Why is Climate Change Denial So Seductive?

By George Monbiot

There is no point in denying it: we’re losing. Climate change denial is spreading like a contagious disease. It exists in a sphere that cannot be reached by evidence or reasoned argument. This sphere is expanding with astonishing speed.

A recent survey by the Pew Research Center suggests that the proportion of Americans who believe there’s solid evidence that the world is warming has fallen from 71 percent to 57 percent in just 18 months. This trend certainly doesn’t reflect the state of the science, which has hardened dramatically.

Interestingly, climate beliefs seem to be strongly influenced by age. The Pew report found that people over 65 are much more likely than the rest of the population to deny there is solid evidence the earth is warming, that this warming is caused by humans, or that it’s a serious problem. Why might this be?

There are some obvious answers: older people won’t be around to see the results; they were brought up in a period of technological optimism; they feel entitled, having worked all their lives, to fly or cruise to wherever they wish. But there might also be a less-intuitive reason, which shines a light into a fascinating corner of human psychology.

In 1973, cultural anthropologist Ernest Becker proposed that the fear of death drives us to protect ourselves with “vital lies” or “the armor of character.” We defend ourselves from the ultimate terror by engaging in “immortality projects”—projects and beliefs that boost our self-esteem and grant us meaning that extends beyond death. Over 300 studies conducted in 15 countries appear to confirm Becker’s thesis. When people are confronted with things that remind them of death, they respond by shoring up their worldview, rejecting people and ideas that threaten it, and working to boost their self-esteem.

One of the most-arresting findings is that this behavior can actually bring death closer. In seeking to defend the symbolic, heroic self we create to suppress thoughts of death, we might expose the physical self to greater danger. For example, researchers at Bar-Ilan University in Israel found that people who reported that driving boosted their self-esteem drove faster and took greater risks after they had been exposed to reminders of death.

A recent paper by biologist Janis L. Dickinson, published in Ecology and Society, proposes that constant news and discussion about global warming makes it difficult for people to repress thoughts of death and that they might respond to the terrifying prospect of climate breakdown in ways that strengthen their character armor but diminish our chances of survival. There is already experimental evidence suggesting that some people respond to reminders of death by increasing consumption. Dickinson proposes that growing evidence of climate change might boost this tendency while raising antagonism toward scientists and environmentalists. Their message, after all, presents a lethal threat to the central immortality project of Western society: perpetual economic growth, supported by an ideology of entitlement and exceptionalism.

If Dickinson is correct, is it fanciful to suppose that those who are closer to the end of life might react more strongly against reminders of death? And could it be that the rapid growth of climate change denial over the past two years is actually a response to the hardening of scientific evidence? If so, how do we confront it? ❧

Photo © Guardian News & Media Ltd., 2009

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49 Comments

  • John February 26, 2010 at 2:22 am

    You’re basically saying those who don’t believe it are old or stupid. But there is nothing wrong with healthy skepticism. I think a lot of it stems not from the science, but from the adjustments being asked to be made. They seem extreme and geared toward a shift in the balance of power in the world, which casts doubt over the motiovation behind the data being used to bring about such change.

    The real question is, does it matter? The fact that fossil fuels won’t last forever is forcing us to look into cleaner, renewable energy. The forecast for global warming is a degree or two over the next hundred years is it not? These new forms of energy (assuming they are implemented) should be in place long before the crisis is critical, should they not? Whether you believe the science or not.

    Reply

  • Raymond February 26, 2010 at 2:40 am

    You know why people over 65 are more likely to deny it?

    They have lived long enough to learn the temperatures we face are cycle. Nothing more nothing less.

    It is merely mans egocentric belief system that has lead people to believe that we are responsible for something so big that it is affecting the climate around the entire globe…

    If there was enough evidence to prove global warming I would no longer be a skeptic. To this date everything presented has been contradictory evidence.

    Sure I believe we should take care of our planet, the dirty air is terrible for our lungs but there is too much contradictory evidence that we have effected the temperature.

    Reply

  • Pete February 26, 2010 at 2:58 am

    Right-on John!

    I am not stupid or old!

