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One Big Question: Why do some people refuse to accept that human-induced climate change is real?

One Big Question: Why do some ...
Even though the evidence points to an unprecedented rate of human induced planetary warming, not everyone is convinced
Even though the evidence points to an unprecedented rate of human induced planetary warming, not everyone is convinced
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Even though the evidence points to an unprecedented rate of human induced planetary warming, not everyone is convinced
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Even though the evidence points to an unprecedented rate of human induced planetary warming, not everyone is convinced
Rates of belief in human-induced climate change in the US
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Rates of belief in human-induced climate change in the US

We've noticed something here at New Atlas. We often see some of the liveliest comments on the site whenever we post an article relating to climate change. Many of those comments have to do with whether or not the concept of rapid, human induced climate change is indeed real or not. This got us wondering why the topic garners so many naysayers when other research-based findings in different areas of science on which we report do not.

So, as part of our regular One Big Question series, we got in touch with Edward Maibach, the director of the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University in Virginia and we put this question to him:

Despite the scientific evidence, why do some people react so vehemently against the idea that rapid, human induced climate change is an actual phenomenon?

Here's what he had to say from his perspective in the American socio-political arena. And please feel free to let us know what you think in the comments below. We wouldn't have it any other way.

Rates of belief in human-induced climate change in the US
Rates of belief in human-induced climate change in the US

About seven in 10 Americans currently say they are convinced that climate change is happening, two in 10 say they "don't know," and one in 10 firmly dismiss the possibility. My colleagues and I call this latter group the "Dismissive," because they emphatically oppose the reality of human-caused climate change. The question is: Why?

There are at least several answers to this important question. In short, they are: money, politics, deeply held tendencies of human psychology and sociology, and strategic communication. I'll elaborate briefly here.

Two decades ago, Democrats and Republicans had largely similar views of climate change – although few Americans, then as now, knew much about it. Since then – as the scientific proof of harmful climate change has steadily accumulated – a profound polarization slowly took place: nearly all Democrats have become convinced, while many Republicans changed their minds and no longer accept the premise.

Many factors contributed to this politicization of climate change, including – and perhaps especially – strategic disinformation campaigns funded by the fossil fuel industry (akin to the strategic disinformation campaigns perpetrated on Americans for so many decades by the tobacco industry).

Merchants of Doubt

The endlessly repeated messages of the "merchants of doubt" were distributed directly through paid advertising, and indirectly by conservative think tanks, partisan news media outlets (especially Fox News and the Wall Street Journal), and some Republican elected officials. The liberal establishment and environmental organizations were largely ineffective in countering these messages; indeed their efforts may have been counterproductive, inadvertently reinforcing the notion that climate change was more about (liberal) politics than science or human wellbeing.

The actions of these motivated actors found fertile ground in the minds of ordinary Americans.

People – all of us, but especially those of us who hold strong, often partisan, views – have a tendency to engage in "motivated reasoning." We tend to seek out (or at least pay more attention to) and agree with information that is consistent with our worldview, and dismiss information that conflicts with our worldview.

As economic and political actors repeatedly made simple, powerful (factually incorrect) arguments against the reality and/or seriousness of climate change, these arguments resonated with the free-market world views of many Americans. In short, climate change became a victim of tribal thinking that was enabled by effective (and highly destructive) strategic communication: simple clear messages, repeated often, by a variety of trusted voices.

Although thankfully most Americans are convinced of the reality – and to a lesser degree the seriousness – of climate change, many Republican members of Congress and governors remain unconvinced (at least in their public statements). While it may not matter much if a small proportion of ordinary Americans remain unconvinced, it matters a lot that so many of our elected representatives are unwilling to see that it's in our nation's – and our world's – best interest to embrace the clean energy revolution that is our best hedge against serious climate disruption.

111 comments
VincentWolf
You'll find many of these just dumb grease monkey's in love with their high performance, smelly filthy polluting trucks and hot rods. They don't want to be taxed higher, the don't want EV's to get tax breaks, etc.
RobertRipstein
One big question. One simple answer: because scientists that question it are fired and blacklisted. It's a big leftist hoax. Got it? Why is this so hard to get?
EcoLogical
I live in Alberta (an OPEC province) and have many family & friends that work in the oil & gas & coal industry. Almost everyone in Alberta, and indeed much of Canada, has received economic benefit from the oil industry and I worked in the oil industry for about half of my life and then, when I realized it was fossil fuel emissions that caused Asthma in my daughter, grandson and myself that I switched to clean, renewable energy 23 years ago. Climate Change may or may not be real but the 7,000,000 ( seven million) people that die prematurely each and every year from fossil fuel pollution is real (WHO) and is a "Clear and Present Danger" to me and my family.
Jeff J Carlson
maybe because you never present any evidence supporting your contention ... the science/evidence says we haven't warmed in 18 years ...
Argon
Global warming is a total crock - fabricated BS evidence from grant hungry scientists making a trace gas C02 an evil bandit. Using their own maths - C02 is about 0,035% of the worlds atmosphere. According to the so called experts about 2% of C02 is anthropogenic - so that means the effect that humans have on the atmosphere is 2% of 0.035% or 0.00007% - I would suggest if all the IPCC members got off their fraudulent gravy train and gave that money to reforestation there would be no problem eh??
Gringo
the "reality" of human-induced climate change? Rubbish. I studied geology in college. The climate of this planet is constantly changing. It's been constantly changing for billions of years. It's been considerably warmer. With no humans in sight. The "reality" is that whining about human-induced climate change is a career for a lot of people. Studying "the problem" as they see it is their livlihood. Generating fear in the un-educated is important to their ability to continue to siphon funding to "study the problem".
Matt Fletcher
I'll be your Huckleberry. I doubt because I do not listen to one side of the argument simply because scientists (people) feel they have figured it out. I look at the facts and the facts I believe are relevant point to a 100,000 year cycle (Milankovitch cycles) which has repeated for millions of years (at least this is what ice core readings show) and that the plant regularly goes up and down 6 degrees. But keep telling me climate change is human induced because the last 150 years of data says so (that makes sense).
MaxWebXperienZ
Global Warming!!! Wake up and pee, the world is on fire!!! OMG!! Humans generate 2% of all the smog! Turn us all over to the Democrats/UN! Don't forget to lie and fabricate evidence any chance you get!! Change the name to Climate Change just in case the earth cools off too, nobody will notice...
Science and Econ
The idea of "human induced climate change" is a hoax. This has been an open secret for 20+- years. Water Vapor, the Sun, etc. drive climate; Carbon Dioxide levels FOLLOW after a lag of some centuries. You really have to aggressively avoid science to not know this. The real question is: How did ANYONE fall for the Carbon Dioxide HOAX?
Jacktrue
This is the first comment I have ever posted in response to an article anywhere. I am skeptical of human induced climate change being a huge problem for two reasons: One, I have built statistical models for a living and understand the effect of limited data and variances in that data can have on predictions. For example, I have yet to see a weather model that can accurately predict local weather on a daily basis with a high degree of accuracy; so, to expect me to believe that using even less data with more variation in that data there are models that can accurately predict weather out decades makes it difficult for me to accept. Second, any scientific claims that have to be defended with oppression, shaming, political power, and personal attacks rather than scientific facts is "science" that should be viewed skeptically.