are taught “models can’t be trusted,” even though all science is built on models of some sort. Instead they learn a list of stories, ideas and myths, and they debate mainly by repeating items on their list.
  • All political stripes can believe climate science, but vocal pseudo-skeptics are usually conservatives.
  • They think they are “scientific”. Some of them have an remarkable ability to sound sciencey.
  • They lack self-awareness. You’ll never hear them say “Okay, I know this might sound crazy, but those thousands of climate scientists are all wrong. I can’t blame you for agreeing with a supermajority, but if you’ll just hear me out, I will explain how I, a non-scientist, can be certain the contrarians are right. Just let me know if I’ve made some mistake in my reasoning here...”
  • Schoolyard irony may be an important defense mechanism. They take accusations often used against them, and toss them at detractors. They’ll say you’re in a “cult” or “religion” for believing humans cause warming, that you lie, fudge data, are “closed-minded”, etc. One guy called me a “denier” (in denial that it’s all a hoax) even though I had not called him a denier. In general you can expect attacks on your character even if you were careful not to attack them, yet these attacks will seem like plausible descriptions of the attacker. Similarly, they may dismiss talk of the scientific literature or consensus as “appeals to authority”, apparently oblivious to the authorities (Rush Limbaugh, Roy Spencer, and many others) upon which their own opinion is based. Last but not least, they’ll complain of “politicizing the science” while politicizing the science.
  • Lack of knowledge seems to satisfy them as a knowledge substitute?—?e.g. “I’ve not seen evidence for X, so I can safely assume X is false” or “I’ve not seen evidence against X, so I can safely assume X is true.” Like Lonnie against his doctor, missing knowledge somehow provides not merely hope, but great confidence that the experts are wrong.
  • While they avoid peddlers of fact such as SkepticalScience or NASA/NOAA, they can and do read such sites, or even IPCC reports, by raising protective shields in their brains. They’re only looking for flaws, and not really trying to understand the arguments presented.
  • They are not introspective: they’re not thinking about how they think. So they haven’t thought about the Dunning-Kruger effect, and confirmation bias is something that happens to other people. “Motivated reasoning? Not me! So what if I do? Everybody does it…”

    Unskilled and Unaware of it

  • They reject conventional risk management practices, i.e. “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. But they are specifically taught to reject the “precautionary principle” (PP), which can be stated loosely as “don’t do anything that could cause global financial ruin, or world war 3, or a mass extinction, even if there’s only a small chance that this will happen”. The PP is justified based on widely accepted concepts such as expected value, but pseudo-skeptics are taught that environmental regulations have been bad, and that these regulations are motivated by the PP, so therefore the PP should always be ignored.

History & Anchoring

Climate scientists know that the greenhouse effect, warming from CO2, and positive feedbacks were predicted in the 19th century based on fundamental physics, by prominent scientists like Joseph Fourier and Svante Arrhenius. Scientists considered the topic more closely in the 60s and 70s, predicting the earth would start to warm despite a slight cooling trend from 1945–1975. Early non-computer models (Manabe & Wetherald 1967Sawyer 1972) accurately predicted how much warming a 25% increase in CO2 would cause; later computer models gave similar results. Evidence from paleoclimatology provided indications of how strong the greenhouse effect might be, and this evidence from ancient history is used to help constrain the parameters of modern climate simulations and to check their accuracy.

The chains of reasoning that say humans cause warming were developed before much global warming actually happened, before the first computer models, before politicians got involved, before I was born, and long before the IPCC was formed in 1988. It explains a lot of things and has a lot of successful predictions.

So why do pseudo-skeptics think that one scientific-looking paper by a crank, or the difficulty of proving the tropospheric hot spot, demolishes decades of discoveries?

My guess is that it's a matter of the order in which they received the information. Humans tend to place more weight on information received earlier (anchoring plus confirmation bias). Climate change is not taught in most American schools, and pseudo-skeptics are usually unaware of the history of climate science, hearing instead myths and mythological histories where the IPCC came first and “corrupted” climate science. By the time they finally stumble upon the actual history and facts, it’s such a challenge to their worldview that they seek out excuses to ignore it.

For the same reason, young scientists who hear the correct history and information first, then hear the myths later, would find the latter ridiculous.

Why conservatives?

I don't have an entirely satisfactory answer, but here are some things to consider.

Upton Sinclair said, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!” Similarly, it is difficult to get a man to understand something if his political ideology depends on not understanding it.

Libertarian and free-market ideology has traditionally had difficulty dealing with negative externalities, as detailed in the non-libertarian FAQ; denial allows a person to simply ignore the limitations of their ideology. American conservatives in particular tend to distrust government, dislike regulations and hate taxes, so that any problem whose solution is a tax or a regulation naturally attracts distrust.

In the U.S. two-party system, the $1.7 trillion oil industry has been aligned with Republicans for decades, perhaps because environmentalists aligned with Democrats. Even so, Republicans used to be more likely to believe climate science. What changed? Was it that Democrats supported action against climate change, so Republicans had to oppose it?

Finally, letting go of denial could have major implications: losing faith in conservatives who told you it’s a “scam”, letting go of your pride, and losing connections to grassroots movements built upon denial. This might explain why denial continues even after the evidence became overwhelming.

Can their minds be changed?