    Tree-huggers and evil capitalists can actually find some common ground (even if for seemingly different reasons) given the fact that green/clean/alternative/zero-carbon energy solutions will enhance national security (energy independence), drive job growth and save the earth all at the same time.

    We just need to let the innovators do their thing without ‘the man’ getting in the way.

    Nature is the best example of energy (power/wealth) distribution. Think about the African Savannah; it is a balanced ecosystem from dung-beetles and flies all the way up the food chain to apex predators (thats Lions for you stupid old people). They all depend on each other to do their part.

    Reply

  • Eric February 26, 2010 at 3:42 am

    “older people won’t be around to see the results”

    Wow, that’s utterly ridiculous and shows a negative age bias. You’re totally discounting that older people have families, and that their families have sons and daughters and the sons and daughters have their own sons and daughters. Would your grandmothers and grandfathers be proud of how you discount their contribution to your existence and your future?

    Your age bias and quasi-religion of climate change ‘science’ are both based on short sighted views of the world expressed in opinions of what is happening and what matters to that opinion. There are no significant studies that are not opinion based, that have actual proof that would stand up to honest scientific scrutiny.

    You dismiss opposing argument as a sign of a mental abnormality. What’s next? Remove those who are abnormal? The Nazis and the Soviets would have welcomed such advanced thinking. That is, if your Grandfather, and my Father and Uncles hadn’t fought for our freedoms against such tyranny of thought.

    The high priest of climate change resigned last week and stated that their has been no significant climate change in the past 15 years. Who better to know? Why believe him when he was supporting your opinion, and ignore him now? Because, it’s not science. Because it’s a faith, and you believe in the faith. Otherwise, you’d be honest with yourself and those who listen to you and maybe, just maybe suffer a crisis of faith.

    I don’t know what it will take to break the hold of climate change upon the other 57 percent of the people. We’ll just have to continue to hammer them with the reports concerning the misuse and distruction of data, the sloppy predictions, the absence of morals in hiding or burying contradictory reports. They’ll all come around, or at least those who can be convinced by the real climate science as it comes back out into the light.

    How can you ignore the effect of the sun as a constant, when anybody who studies the sun will tell you that it is anything but a constant? How can you ignore the effects of random volcanic eruptions and earthquakes releasing uncalculated megatons of ash, dust, CO2 and other gases into the atmosphere? Just ignoring those two parts of the equation unbalance it enough that anybody can see that the science is just a flawed opinion.

    Opinion, theory, practical theory, and then proven science. That’s part of the necessary progression of scientific reasoning. I hope when you have children and your children have children, that they will think better of you than you do of the older generation. They may even forgive you for still sticking to the idea that we’re causing the climate to change. But, they won’t believe it, because the science will still prove that global climate change caused by human actions is still just a flawed opinion and nothing more.

    Sorry. It’s what the numbers tell me, because I know about volcanic eruptions being random over time, and that the sun isn’t as constant a source of heat and light as we’d like to believe it is, over time. Some things can’t be extrapolated from a data set that only covers 50 years on a planet that has been around for 80 million times that length of 50 years. Even if I allow that we might have 500 or a thousand years of somewhat accurate data, that still makes the odds of your possibility of being right about what happens next to be no better than one thousand to one.

    Is that what you’re betting our future on? A thousand to one longshot? That’s not science. That’s not even a good bet. That’s a faith, based on a flawed opinion. I hope that some day you are convinced by the real science.

    Here’s my last proof. I know that weather doesn’t equate to climate, but the people behind the data are the weather stations gathering the data that is used to track the climate of regions. How much rain, snow, and how many cloudy days, and the temperature all thru the day.

    All those tools, and all that data, and how come the experts couldn’t predict a winter storm track that would bury almost half the country just like it does approximately every 9 to 17 years? No long view. No belief in climate cycles caused by the earth. No belief in solar cycles. Look for yourself. 1945, 1957, 1967, 1979, 1991, 1998, 2010. Within one year in either direction, all of these years had epic snowy winters. That’s just the last 50 years. How can they predict so much based on the past 50 to 100 years and miss something as huge as an obvious cycle of winter storms. They can’t predict it because their faith in this flawed theory doesn’t allow for the possibility of our influence being to small to affect the climate system of the earth, compared to the sun, compared to the planet’s volcanic activity.

