INCOMPLETE NOTES - intended to encourage research/discussion. Please fact-check before quoting anything

Climate Change Denial

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Some Research Sources
Some Researchers
  • Stephan Lewandowsky – psychologist at the University of Bristol.
  • Dana Nuticelli – environmental scientist who works with Prof Lewandowsky.
  • Katherine Hayhoe – atmospheric scientist (Director of Climate Science Centre, Texas Tech University)

Oil Derrick

The Status Quo

  1. The Fossil Fuels Lobby has a vested interest in surviving as an industry.
    • It can play a critical role in shaping public policy (e.g. in UK and USA)
  2. Energy subsidies by governments keep fossil fuels prices artificially low.
    • Fossil fuels received $550 billion in subsidies compared with $120 billion for all renewables (2013).
  3. Ideology (n.b. it is a complex term)
    • There seem to be more global warming deniers on the political right than on the left. (Why?)
    • This may be exacerbated, or caused by differences in financial support from fossil fuel companies(?).
  4. Disinformation is a deliberate falsification of facts
    • (unlike 'misinformation', which is passing on incorrect information by mistake).
    • Confirmation bias is an easy thing to exploit in communication strategies.
    • Many climate change ‘skeptics’ spend a lot of time on climate change denial sites
  5. The Precautionary Principle
    • Some climate change deniers argue that the scientific consensus is only 'scaremongering'.
    • But this seems to put the settling of truth claims above the need to implement the lowest-risk policies
    • Precaution means defaulting to the safer options where significant harm is possible
  6. Conspiracy theories
    • These can evolve to incorporate whatever evidence exists against them
    • They can become a closed system that is unfalsifiable,
    • i.e. "a matter of faith rather than proof" (Barkun, M., 2003).
  7. Pseudoscience probably works in a similar way.

Boiling Frog

Cognitive Factors

square-50cm-spacer.jpg Confirmation Bias Venn
square-50cm-spacer.jpg Fig. 1 - the Idea of Confirmation Bias

  1. Confirmation bias
    • We all filter evidence through our pre-existing assumptions and beliefs (see Fig. 1)
    • We tend to seek / interpret / prefer / recall information that endorses and sustains our belief system.
    • The language that we use is also likely to colour what we notice and see.
    • Apophenia is a type of confirmation bias
    • i.e. it is the tendency to find connections and meanings in events and things that, to others, are unrelated.
  2. Cognitive dissonance
    • The discomfort experience arising from the presence of contradictory evidence.
    • This discomfort is sometimes relieved by seeking new ways to refresh the information causing the discomfort
    • Alternatively, the sufferer may actively avoid the (social) situations that generate the contradictions.
      • (n.b. Arthur Koestler (1964) cognitive dissonance can produce bisociation)
  3. Garret Hardin’s ‘Tragedy of the Commons’ theory (1968)
    • The 'Commons' refers to the shared resources
    • The 'Tragedy' refers to the way individuals see their impact on the commons.
    • E.g. if everyone can let their sheep/goats graze on public land 'I' will calculate 'my' impact in 2 ways:
      • A) this extra sheep will make a big supplement to my family's food supply.
      • B) my negative impact on fishing stocks will only be tiny when averaged out for the total number of neighbours.
    • Hardin suggests that our brains evolved when the world was under-populated and teeming with resources
    • i.e. Nature would always always recover from anything we could do to it.
    • Unfortunately, we are still 'programmed' to understand our responsibility in this context.
  4. The Mindset of Large Hierarchies
    • Around 10 thousand years ago Homo sapiens swapped hunting and gathering for farming.
    • Food surpluses enabled us to grow into large trading and warring empires.
    • Five thousand years later we invented unit-based money and alphabetical writing to allow this expansion
    • This began to shift our thinking away from personal 'responsibility' to the bureaucratic mindset of 'accountability'
  5. Denialism - the avoidance of a generally accepted truth or fact
    • this is generally assumed to be because it is psychologically uncomfortable (e.g. cognitive dissonance)
    • In a sane person this would appear as an irrational refusal to accept empirically verifiable evidence
  6. Dunning-Kruger Effect
  7. Belief perseverance
    • maintaining a belief despite new information that firmly contradicts it.
  8. Emotional Reasoning
  9. The backfire effect
    • when new evidence challenging the believer's hypothesis actually strengthens their belief.
  10. tribal partisanship
    • Perhaps humans are genetically pre-disposed to adopting peer beliefs(?)
  11. Attitude polarisation
    • this may happen after the group meets to discuss the views of its members
  12. Group polarisation
    • occurs when a group makes decisions more extreme than the initial inclination of its members