Quartz article offers one perspective:

There’s one particular personality trait that underpins most of these other correlations: social dominance orientation […]: a measure of an individual’s acceptance of hierarchical power structures and inequality between social groups. Those who score high in surveys measuring social dominance orientation tend to see the world as an ongoing competition between social groups, and think it’s normal that some groups are at the bottom and others are at the top. [….]
The takeaway from all this, Jylha says, is that appealing to a sense of empathy towards victims of climate change?—?whether that’s other people, animals, or plants?—?is not an effective tactic with deniers. Instead, research shows, they are more likely to respond to arguments of how society at large can benefit from climate change mitigation efforts.
A comprehensive study published in 2015 in Nature surveyed 6,000 people across 24 countries and found that emphasizing the shared benefits of climate change was an effective way of motivating people to take action?—?even if they initially identified as deniers. For example, people were more likely to take steps to mitigate climate change if they believe that it will produce economic and scientific development. Most importantly, these results were true across political ideology, age, and gender.
In order to appeal to those who deny climate change, discussions should focus on convincing people to take on behaviors that would help protect the environment?—?without trying to convince them to become environmentalists. The renewable energy economy is a great example. Arguing that innovation in alternate energy sources would lead to the creation of jobs does not necessarily require convincing someone of the harmful impact of climate change.

If you’re talking in an internet forum, you almost certainly can’t persuade vocal pseudo-skeptics who roam the internet repeating myths everywhere they go. So your key audience is not the guy you’re responding to, but fence-sitters who may be listening in. There are more silent doubters than vocal deniers; always remember that.

Another important issue is who delivers the information. Typically, conservatives won’t listen to people that they perceive as liberals. Thus, the libertarian Niskanen Center and the Republican climate change plan are more likely to sway them than you, if you resemble a liberal. To have any chance, you have be credible to your audience.

George Marshall makes a wise but challenging suggestion: establish common ground first.

Stress the benefits of solving climate change. Manufacturing clean energy technology creates jobs. It saves lives too: via air pollution, fossil fuels kill dramatically more people than hydro-electric, nuclear power, wind or solar—including thousands of Americans. In the long run, clean energy will cost less: in equatorial deserts, unsubsidized solar is already cheaper than coal, and I've researched Molten Salt Reactors for a long time and am convinced they will undercut coal as well. Energy efficiency, whether in cars or electricity, saves money in the long run. All these benefits apply even if AGW were a big hoax, and since we will eventually run out of fossil fuels anyway, why not pursue these changes early just in case it's real?

When it comes to debunking myths, the Debunking Handbook notes that you should put the facts front and center. A myth must not be the headline or the focus of the discussion. State the fact first, then explain the myth and identify convincingly why the myth is wrong. Explain the fact in a memorable way that makes sense to the reader.

Where did this all come from?

I thank Denial101x for teaching me about the specific ideas that help denial to flourish, but it doesn’t explore how various facts and myths are able to interlock into a complete whole that intellectually satisfies the person who believes them, and it doesn’t explain the psychological process of “indoctrination”.

There's probably a lot of research yet to be done on how misinformation flourishes. How do millions of people get indoctrinated with it? How did that massive web of “think tanks”, denial blogs and articles develop? What is the history of this network? How much of it was it built by oil companies, and how much by conservative groups?

It's easy to blame oil companies, and certainly oil companies (notably ExxonMobil) have funded misleading advertisements, denialist groups, and research by contrarian scientists. But these are scientists who already refused to accept the findings of their field. In other cases, misinformation spreads with no commercial interest behind it at all: consider the anti-vaxxers, and the people who are convinced that MSG is a poison. What explains this?

Conspiratorial thinking usually plays a clear role (see for example the paper "NASA Faked the Moon Landing—Therefore, (Climate) Science Is a Hoax"), though I'm not convinced that all pseudo-skeptics rely on conspiracy theories. On the whole, I still don't think I fully understand these rascals.

If you’d like to see a video series about climate science, there are two excellent ones: Peter Hadfield’s fantastic series, and of course Denial101x (also available on YouTube). Both of these give extensive references to scientific journals. This series was based on a giant article I wrote after taking Denial101x.

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Comments 1 to 29:

  1. A thorough and compelling review of the denialist personality. I see this exact personality all the time all over the place, sadly to say.

    Climate denialists do routinely ignore what you say, or change the subject - often going a step further into red herring arguments.

    I can only think of one thing you perhaps missed - deliberate ignorance. I see many intelligent people promoting things they must know are absurd, presumably because of political motives and related factors.

    Although some intelligent educated people struggle with science, remember its a challenging subject.

    Coming back to your observations. We know from polls that conservatives tend to be more sceptical because they don't like the implications of the science and other reasons. But I also recall reading a study of oil company employees which showed about 90% scepticism about the science, not surprisingly. It didn't state reasons but would most likely be fear of losing jobs, and perhaps people following the lead taken by management. Peer pressure is probably a big factor in denialism.

    What does it all mean? We have a lot of different reasons for climate scepticism so its shades of grey. Scepticism clearly exists on a spectrum from normal questioning to hardline irrational denialism.

    But if people are mainly just afraid of losing jobs, rather than driven by ideology, they can be shown new jobs are being created in renewable energy. Some are probably going to respond to this.

    The denialist personality is clearly towards the extreme end of the spectrum, and is best defined as someone very entrenched in their views, and unwilling to learn for a whole range of reasons combining in that person. If I had to bet money on it, I would say political ideology is the dominant reason at this extreme end of the denialist spectrum.

    Polls show acceptance of the science has improved in America, although slowly. This shows there are sceptics that can be convinced otherwise. It cannot be random chance, and must reflect better understanding and awareness of the issues.