    Climate changers believe we must be destroying the earth because we pollute. Certainly, we’re not great stewards and could do better. Everybody wants clean air. Argue for getting soot and dirt out of the air and I’d support you. Everybody should stop polluting, as much. Our dumps are obscene. CO2? Nope. The science just doesn’t support climate changers.

    What we really don’t know about climate will only be revealed when the science catches up with our imaginations.

    Till then, read more, write less. Thank you for your time.

    Reply

  • W L Simpson February 26, 2010 at 4:52 am

    The !979/80 International Geophysical Year foretold this climate change

    Reply

  • Israel Guy February 26, 2010 at 4:55 am

    Why is Climate Change Denial So Seductive? If you really want to understand why people have lost faith in scientists, just think of what the Watergate affair has done to Americans’ attitude towards politicians.
    People tend to be skeptic about scientists and science itself, because they have discovered that they had been consistently lied to!
    I am used to the idea that people will easily lie in the name of religion. However, the discovery that so-called respected scientists will behave in the same manner is world shattering.
    If you really want to understand why older people are more skeptical – it’s because we grew up on the belief that science is rational and that scientists are objective (that was in the era before the world was flooded by fake spiritual sentiments).
    You really have a lot of Chutzpa, pointing a finger at the betrayed, rather than at the betrayers.

    Reply

    • Trev February 7, 2011 at 11:58 pm

      You surely jest if you’re referring to the so-called “climategate” affair! Two independent enquiries found NO evidence for the claims of their accusers.

      On one side you had a young computer hacker,statements taken out of context and a sensationalist press. On the other, scientists who’ve invested their careers in the study of climate science.

      Unfortunately it seems that once some bright spark adds “gate” to the end of a word, that no matter how flimsy and unreliable the evidence,people will believe their claims. There is none whatsover in this particular case.

      Reply

  • Mick Malkemus February 26, 2010 at 4:57 am

    This article explains a lot of the behavior I’ve witnessed in myself and others, especially driving behavior.

    I was speeding like crazy (something I rarely do) after being next to the volcano in Hawaii. Seems I had a healthy dose of feelings of death while there, and compensated with behavioral armor when I left the area… I remember how good it felt to be alive while speeding, but not really being aware that I was speeding.

    I got a speeding ticket, and I deserved it.

    It has been a great mystery why so many are taken in by the politically driven misinformation campaign. Thanks for providing one answer that works well.

    Reply

  • Mick Malkemus February 26, 2010 at 5:09 am

    BTW Israel Guy, you yourself have a lot of Chutzpa pointing the finger at scientists that have lied to us, when it is actually a very small handful of politically backed scientists that have left the scientific arena to bring their politically motivated campaign to the unsuspecting and welcoming public.

    Most climate scientists (not engineers such as Burt Rutan profiting off of “Tent Talk” revival style meetings) are in consensus, and have been for over 30 years, and probably 50.

    I’d say 6,500 climate scientists to 4 are fairly respectable odds and shows extreme consensus. Burt makes great planes, but I wouldn’t consult him on climate change unless he goes back to school and gets another doctorate: in climatology.

    Reference

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2T4UF_Rmlio

    Reply

  • Sander van Rossen February 26, 2010 at 5:11 am

    Raymond: my grandfather is 93 and he’s saying that the weather got warmer throughout his life.

    Also, there is no contradictory evidence, there’s only evidence and propaganda.

    Eric: What have the Nazis and Soviets got to do with this? What is it with Americans to drag Nazis and Communists into conversations that have nothing to do with them? How can anything be both at the same time?? Do you even have a clue what you’re talking about?
    Why don’t you just bring up Santa and fairies while you’re at it?

    As for there not being any opposing views, they’ve already went through that 20-30 years ago.
    The reason why virtually nobody who actually studied the material is opposing the concept of climate change is because there’s simply too much evidence to support it.

    “The high priest of climate change resigned last week and stated that their has been no significant climate change in the past 15 years.”

