The Science Behind Climate Change Denial

For much of the scientific community, it’s become a mantra: “the science on climate change is settled.” However, for those who deny or question the scientific evidence for climate change, the cause of this global warming effect is still up for debate. Understanding the psychology and motivations behind climate change denial can enable the climate change conversation to move forward and help end the stalemate that has arisen.

Scientists around the world have all but unanimously agreed on the fact that human activities currently play the leading role in drastically modifying and impacting the global climate. With that being said, the political and social discussions regarding climate change have been incredibly polarized. Plenty of individuals and organizations remain unconvinced by scientific consensus, instead choosing to focus their attention on writing off the scientific evidence for climate change completely. In order to effectively respond to or understand their arguments, it’s important to explore the psychology and motivations driving climate change denial.

What Is Climate Change Denial?

The most accurate definition of climate change denial is the rejection of the scientific consensus on climate change and the widespread agreement by many scientists and other professionals that the world’s climate is undergoing various phenomena, often caused by human activities. Climate change deniers may employ a variety of tactics to refute and discredit scientific evidence, ranging from quoting scientists with minority opinions to making their own non-scientific and non-peer-reviewed studies, or even to arguing that the data supporting climate change is overstated or flawed.

Motivations for Denying Climate Change

Climate change denial can be viewed as a symptom of the current political climate and climate change as a political issue. For many, accepting the facts and implementing environmental regulations to slow or stop climate change means giving up certain long-held beliefs, traditions, and lifestyles. Denial of climate change can also become a way for individuals or organizations to protect their own economic interests or maintain their political or ideological beliefs.

Psychological Barriers to Accepting Climate Change

People can be incredibly selective in their search for evidence, only looking into data that proves or supports their already-held beliefs. This phenomenon is referred to as “confirmation bias.” In the context of climate change, denialists generally only pay attention to data that favors their own beliefs, while disregarding or outright rejecting any studies that challenge their beliefs.

A second psychological barrier to accepting climate change is “motivated reasoning.” This is where people accept evidence only to the extent that it fits into their political, economic, or ideological beliefs. This dynamic makes it difficult to approach climate change conversations on a facts-based platform, as those in denial may refuse to accept those facts if they don’t fit with their pre-existing worldview.

Types of Climate Change Deniers

The term “climate change denier” generally encompasses a variety of individuals and organizations that are unwilling to accept the scientific evidence for climate change for one reason or another. Here are the main groups of deniers:

• The Climate Change Minimizers: These individuals often describe climate change as an exaggerated overstated phenomenon and cite naturally occurring climate cycles as sufficient evidence for climate change’s existence.

• The Industry-funded Deniers: These deniers are typically funded by industry organizations and are generally enlisted to promote the message of industry-funded think tanks and organizations.

• The Religious Deniers: Most commonly found in religious-right circles and other politically conservative circles, these individuals express a belief in God over science, suggesting that God is behind the changes in climate and should be given precedence over the scientific consensus.

• The Conspiracy Theorists: These groups of deniers generally attribute climate change to various theories based on perceived conspiracies rather than scientific data.

Addressing Climate Change Denial

In order to respond to and address climate change denial, it’s important to remember that most individuals and organizations resisting the facts about climate change have an underlying ideological or economic motivation for doing so. Instead of arguing with denialists or attempting to prove scientific studies to them, it’s important to focus on Fostering an open dialogue, approaching the conversation from a position of understanding, and emphasizing actionable solutions in order to move the conversation forward.

At this point, the scientific consensus on climate change has become clear, and it is not going away anytime soon. Therefore, it’s important to move the conversation beyond simply proving scientific evidence and instead focus on providing solutions to the real and present problem of climate change. In doing so, we can ensure that political debates over the science of climate change won’t impede the global response to this very pressing issue.