    You will be left with a group of hard core climate denialists maybe 10%, because we see this with many scientific issues, but in a democracy this doesn't matter so much. It does matter a bit with vaccines, because they undermine the way vaccines work.

    I agree a lot of this is more about convincing people of the merits of renewable energy, not just in terms of the climate, but in other respects. In fact it's really all about a lifestyle change towards taking more care of the environment and less materialism, and unfortunately this gets back to anti environmentalism and raises political ideology again. But 'sustainability' is ultimately about hard environmental facts, and sensible choices and long term policies, and I personally believe this will eventually cut through politics, because reality and facts eventually win out with 90% of people. 

    The more people make real lifestyle changes the more visible it becomes and the more politicians will have to take climate change and other environmental issues seriously. A sort of virtuous circle.

    Or taking the cynical view, will humanity choose to truly take risks and trash the planet into oblivion?

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  2. One other thing, regarding social dominance orientation and associated lack of empathy. This sounds like the sociopathic or psychopathic  personality that is unusually egocentric, also lacks a strong conscience and integrity, and dislikes rules, restrictions and laws. Cheating is seen as ok with this form of personality.

    Some level of sociopathy / psychopathy is recognised as often a feature of chief executives of corporations,  who are ruthless and rewarded for this,  and probably feel they should be allowed to go on aquiring personal  power and wealth regardless of environmental problems or environmental rules. Such people are obviously influential in the climate debates.

    1 in 5 CEOs are psychopaths, study finds.

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  3. I've always felt that some deniers are suckers — they've been caught for suckers by the propaganda campaign waged by the psychopaths who prefer wealth and power now to a habitable planet later.  These deniers are probably open to persuasion.

    But the remaining deniers are fanatics, and one is never supposed to debate with fanatics.  It's an utterly pointless exercise.  I've also seen estimates that put the percentage of such deniers at about 10%.

    So I wonder if there's any point in expending energy on the fanatical deniers.  My experience of human affairs leads me to think that we would still be arguing about climate action even if there were no deniers at all.

    I simply can't bring myself to believe that humanity will take the necessary steps to avert dangerous climate change.  The implication, from all the assessments I've seen, is that in about two decades much of the world will be reeling from the effects.  That's when humanity will realize that serious action should have been taken — but it'll be too late.

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  4. Oh I signed up just so I could provide comments here.

    I've noticed that pretty much without exception, the denialists I have come across fall into one of several work categories. They are usually either civil or mechanical engineers; work in the mining or fossil fuel industries; in transportation; manufacturing; or else the military. You can see it on LinkedIn. It's very easy to check people's background over there. There is a distinct pattern emerging.

    IN OTHER WORDS, the very same industries that produce a shite-load of CO2. Steel, cement and concrete are some of the biggest culprits out there! Not to mention other materials.

    Very few denialists have any formal science training. But even they crop up from time to time. I was very disappointed when I came across a fellow materials scientist who was also a blatant denialist. And this is what he had to say:


    "Hi Leslie, You seem to be very intelligent, but you seem to also be very misinformed (or maybe limitedly informed is more accurate). You need to look beyond the last 20 years of rhetoric and the last 100 years of recorded surface temperatures (which have only become increasingly more accurate and extensive in the last 50 years). Vostok Ice Core Data clearly show that the temperature of the earth is cyclical going back more than 450,000. The earth will go into an Ice Age again with or without the assistance of humans.

    My beliefs about the Farce of Global Warming are not based on Scientific Data, they are based upon my belief in the omnipotence of GOD. I am a Christian, but GOD's omnipotence is not just a Christian belief, it is embraced by virtually every non-pagan religion since the beginning of recorded history. The earth is GOD's creation! HE controls ALL of HIS creations! It is arrogant and foolish to believe otherwise.

    The "Natural Disasters" that we experience are not "Natural" at all, they are "Super Natural".

    I firmly believe that this winter and springs' extremely cold temperatures as well as the rash of recent earthly disasters (hurricanes, tornadoes, fires and earth quakes) are GOD's display of HIS control of HIS creations and HIS disgust and disappointment that most of mankind believes that they somehow control HIS creation.

    Whether you believe in GOD (or not), many clearheaded scientists that are not influenced by politics, finance or popular media entertainment believe that Global Warming (as influenced by mankind) is a farce."


    I mean how does one respond to that? Obviously, this person is not truly scientific, whereupon their logic has flown out the window. They're not open-minded. They're closed-minded. They just admitted "My beliefs about the Farce of Global Warming are not based on Scientific Data, they are based upon my belief in the omnipotence of GOD."

    I used to be super logical and think that data alone could inform and pursuade peoples' opinions. Wrong! Completely wrong! That was a big assumption on my part.

    I personally think it's time scientists got a bit more emotional in their approach. No one listens to you when you sound like Spock. But when you get passionate about something, people take your more seriously.

    The other thing I'd like to add is that if fashion and design have the power to pursuade people to do things on very short timescales, perhaps scientists should be looking to designers for some more clout? As I'm one of the few who speak the dual languages of science and design, I'd like to help scientists with that. Feel free to get in touch with me...

    I'd also like to share readers with my blog, where I try to fuse my passion for writing and design with environmentalism among other things (like my mental anguish).

    There was one other thing I wanted to say here. A few months ago I had an argument with a security guard of all people about climate change. He was clearly out of his depth and I let him have it. Anyway, he was in a classic denial the whole time, and then eventually he finally said: “what do you want me to do about it?” (with an attitude)

    Is this the real underlying problem? That they literally don't know what else they can do to mitigate climate change?