    Wrong, he was trying to say that you can’t say anything of statistical significance about any 15 years. It’s too short a time period to say anything useful about it.
    Of course his statement has been twisted and abused by certain special interest groups.

    “How can you ignore the effect of the sun as a constant, when anybody who studies the sun will tell you that it is anything but a constant”

    It’s not ignored, and in fact solar output has gone down, while -global- temperature has gone up. Notice how I said “global”, not “local”.

    “How can you ignore the effects of random volcanic eruptions and earthquakes releasing uncalculated megatons of ash, dust, CO2 and other gases into the atmosphere”

    These aren’t ignored either, and they’re significantly lower compared to human output.

    “All those tools, and all that data, and how come the experts couldn’t predict a winter storm…”

    Local weather is significantly more difficult to predict compared to global temperature.
    That’s why climate science can’t predict exactly what the local effects of climate change will be, but they can predict what global effects will be.

    That more CO2 means higher temperatures was already theorized >100 years ago, and in that 100 years nobody has been able to disprove it.
    In fact, the science behind it has only been strengthened.
    If you look at atmospheric CO2, it’s gone up with the exact same curvature shape of all the estimated CO2 emissions of the last 2 centuries.
    And in the periods before that CO2 levels have been relatively level compared to this curved shape.

    Reply

  • wrong at large February 26, 2010 at 5:26 am

    A recent survey by the Pew Research Center suggests that the proportion of Americans who believe there’s solid evidence that the world is warming has fallen from 71 percent to 57 percent in just 18 months. This trend certainly doesn’t reflect the state of the science, which has hardened dramatically.

    ummmmm somebody has a mental illness and it is the author,,, if anything the so-called science has fallen on its face, having been exposed by the corrupt proselytizers of the psuedo science,,,

    i see you failed to list even one hard science fact,,, typical,,,

    please explain to us how sending billions of dollars to third world corrupt leaders, that will build huge houses and bank accounts outside their country, does anything for the people of the country let alone stop global warming,,,

    you are right on one thing,,, your side is bankrupt,,,

    but,,, if you are so convinced of this,,, why are you not calling for the following instead:

    here is a solution to your so called human caused global warming,,,

    stop creating humans,,,

    i mean,,, if you are serious about human caused global warming,,,

    because wealth redistribution does nothing about human caused global warming,,,

    but you knew that already,,,

    by the way,,, humans have survived the last climate changes just fine,,,

    oceans will rise and fall as they always have,,, so get over yourself,,,

    real science has already found real solutions to global warming,,, like feeding ocean algae,,,

    sorry,,, i guess that doesn’t send billions of dollars to corrupt third world leaders,,,

    too bad,,,

    Reply

  • Brent February 26, 2010 at 5:40 am

    I wonder if any of you actually read the article. The statement based on age was not the author’s personal opinion but was based on the study by the Pew Research Center. Perhaps getting yourself a copy of the report before posting YOUR opinions would have been wiser?

    Age does influence the psychology and acceptance of ideas. In a few years time you might be fighting the ideas and theories that actual science gives evidence to. To throw climate change science out the window by basing your arguments on one sentence of an article is irresponsible and immature.

    Reply

  • Lina Inverse February 26, 2010 at 8:24 am

    Why are older people more skeptical: Well, maybe it’s because “Global Warming” is now “Climate Change”, but we remember earlier efforts like The Coming Ice Age, The Limits to Growth (especially expressed as the ’70s energy “crisis”), etc., all that turned out to be mistakes (at best) … and can’t help but notice that whatever the problem of the day is, the prescription is always the same.

    And how many of these “scientists” were caught lying or encouraging it. Or how you’re now so desperate that you try to paint skeptics as neo-Nazis; the use of the word “Denial” is telling. You’re engaging in politics, not science (I know what real science is, I went to MIT).

    How many times did you expect you could cry wolf before the “rubes” caught on?

    Reply

  • Brennan Novak February 26, 2010 at 4:42 am

    Whoa, whoa! I don’t know the reader demographic of this site but all of your comments are a bit intense. I don’t think the author is saying people dis deny climate change are stupid at all. He is merely talking about studies done about human being think and process reality- which there seems to be much merit in trying to better understand how we as a species function. Based on your comments are you the exact demographic he is talking about that deny it?

