Blog on the psychology of denial


in Internet matters, Politics, Psychology, Science, The environment

Climate Change Denial is a group blog that really impresses me. It is focused on the question of where climate change denial comes from, and why it has been so successful at diminishing public support for effective climate change policies.

One especially good post is about how climate change campaigners may be in denial themselves, about the scope and seriousness of the problem and the difficulty of addressing it in the time we have left.

It is a site I will continue to read with interest.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

BuddyRich February 12, 2010 at 8:45 pm

The last comment on the post you linked to summed it best… I am also perhaps clouded by my optimistic nature, but you are framing the debate in a dualistic nature… an all or nothing outcome.

Humans will survive… not perhaps in the same numbers or the same civility as you desire but as a species we will not go extinct because of climate change, which all but seems inevitable in some form at this point…

Milan February 13, 2010 at 1:31 am

It actually seems increasingly plausible that climate change could wipe out humanity, if we don’t undertake incredibly aggressive mitigation actions. It could even destroy all life on Earth, if positive feedbacks put us on the path taken by Venus.

mek February 15, 2010 at 3:17 am

The conclusion of that denial article strikes me as the worst kind of compromise. If what is necessary to save the planet is not politically possible, we should concede our position and ask for less? This is basically the “Obama Doctrine”. The fatal flaw is the obvious: less than acceptable is unacceptable.

Ultimately, what is “politicially possible” is determined by consensus. Consensus is the sum of individual opinions. Therefore, it is our duty to maintain our positions, regardless of how far from the mainstream they may seem. Political compromise is political suicide.

Milan February 15, 2010 at 9:35 am

This Milton Friedman quote sums up part of my answer to that:

“That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes politically inevitable.”

We also need to drive forward the hour of political inevitability. Otherwise, by the time strong action begins, we will already have locked in a catastrophic amount of warming.

Byron Smith March 12, 2010 at 9:00 pm

Yes, it is a good blog, though very rarely updated. In the last twelve months, there have been five posts.

. September 26, 2016 at 2:57 pm

A trio of scholars who study the psychology and philosophy of science have written a fantastic paper for Springer’s Sythese looking at the way that climate change conspiracy theorists construct their view of the world, and how these conspiracy theories contain self-contradictory theses (like the idea that climate change can’t be predicted and the idea that the data shows we’re actually headed for an ice-age).

Normal scientific discourse involves “coherence” — that is, believing in something that doesn’t contradict itself. But conspiracy theories aren’t built on the idea of discovering the truth, but rather the idea of defending other ideas that are threatened by evidence.

In this case, the researchers hypothesize that the motivating factor behind the conspiracy theory is that the existence of climate change is hard to square with hard-line free-market economics (another motivation, clearly, is for hydrocarbon investors to make money and avoid paying penalties for their earlier conduct).

The relationship of defending an idea that you’re invested in to denying evidence is well-understood, of course (“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it” -Upton Sinclair). But the Synthese paper goes into excellent depth on the weird contradictions of climate denial, starting with the idea that climate change is actually driven by dark pools of money aimed at undermining the world’s prosperity, when in reality, climate scientists have transparent (and relatively tiny) sources of funding (government-funded, nonpartisan organizations like NASA and NOAA), while the denial movement’s home is in actual dark-money-funded think tanks who won’t say where they get their money from, and who are regularly revealed to be secretly funded by self-interested hydrocarbon billionaires.

. September 26, 2016 at 2:58 pm

The ‘Alice in Wonderland’ mechanics of the rejection of (climate) science: simulating coherence by conspiracism

Science strives for coherence. For example, the findings from climate science form a highly coherent body of knowledge that is supported by many independent lines of evidence: greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from human economic activities are causing the global climate to warm and unless GHG emissions are drastically reduced in the near future, the risks from climate change will continue to grow and major adverse consequences will become unavoidable. People who oppose this scientific body of knowledge because the implications of cutting GHG emissions—such as regulation or increased taxation—threaten their worldview or livelihood cannot provide an alternative view that is coherent by the standards of conventional scientific thinking. Instead, we suggest that people who reject the fact that the Earth’s climate is changing due to greenhouse gas emissions (or any other body of well-established scientific knowledge) oppose whatever inconvenient finding they are confronting in piece-meal fashion, rather than systematically, and without considering the implications of this rejection to the rest of the relevant scientific theory and findings. Hence, claims that the globe “is cooling” can coexist with claims that the “observed warming is natural” and that “the human influence does not matter because warming is good for us.” Coherence between these mutually contradictory opinions can only be achieved at a highly abstract level, namely that “something must be wrong” with the scientific evidence in order to justify a political position against climate change mitigation. This high-level coherence accompanied by contradictory subordinate propositions is a known attribute of conspiracist ideation, and conspiracism may be implicated when people reject well-established scientific propositions.

. June 29, 2017 at 7:24 pm

Food Evolution leans heavily on science and scientific authority to make its argument. Exhibit A: Neil DeGrasse Tyson is the film’s narrator. To dispel unfounded but persistent health fears of GMOs, Tyson points to the “nearly 2,000 experiments” and “foremost scientific institutions” that have affirmed the safety of genetically engineered foods. Will this change anyone’s mind?

As we say in Brooklyn, fughetaboutit. I’m skeptical that the film will have any impact on GMO-averse people because I know GMO-averse people. I belong to this tribe. My GMO-averse friends and fellow brownstone liberals haven’t given a lot of thought to the science that suggests GMOs are safe. They’re not going to wade through dense National Academy of Sciences reports that provide nuanced discussions on the pros and cons of genetically modified crops. For them, the GMO debate is not about science; it is about emotions. They very much care about the food they feed their families. And they take their cues from the experts they trust on such matters, experts they judge to share their values. And in this tribe, GMOs are not associated with sustainability and healthy foods.

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