    Maybe that's an idea for a post? WHAT CAN PEOPLE DO ABOUT IT?
    For example: plant more trees, buy second hand, reuse, repair, recycle, buy services not products, slow down and enjoy life, etc, etc.

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  5. I've been encountering them online for over a decade and have had many pointless debates over the issue. Deniers are incredibly slippery when it comes to any discussion, always able to find some hole out of any intellectual corner they have placed themselves in.

    In the end the conviction I've come up is that many of the deniers I've encountered online have displayed psychopathic tendencies. They lie as second nature, they are willing to take incredible risks with all our lives and they show no remorse at all for their actions. They are often very arrogant and are masters at manipulating people and discussions in their favour and can come across as being charismatic although it usually ends up being a very superficial charm.

    5 Traits of Actual Psychopaths

    "4. They take big risks.

    Psychopaths have little regard for safety, especially other people's. They often lie, cheat, and steal to get ahead. This behavior can be especially toxic. While not all psychopaths engage in illegal activity, those who do plan their crimes well in advance. Their misconduct is usually well-organized, and they leave few clues behind. Psychopaths tend to be very intelligent, which makes them great con artists."

    Given at what's at stake and what has already been lost - like 50% of coral reef systems globally already - I've come to look at climate change denial in the interests of the coal, oil and gas sector as the greatest crime ever carried out.

    Which make deniers some of the worst criminals ever.

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  6. Leslie Dean Brown @4, I've also noticed a lot of internet climate denialists are engineers working in transport or fossil fuels etc, for example we had dan the engineering man on this website, and my google search discovered he has an interest in performance cars. Another is Brian Leyland from NZ. As I mentioned polls show denialism is strong in these industries.

    But I dont think all denialists are in this engineer category. These engineer guys are smart enough to be articulate denialists, so are more visible on the net. Some may be fronting lobby groups, so professional deniers. 

    Never undersestimate the power of vested interests in climate denial. However I have always maintained denialism is a mixture of attributes and personalities related to vested interests, politics, and psychology in the main, and the later two aspects closely relate anyway. Politics derives from peoples psychology ultimately.

    Someone wondered about scepticism about vaccines. Read the comments  anti vaccers make and its mostly women so maternal concerns, and very poorly educated people who just dont understand the issues.You can probably throw in conspiracy theory ideation against big pharma amplifying the scepticism. I think conspiracy theory thinking would be more dominant among poorly educated people.

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  7. Leslie @4 , your report of the communication from the "blatant denialist" is interesting yet not so very uncommon.

    Quite apart from his being [to quote his own phrasing] "arrogant and foolish" in his unscientific nonsense . . . he is also being arrogant and foolish enough to believe he himself knows the mind of God.  He seems unaware of the irony of his stated position.

    We see this overweening self-confidence likewise, in Dr Spencer and Dr Lindzen — though Lindzen's self-confidence derives from his ideas of Yahweh rather than Spencer's more modern Christian God.   The fundamentalist concept of a rapidly approaching End of Days, does make it a little strange that someone [such as Leslie's correspondent] would bother to spend time communicating with the [probably] inevitably-damned Leslie.  (And it doesn't sound like he is seriously attempting to "convert" Leslie.)   Also, why bother disputing with Leslie, when (allegedly) nothing much is going on (other than a few relatively minor hurricanes etc) and nothing much could go on, until the obvious-to-all and utterly calamitous events of the Final Days ?

    Maybe the guy is suffering from an anxiety that he might not be right after all?   Maybe he is worried that he will be left with egg on his face, when the world continues to go gradually pear-shaped (exactly as the real scientists are indicating) and he will finally have to say: "Why hast Thou forsaken me?"

    Yes, an interesting case there, Leslie.   Wash your hands of him.

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  8. Leslie @4,
    You might make some theological arguments to your religious friend.
    One would be that God gave man the power to affect the climate, and is simply watching what we do with it.
    “… let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth,….” (Genesis 1.26)

    Another is that that God will not necessarily keep the Earth always comfortable for mankind. After all, as he banished Adam and Eve from the paradise of Eden He said:
    “… cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shall thy eat out of it … in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread,…” (Genesis 3.17,19)

    Another time God was not happy with man, and so flooded the earth, originally with the intent of eliminating all of mankind:
    “And God saw the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (Genesis 6.5) “… and so the Lord said 
I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; …” (Genesis 6.7)

    He also caused some heating of Sodom and Gomorrah.

    And so perhaps now He has seen what man did in the twentieth century, WWI, WWII, and the holocaust, and in mid-century became angry. Perhaps now He is allowing the Globe to heat up enough for more drought, famine, and war (but no world-wide flood, of course, just rainbows).

    This warming would be consistent with Relevation, where in 8.7 says ‘… fire, which fell on the earth; and a third of the earth was burnt up, and a third of the trees were burnt up, and all green grass was burnt up.”

    Your friend should be asked to give Biblical arguments for his religious belief that God will keep the Planet comfortable for mankind.

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  9. "Those who... [focus on] social dominance... see the world as an ongoing competition between social groups"  Fear drives us into our respective 'safe spaces'.  The media thrives on fear so as we become more media-driven we are more fearful.  Witness what a 'harvest' Vladimir Putin has made of this fear, and expect more.  In a fear-driven environment, it may be more helpful to 'lead by example'.  Europe and now Asia are beginning to lead on this issue, which will hopefully propel America into the 21st century in the long run.