    Reply

  • jonathan February 26, 2010 at 9:43 am

    Or maybe its all the scientists that have made it quite clear that the science is all based on theories at best. You also are probably failing to note that many may believe the earth is warming, but who can claim that its not part of a longer natural earth cycle? You’ll see how global warming helps big business. Bigger companies will get more government aid because they can plant forests for carbon credit. .

    Reply

  • Motivation February 26, 2010 at 9:48 am

    Where does motivation come from? I believe it comes from mans desire to live, and to live very well, not to die, and not to die a pauper or alone. Is hat too simplistic? Only to the young/
    I am not degreed, except by age. Which means to me that with age you often have more friends in the ground than on it. Yes, I do not want to die and tend to not dwell on death or related items. Very disimilar to the young person that is prone to risky behavior to prove that they are bullet proof. Oh my Lord, what an idea, or is it just an idea from an old man. By the way I am only only 60, which is not old by some standards these days.
    I find it quite arrogant to believe that man can do anything to upset the solar system. Isn’t the earth more water than dirt? Heard that somewhere along the line. If you took the USA off of the globe, what percentage of of the population and polution would be missing? I do not have any idea but have looked at a globe and our country certainly looked small in size.
    By he way, where do these scientist’s get there funding to do there research? From grants etc.
    Enough from a death dodging old man.

    Reply

  • Rick B February 26, 2010 at 10:07 am

    Terrific article….very informative, very true. I’m often amazed at the reaction of the short-sighted conspiracy theorists who just can’t be bothered by inconveniences such as, you know, death of the planet. They ask insightful questions like “what’s in it for me if I change my ways?” or “isn’t this just cyclical, I mean, look at all the snow we got this year!”. This issue, as well as many others, is so far beyond the intellectual capacity of the current generation that we are doomed if we rely on their logic, reason and common sense to lead the way. Progress must be mandated so this society can be saved from itself.

    Reply

  • BioGuy February 26, 2010 at 10:49 am

    Jonathan:

    You should make sure you understand the difference between the humanities definition of a theory,

    (from American Heritage Dictionary)
    4. Abstract reasoning; speculation
    5. A belief or principle that guides action or assists comprehension or judgment
    6. An assumption based on limited information or knowledge; a conjecture.

    and the scientific definition:

    1. A set of statements or principles devised to explain a group of facts or phenomena, especially one that has been repeatedly tested or is widely accepted and can be used to make predictions about natural phenomena.

    (definitions 2 and 3 were not contextually relevant.

    The National Academy of Sciences explains it pretty well:

    “A scientific theory is a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world, based on a body of facts that have been repeatedly confirmed through observation and experiment. Such fact-supported theories are not “guesses” but reliable accounts of the real world. The theory of biological evolution is more than “just a theory.” It is as factual an explanation of the universe as the atomic theory of matter or the germ theory of disease. Our understanding of gravity is still a work in progress. But the phenomenon of gravity, like evolution, is an accepted fact.”

    Anyone who understands the difference between these two uses for the word “theory” can see where part of the problem lies. We have non-scientists making declarative and interperative statements about science that they don’t understand.

    Regardless of what you suspect the motivations for the research are, you still cannot dispute RESULTS the actual, and enormous body of peer-reviewed, massively cross-checked research. The system of peer-review that we have in the scientific community is EXTREMELY effective for greatly minimizing potential bias and conflicts of interest.

    Political conspiracy theories –humanities usage of the word “theories,” by the way– have no more place in the study of climate than does God in the study of genetics. There may be a God, but that discussion is for the theology arena, not the climate study arena. There may be conspiracy, (probably not), but that discussion is for the humanities arena, not the science arena.

    Reply

  • fatboy February 26, 2010 at 11:18 am

    The thing I find most interesting about this article is that the studies the author cites as the cause for climate change denial can also be applied to climate change supporters. What could possibly be more self-esteem boosting than being a “Stalwart” or a “Pioneer” to a “good cause”? Belief in man made climate change requires at least as much faith – if not more – as any modern religion. Certainly, there is science that seems to support the claims made by alarmists, but at best, it’s circumstantial. There’s no difinitive proof that man is the cause of climate change any more than there’s difinive proof the Jesus is the Son of God, or even God Himself. In fact, the historical record – claiming the divinity of Jesus – extends far beyond the historical record of the climate.

