Why do people deny climate change?

Disclaimer: Some of the concepts in this article have been simplified for ease of understanding. The author fully accepts and acknowledges climate change as caused by human relate activities. 

As the upcoming COP21 conference in Paris creeps closer, and rises in importance, climate change will once again become scrutinised by the media and the public. In our school, we are all taught to accept climate change as a cause of human-related activities, but how much can we say we actually understand it, rather than simply accepting it. This can be one of the reasons groups of people still deny climate change as human related, or simply refute it happening at all.

First of all it is vital that instead of simply dismissing deniers as extremist lunatics or religious fanatics, or whatever they are targeted as these days, we examine exactly their reasons for denying climate change. Furthermore we cannot open a discourse, only to immediately attack their reasons as irrelevant or irrational. 

The defining evidence of climate change that is cited across the globe is, “97 percent or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree: Climate-warming trends over the past century are very likely due to human activities”. So who are the 3%? Investigations have discovered that these outlying scientists research are commonly funded by major oil and gas companies. With this information, it is easy to understand why there are certain vested interests loaded into the research by these astronomically powerful and profitable corporations. If climate change is universally accepted as human caused, the widely accepted first step in solving this global crisis, is to reduce carbon emissions. Where do the overwhelming majority of emissions originate from? The burning of fossil fuels, the substances that these major corporations draw their vast revenues from. The companies are determined to cloud people’s judgement, by presenting the illusion that there is an actual scientifically grounded debate taking place.

Relevant Comic

Combine this with the (curious) extensive media coverage on this minority of scientists, and public perception suddenly has this manufactured doubt, which is designed to halt any real progress towards preventing emissions. This lack of absolute certainty only fuels this doubt, which can far too often materialize into full blown denial.“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

Upton Sinclair

Although the above explanation is certainly relevant, it doesn’t succeed in fully explaining the surprisingly high percentage of the population denying climate change. There is a certain ‘elephant in the room’, that researchers have discovered, but is highly controversial, which has lessened the public discussion. An individual’s personal ideology and thus political associations, seems to be a strong indicator of whether a person is likely to deny climate change; the majority of deniers are right-wing. I must stress this does not mean all right wingers are extreme deniers, but the conclusion is logically sound. If climate change is fully accepted, there are a number of political steps that can be predicted to take place. Almost of all these steps favour left-wing ideology. To cite a major example; it is likely that the free-market economy will require a complete reassessment. The free market is traditionally rooted in the political right, and therefore it’s followers will be determined to protect their ideology.

So it make sense that they don’t want to accept a hugely significant and impactful event, if it defies a significant portion of what they stand for politically, and directly elevates the opposition. In some ways this is the great tragedy of the entire debate; the right-wing will certainly still have a place in politics, if they accepted climate change, but sadly their main party funders are our old friends ‘big energy’. Some speculate that this further extends to explain the current political stalemate to making any real progress against climate change. Too many powerful companies and individuals have vested interests, even if it is blatantly obvious that soon enough, nobody will be safe.

The final reason that explains the current situation, and is often underestimated, relates to the perceived complexity of the science that explains climate change. It some ways, there are difficulties in explaining the full extent and future impacts of climate change, when it unfolds at such a slow pace. Their day-to-day lives may not be affected until it’s far too late. In this sense people can’t really see the effects themselves to the true alarming extent. This lack of urgency can give the dangerous impression, that the crisis is out of their control, and it is not their concern; the battle will be fought elsewhere. This is not the case. It is time everyone took action.


For more detailed information on what you can do, and the upcoming climate change conference click here.

All sources drawn from Naomi Klein’s book “This Changes Everything”. See here for full text.

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