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  10. Article related to social dominance , group theory and race:



    Also National Geographic Special Edition April 2018 is entirely devoted to these issues.

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    Moderator Response:

    [DB] Shortened link

  11. LINK

    I don't have time to argue with this one. I'm travelling.





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    Moderator Response:

    [DB] Shortened link

  12. leslie, if someones position is not based on data, then arguing with data is pointless. It's very like arguing with a young-earth creationist - their viewpoint is not derived from science, so no amount of science will change their mind. It's really about the biblical authority and exegesis on Genesis and that is where the argument should take place.

    sailingfree makes some good points. Others are that bible promotes living within limits (eg Genesis 2:15-17,Exodus 23:10-11), and note the implied threat in Leviticus 26 :3-5. Plenty of examples of enviromental disaster following disobedience. So how is modern western society doing in keeping the 10th commandent? The prophets and gospel are mostly about justice. Is it justice that those most vunerable to climate change are mostly those that contribute least to it?

    Once you can establish a theological framework, then someone might be more open to looking at the science. Pretty easy to expose downright lies being told by climate deniers. How does that person take to to liars? Christian right is hung up on morality in the bedroom - the bible has more to say about morality in the boardroom.

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  13. "So your key audience is not the guy you’re responding to, but fence-sitters who may be listening in. There are more silent doubters than vocal deniers; always remember that"

    I've always though this in my online denialism rebuttals. I tend not to bother much with the dumbest remarks, which tend to be just a couple of short sentences but I've come to find that the most dangerous, and trickiest to counter, tend to be those who are in the least denial of climate science - the lukewarmers, who believe that climate sensitivity is much less than the vast majority of climate scientists say. To them, the global temperatures won't reach the heights expected by the IPCC position and we may still stay in the Goldilocks zone, where we may still get more benefits from a low rise than disbenefits.

    It is my opinion, although I can't prove it, that many of the 'dumb' arguments one sees endlessly used by apparently intelligent educated people in public positions, such as Senators addressing Congress, are, to them, justified political deception. I suspect that their core beliefs are in the 'lukewarmer' views of Lindzen, Spencer etc yet they realise that if they tried to used those arguments to sway the minds of the public, it would backfire. Admitting that greenhouse gases warm the climate, that the planet is warming, that we are having an effect but that a small minority of scientists say it won't come to much, while the majority say it's very risky, is a very weak argument - the ordinary person is well able to make a personal risk assessment. That is why those movers and shakers, who are personally convinced by the lukewarmers, use the couple of hundred simplistic memes as listed and debunked on, to influence the voting public. Ever wonder why Senators and the institutes keep using these memes, that they know for sure have been debunked a thousand times? Remember, these people are really not stupid! it's because the memes work very well at shaking the confidence of the public in mainstream climate science. These short pieces of disinformation are very convincing to the general public, not that they definitvely 'prove' anything but they certainly succeed at creating doubt and uncertainty and those who want to avoid those political moves that mainstream climate science mandates benefit by using the memes to try to prevent those moves happening.

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  14. >>They’ll say you’re in a “cult” or “religion” for believing humans cause warming<<

    I think we're almost all guilty of using the words "believe" and "believing" when attempting to argue the point - as in my quote from the piece.

    Deniers will pounce on anything one says - look at the email "fraud" - and using such words does play into their hands: they throw them back at you as if you have a religious or belief system driving you. (Because mostly they themselves are driven by that sort of thinking, perhaps.)

    I prefer to conciously use the word "accept", as in "They’ll say you’re in a “cult” or “religion” for accepting humans cause warming."

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  15. Leslie @4, my guess is that you're lucky in talking to someone who transparently told you the root cause of their beliefs. None of the ones I talked to mentioned God, and of course many people who believe in God also believe in evolution and climate change. But arguably, distrusting mainstream scientists (and anyone who believes them) is a more durable way to maintain your faith.

    @nijelj and @Leslie, on the question of "what to do about climate change" my opinion is that lifestyle change is not the answer politically - because yes, it's good to live a less wasteful lifestyle, but people don't like being told what to do and it's not a complete solution. Rather what we need is to build out clean energy, fast. Mainly solar, wind, and nuclear reactors.

    Solar and wind will take care of themselves because there is so much public  support for them and prices keep dropping. In southern climates, I'm fairly convinced solar will demolish coal. In the U.S., Trump will be voted out.

    The key challenge is baseload and/or energy storage. Fundamentally, wind power production is temporally mismatched with demand, so you need either lots of energy storage and a continental-scale grid - expensive - or you need nuclear plants. So although denial is driven by conservatives, IMO a big barrier to solving climate change is liberals who wildly overestimate the risks of nuclear plants and think 1970s plants like Fukushima are the same kinds of plant we would build today. Even the well-known fact that nuclear plants are expensive and take a long time to build is, apparently, caused as much by the politics of nuclear fear as it is caused by limitations of traditional reactor technology.

    I'm hoping that the answer is Molten Salt Reactors (including thorium) which are superior to traditional reactors in just about every way. But whether we get MSRs will depend a lot on public support.

    We should also agressively support diverse research into non-traditional fusion energy such as Dense Plasma Focus, the Polywell, and whatever that thing is that Tri-Alpha Energy is doing. Governments have really dropped the ball in both fusion and fission research - they fund expensive long-term fusion research at ITER, but won't fund comparatively very cheap projects like DPF, so instead we see scientists (who would have preferred to do open research at universities) forming companies like this one to pursue private investors. Granted, it's not guaranteed DPF and Polywell will actually work at scale - that's why we need the basic science research - but if it does work, it could make coal, oil and traditional nuclear plants obsolete very quickly.