    The old people the author discounts are right on at least one thing: “Waste not, want not”. Most that actually remember the things those old people taught will remember that conservation is a good thing, and I’ll bet you’ll find very few Americans that will disagree with that. But conservation is vastly different than climate change. To quote a non-famous local philosopher: “There’s a difference between scratching your ass and tearing a hole in it.”

    Reply

  • Jack Allen February 26, 2010 at 11:25 am

    The problem with this article is glaring “Over 300 studies” and then no works cited page is linked or given. What are the 300 studies? Who did them? What were the results? Seems like a BIG hole in the article to me…

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  • Tim Twigg February 26, 2010 at 12:32 pm

    I feel the time of discussion of what we can do to prevent global warming has already past. By the time the skeptics accept the oceans are rising is when they have risen to an unmanagble level. Low lying countries are obliterated by tides and hundreds of millions are dead or displaced. Another major event will be the lack of fresh water to drink and grow crops.

    At that point the question is not what can we do to prevent this, as the global warming at that point will be self sustaining; but lets start to ask how we as a species are going to survive it.

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  • Jeff Sizz February 26, 2010 at 12:48 pm

    congrats! you are another person doing extremely useless science using probably tons of funding for something 90% of people already know. I hope when you are getting older and closer to death you can enjoy your bleak outlook to life itself. Think about when your getting closer to the end you are going to be thinking about saving gas and prolly not doing anything for enjoyment in your retirement years. Hey but congrats! I’m sure you are going to be just as happy as my mother who just recently came home from wasting a ton of gas! and consuming everything to make her life happy visiting the winter olympics! So whatever happened to the pursuit of happiness? enjoy….I’m sure you are an athiest too….

    Reply

  • Jeff Sizz February 26, 2010 at 12:59 pm

    Science, I laugh at the mere term….follow the dollar. I’m sure if people funded enough “scientists” to disprove global warming….There will be “scientific” facts to disprove Global warming as a threat. But of course they will not be published, bcuz that is not the popular idea at the current time.

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  • Joe Hart February 26, 2010 at 5:11 pm

    Boy, this is just another outrageous example of the narcissism & hubris of the climatologists that have been claiming every abnormal weather event is the result of climate change. Do you think, maybe, that part of this apparent belief disparity in the age demograhics may have something to do what is being taught in public schools today versus 50 or 60 years ago? The scientests only have themselves to blame for this change in believing what scientists are saying concerning climate change. There have been too many instances throughout the western world of scientists playing with the data to show the results they want, all to save their precious grant money or to raise funding for their research.

    It is good that they now have their feet to the fire, because the proposals put forth at the recent Copenhagen Summit are asking the taxpayers of the developed countries to pony up incredible sums of money for a plan that no one can say with any credible degree of certainty will prove effective. Do not get me wrong, I happen to believe in climate change. I just believe that I, as an American taxpayer, should bear no financial responsibility to the effected island nations or the developing world. It is called Darwinism, natural selection, survival of the fittest. The only true way to reduce carbon emmissions, as well as declining resources, is to reduce the total population of a virus that infects the planet earth – MANKIND. By the way, I am 33.

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  • Dave Robinson February 26, 2010 at 2:07 pm

    I’m in my 60s. I recall significantly colder winters in my youth than winters experienced today. My personal experience only covers the North American Continent (not global).

    My observation: scientific data doesn’t lie but you can lie (or misslead) with scientific data. Opinion will be maneuvered in the direction that will result in the highest profit. This isn’t always in the direction of “what’s best for humanity”. Right now, the concept of Global warming is VERY profitable. Just adding “Green” to your advertising slogans increases sales. Adding “Green” or “Organic” to your product allows you to add a few more percent to your bottom line. Even when you haven’t changed a thing. Cynical? Certainly. (It’s how us old farts are) True? YES.