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  16. Dpeipgrass @15

    "@nijelj and @Leslie, on the question of "what to do about climate change" my opinion is that lifestyle change is not the answer politically - because yes, it's good to live a less wasteful lifestyle, but people don't like being told what to do and it's not a complete solution. Rather what we need is to build out clean energy, fast. Mainly solar, wind, and nuclear reactors."

    I agree lifestyle changes are not the complete solution. It's got to be a combination of lifestyle changes together with renewable energy.

    However you miss my point so I will rephrase it. It's not simply lifestyle changes in terms of less materialism or waste, its lower carbon footprints and use of electric cars etc.

    And as I suggested,  Government are clearly not taking climate change seriously enough, and I submit governments are unlikely to do much to promote renewable energy and carbon taxes and so on until they see people making lifestyle changes, and showing they take climate change seriously. So if people are concerned about climate change, they need to walk the walk - at least to some extent. I do realise its partly a question of what comes first the chicken or the egg!

    The Democrats also need to take a stronger line on climate change and this will force the hand of the Republicans.

    People probably do need to be told what to do, or at least they need advice. Its probably a case of throwing ideas around rather than being bossy.

    Renewable energy has only gained traction with government support schemes such as subsidies, and theres the question of effective carbon taxes and / or ets schemes.

    I'm a bit agnostic on nuclear energy. You have a good point Liberals are somewhat excessively paranoid about the risks. I grew up with the three mile island scare and chernobyl, and this imprinted on my mind and made me sceptical of nuclear power for a while in my youth, and I suspect I'm not alone. However I have walked myself back from this, because in terms of deaths per capita per year nuclear is actually one of the safer options. But that is not the public perception, and the industry has to turn that around somehow if they want support.

    Nuclear is also slow to build and more expensive than on shore wind power. I feel its in the hands of the nuclear industry to provide cost effective power built within stated time frames. I have no objection to governments subsidising research into nuclear power, or perhaps construction, but not to a greater extent than wind or solar power receive.

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  17. I agree wholeaheartedly with the article pretty much all the comments, here is a great clip of Matt Ridley in the House of Lords - not speaking on AGW, but on Brexit (here in the UK, Brexit and Climate denial where twinned at birth)

    the fascinating thing is Ridley was making a point about Tariffs and the EU's dasterdly application of them to Africa

    when another Lord simply points out that the EU exempts Africa from tariffs - does this new fact dissuade Lord Ridley, not a bit of it, he simply carries on restating what has been faltly contradicted only a moment before, they have no shame. It is the verbal equivelant of spaying crap on a wall, they know some of it will stick.

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  18. Recent research on anti vaccers is relevant and depicts a certain sort of world view: They embrace multiple conspiracy theories about the world, dont like needles, and more likely to feel offended by perceived attempts to limit their freedom, ( an attitude known as reactance).

    I see the same conspiracy thinking and reactance with climate denialists.

    Of course vested interests is a huge factor as well. Perhaps the fossil fuel companies are modern day 'luddites'. 

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  19. @nijelj If someone invents a new and innovative kind of wind turbine, they don't need government permission to build it. That's a fundamental difference between nuclear and renewables, and as I watch technical presentations on MSRs, government regulations and permission comes up again and again; it's no exaggeration to say that finding a way through the regulation minefield is what drives the design of nuclear reactors. For that reason, I disagree that "it's in the hands of the nuclear industry to provide cost effective power built within stated time frames". It's hardly in the hands of the industry at all; their success depends entirely on the political will to accept nuclear energy for climate change solutions. In turn this depends on public support. The U.S. market seems particularly difficult, as the regulations are designed for solid-fueled, water-cooled reactors, so would-be MSR builders have to pay out-of-pocket for the government (NRC) to write new regulations for them. That's tough for startups - it's not the old guard nuclear players doing this.

    Anyway I can hopefully publish an article series on MSRs here soon.

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    Moderator Response:

    [JH] MSR = Molten Salt Reactor?

  20. I think the article and the comments on the article all miss the basic cause of the problem. And the basic cause is one that almost no one knows about because almost no one wants to talk about it.
    Nearly all strong deniers are strong conservatives and they are genetically predisposed to be conservatives. They are genetically predisposed to be xenophobic, more religious, more repressive of women’s rights, much less concerned with fairness/equity and they hold a darker view of human nature than their counterparts. Conservatives are much less open to new experiences of any type. Conservatives are much more prone to authoritarianism (the opposite of scientific thought) and to group think. Liberals have the opposite traits to all of the conservative traits. Individuals are genetically predisposed to be conservative or liberal. Genetics is responsible for about half, or just a bit more that half, of our political orientations.
    Conservatives believe in the prevailing conservative ideologies of the societies they live in in the same way that religious people believe in the teachings of their religious group. One of the most amaziong findings is that strong conservatives are the least capable of thinking logically/critically/rationally about anything that comes into conflict with their conservative ideological beliefs.
    Conservatives perceive correctly that if man-caused global warming is true, then government needs to play a key or lead role in dealing with the problem. Much worse, horror of horrors, the major governments of the world all have to collaborate together to solve the problem. That is totally anathema to the prevailing free market belief system. So therefore, man-caused global warming cannot be true. Therefore, it is not true. It is a hoax.
    It is the best educated conservatives that are the least capable of thinking critically about global warming. Being better educated they have a much greater pool of concepts and facts to draw upon to rationalize their beliefs. And there is no equivalence on the liberal side. It is the best educated liberals who are the most capable of thinking critically about global warming.
    I am a very strong liberal. In August 1995, I joined an Internet discussion group of American foresters that for some reason unknown to me, was dominated by very strong conservatives (Austrian Hayek school of economics, Libertarians and the like). They all believed that global warming was a hoax. They believe that we have no significant environmental problems of any type. I had never encountered people like this before. I didn’t know much about global warming at the time, so for about four years, I would check out their sources – and I found them all to be bogus or questionable. Then for another 10 years or more, I argued directly with them. The stronger the scientific evidence I presented them with, the more it reinforced their beliefs. I tried a bit of everything. I came to believe that they were sincere in their beliefs. I finally came to the conclusion that there was no reasoning with them. I gave up.
    Then, about two years later, I read “The Republican Brain” by investigative journalist Chris Mooney and he described almost exactly what I had experience. He summarized peer reviewed social sciences research that shows the problem is genetic. Since then, I also read “Our Political Nature” by evolutionary anthropologist Avi Tuschman. Nearly all of what I have written above is a summary of their findings in the two books. Tuschman also goes into what scientists believe to have been the evolutionary selective forces that left us with such genetically defective brains – and the selective forces for the set of characteristics grouped under the heading of “tribalism” are really mind bending.
    Most of this seems overall, very discouraging. I’m still trying to digest what it all means. I see two areas for potential optimism:
    1. Our genetically driven political orientations all lie on a bell curve. Most of us are somewhere in the middle – moderately conservative or moderately liberal. I assume that the closer to the center conservatives are, the more open they are to the environmental influences – the more open they are to evidence and logic and reasoned argument.
    2. Conservatives are much more subject to group think and to belief in the prevailing conservative ideologies of the societies they live in. But those prevailing ideologies do seem to evolve substantially over time. The conservative ideologies of the 1950s in the US probably lie to the left of the Democratic platform of today. The extremist Free Market ideologies now predominate. They can certainly evolve – they can moderate or they can become even more extreme.
    Roy Hagen

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  21. Unfortunately, there is a lot of truth to Roy's post. I remember one poster, issued from communist dominated Estern Europe, who immediately jumped to the conclusion that a coral study was fraudulent when there was one element he did not understand on the first read. He was guided back to correct understanding of said study by other SkS contributors but never fully owned up the altered judgment caused by his emotional attachment to a certain ideology.

    I am especially concerned about how extremist the free market ideology has become. T. Boone Pickens' ideas were by any means radical, extreme and destructive, yet any cursory reading of the Wall Street Journal will reveal that they have become mainstream in the business community, just like there is no doubt in any of these people's minds that "greed is good." Now we have an entire class of very powerful people who have developed a strong emotional atachment to that ideology, of which any studying shows that it is very destructive.

    This, however, is going to hit the big singularity looming on the horizon: the pursuit of profit by any and all means now implies widespread automation; the automation capabilities that already exist have the potential to put out of work the majority of the world's population. The barriers to their implementation are not really technological. I am more familiar with the aviation world, from the point of view of the pilot; in aviation, a major factor is the long life and high cost of airplanes. All the planes produced now that are designed for a 2 person crew have the potential to be flying safely and efficiently for the next 3-4 decades. The most recent ones will be realtively easy to convert to full automation but the previous generation will take more effort, so they are more likely to be exploited "as is" until they are decomissioned. These specific hurdles are absent from many other industries. There is no doubt in the military world that even fighter pilots will eventually be a thing of the past, the technology is already here.

    The automation capabilities including A.I. that will exist by mid-century could completely remove the human from even a huge part of software coding works. By 2050 to 2075 there will be some very radical rethinking to do about what economic activity should be like and the place of humans in it. The engine of the consumption society is consumption, which implies that people must have some sort of income with which they buy stuff; a central tenet of the conservative ideologies is that people should not get money for doing nothing, unless perhaps they are physically unable. A serious problem arises when there is hardly anything left for immense numbers of people to do and earn money. As we stand now, a sizeable portion of the population already has abilities that fall short for the complexity of our current world. Interesting times we are witnessing, for sure.

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  22. Yes there's considerable of truth in chapeaureds / Roy's commentary.  However I did make reference to politics being one of the main influences in climate denial, and the article was fairly specific about conservatives being a factor in denial. I was treading carefully around the issue, because I don't want to create even more division.

    It's important to realise we won't convince the ultra conservative climate denialists, and its people towards the centre of the bell curve that will be receptive, and it's important not to alienate them by labelling them and suggesting they are inherently inferior in some way.

    Imho if we look at classic liberal and conservative traits, and characteristics there's mostly value in both, and its when they become extreme in expression that the trouble seems to start.

    People have genetically inherent leanings towards liberalism or conservatism,  but they are not rigidly fixed either if you read the research. 

    Even the, a centre right publication favouring moderately small government, has just done a huge article promoting universal health care (april 28th edition). Robotics and other factors are likely to lead inexorably towards a 'UBI' (universal basic income). Business has to be regulated or the system spins out of control. The ultra conservatives might hate all this, but its coming anyway because it makes sense and is inevitable.

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  23. You cant change the genetics but you can change the messaging. Too many environmental groups (yes, Greenpeace, I talking to you), take no account of that and do messaging that is feel-good for liberals and an anathema to conservative morality. Once you have polarized an issue on party-lines, then it is extremely difficult to get change, but it would be a good idea if issues that are really fact-based (eg climate change) rather than value-based, are communicated in ways that dont offend the morality of either. Conservatives play with larger deck in this respect so proceed carefully. The climate debate should have been about best means to solution not about denier memes.

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  24. Scaddenp, I came across this research:  Framing discourse around conservative values shifts climate change attitudes

    I would have thought science is a good universal language, but it is under attack from the conservative elite and White House. This makes things very difficult.

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  25. I think on climate, the damage has already been done - debate polarised on political lines from which retreat is difficult. Science is only part of the language. Who promotes it is important (Al Gore for example) because most people do not have expertise to evaluate science argument so who you trust is more important. Activism for your cause which breaches law and/or societial norms puts you offside with conservative morality immediately. Worse still are those who see climate action as a chance to push transparently anti-capitalism or similar agendas with a scant regard to the science.

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  26. Regarding conspiracy thinking and related claims climate change is a hoax. Came across this interesting research. 

    “We show that reasonable skepticism about various conspiracy theories and paranormal phenomena does not only require a relatively high cognitive ability, but also strong motivation to be rational,” Ståhl, a psychology professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, explained in a statement."

    So belief in conspiracies and possibly hoaxes is essentially lazy thinking! Who would have thought.

    Profile of climate denialist: Politically motivated, vested interests, conspiracy theorest and irrational lazy thinker.

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  27. Scaddenp @25, it's hard to argue with what you are saying on morality. An inconvenient truth would have been better filmed by someone more neutral like national geographic, but too late now. History is a messy, untidy process.

    However it all goes both ways. Conservatives also need to respect liberal morality a bit more as well.

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  28. Moral foundation theory would say that liberals only pay attention to Care and Fair dimensions whereas Conservative also play with Authority, Loyality and Purity. Conservatives do respect care and fair, but balance those against the other dimensions as well. Freedom is also postulated as a moral foundation which would figure more heavily in conservative evaluation, though I find its actual practise in a moral argument hard to distinguish from a rationalisation for selfishness. Depends a bit I guess on whether someone is prepared to value others freedom of action as highly as their own; and how they would value freedom against possible harm to others (violation of care). Gun control debate in USA possibly says something about that.

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  29. Scaddenp @28

    I think it would be shades of grey on these moral foundation attributes in general. My personal observation is liberals do respect authority, loyalty and purity, but perhaps not as much as conservatives, and liberals are prepared to challenge authority and the accepted wisdom more than conservatives, and while conservatives do have more respect for authority in a general sense, this is not always the case - for example Obama was not too popular with conservatives, and neither are scientists, and they are a type of authority. Clearly then moral foundations can supersede each other, or can be somewhat ad hoc. However the basic moral foundation theory sounds very compelling to me.

    However conservatives do seem to loathe protesters especially when it leads ro tresspass or property damage, and the scruffy dress maybe offends the purity value. Liberals accept pushing the boundaries of the law, but not to the extent of deliberate property destruction, only to the extent of obtaining information or making a point, which often seems reasonable to me. It's good to see a theory behind this sort of thing.

    A lot of this is surely also about exactly how things are defined, and defining freedom is a case in point. Conservatives do seem to conflate freedom and selfishness, although ultimately I suppose it could be argued they are the same things in the sense complete freedom is the right to do absolutely anything. Yet clearly conservatives do not actually believe in that, as they are strong advocates for property law for example which limit freedom. It almost seems that conservatives are defining freedom as whatever their own form of preferred set of laws law says at some point in time, as opposed to some wider philosophical interpretation.

    And people apply double standards to freedom, for example they want to be free do do what they like in the name of "freedom" but they certainly do not apply the same standard to other people, who they say should face restrictions, and this can apply to the exact same activity, or different activities. An example of the later is conservatives to do not believe, in the main that people should be free to take drugs, yet they do sometimes believe business should be free to sell products that demonstrably cause toxic environmental effects. Double standards and irrationality abound.

    Of course some of this double standard applies to liberals at times, because although they don't promote freedom as strongly as a core value in moral foundation theory, they certainly have many views that involve questions of having freedom, for example they promote use and availability of medicinal cannabis, to name a recent example, while wanting various other activities restricted. However perhaps its not a double standard, as  it seems to me Liberals do apply certain tests related to freedom, and question whether an activity is having a tangible and harmful effect on other people. Conservatives seem to have other criteria harder to comprehend.

    Clearly your gun ownership dilemma is a good example of how trade offs are made on these moral foundation principles, and for conservatives it seems complicated, where for liberals the idea of fairness is clearly at the top of the hierarchy of values so is a clear lens for everything. So for liberals its fair people own guns for sensible purposes , but not fair on society as a whole that just anyone can buy any sort of gun. Or perhaps liberals would say "not rational". However I'm speculating.

    Regarding freedom, there's an article on wikipedia titled "reactance (psychology)" and there's empirical evidence for it. Imho it seems like it might be a dominant conservative trait and explains distaste for certain things.

    "Reactance is a motivational reaction to offers, persons, rules, or regulations that threaten or eliminate specific behavioral freedoms. Reactance occurs when a person feels that someone or something is taking away their choices or limiting the range of alternatives."

    "Reactances can occur when someone is heavily pressured to accept a certain view or attitude. Reactance can cause the person to adopt or strengthen a view or attitude that is contrary to what was intended, and also increases resistance to persuasion. People using reverse psychology are playing on reactance, attempting to influence someone to choose the opposite of what they request."

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