    My opinion (entirely lacking in scientific data):
    Does Global warming exist or is Global warming really happening? YES, without question.
    Are we the sole cause of this Global warming? NO, well, not entirely. We certainly not helping.
    Can we stop it? It’s pretty hubris of us to presume so.
    What’s the most effective thing we can do to STOP this Global warming? Stop all production (commerce), vehicle emissions, everything. This isn’t likely to receive any support because we would become very uncomfortable, likely starve (also resulting in an improvement in Global warming) and probably the biggest item, there’s no profit in it.

    I’m a member of a cynical generation. Day in and day out all I hear is spin. I hear opposing points of view presented while citing the same scientific data. It’s simply the “Half full/Half empty” scenario. Even scientific theories begin with “gut feelings”. The problem with “gut feelings” is, no matter how hard we try or how honest we want to be, we tend to find evidence that supports those feelings.

    All discussions have their radical elements. The black and white hardliners are pretty easy to spot. We are all looking for evidence that supports our “Gut feelings”. Those of us in the middle are simply looking data that is to the point and undeniable. But then our cynicism pops up and gets in the way.

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  • G February 26, 2010 at 3:34 pm

    I can’t help but think that a large part of the increase in denial is what appears to be a virtual crusade of deniers leaping on any post related to climate change and spouting all sorts of off-topic bile to do anything to discredit the science. It’s an echo chamber of inanity, and I feel that people who are just now starting to take notice of the issue are accepting the most comfortable explanations (ie. the world is not facing climate meltdown, it’s all just a hoax).

    Websites like ClimateDepot.com link to a massive networks of blog sites that in turn link to one another and their primary tactic is personal attacks, rather than really overturning scientific conclusions. Here’s a couple of trademark strategies that posters will use on message boards:

    – Link to a blog (rather than a paper or journal) as evidence of something (if you’ve got facts, put them in your post)
    – make personal attacks (attack the messenger, not the message)
    – make a joke about Al Gore (I don’t really care what people say about him, but the seething hatred of him is evidence ones ability to get worked up emotionally disproportionate to reason)
    – exaggerate the relevance of scientific errors (The Himalayan glacier retreat estimate was revised by a few decades, it is still likely those water sources will be gone by the end of the century, etc.)
    – accuse scientists of ulterior motives and those who acknowledge AGW as religious zealots.(Of course, it’s the well funded science and environment lobby versus the meek little ol’ oil, gas and coal lobbies)

    These Denier sites will also link to articles that support evidence of climate change with a counter argument below the link. If you follow those links and read the comments in the linked article, you will often see that counter argument paraphrased.

    All this being said, the AGW camp has it’s loudmouths and hypocrites too, but I don’t think that reason will triumph by matching tactics. I also use the word Denier consciously, since I am myself a skeptic about how much Climate Change will affect us and how much we affect it, but it’s foolish denial to claim with certainty that the scientists of the world are fabricating the issue.

    Reply

  • Ben February 26, 2010 at 3:40 pm

    The age thing is interesting, but not too relevant. There are plenty of young people denying anthropogenic climate change, and it’s all for a simple reason: The idea makes them feel bad. If scientists are correct, then we’re all guilty of something terrible…so they had better be wrong.

    This desire to feel good about oneself drives reason out of the discussion. Many victims of such feelings say absolutely stupid things like “follow the money”, as if the money leads to the scientists they hate. They ask how humans could change the world, ignoring that there are 6 billion of us releasing amazing quantities of resources that took millions of years to accumulate. They claim that global warming and global dimming cannot possibly occur simultaneously, even though both are easily explainable even to a child.

    In the end, here’s what matters: In all age groups, there are more people who refuse to feel bad about themselves than people willing to be brutally honest. Therefore, for all practical political purposes, anthropogenic climate change is not happening.

    Reply

  • Joe February 26, 2010 at 5:22 pm

    The author’s right, as the comments confirm. Climate change deniers are either old, stupid, or both. Unfortunately, neither condition is curable.

    Reply

  • wrong at large February 26, 2010 at 5:41 pm

    The author’s wrong, as the comments confirm. Climate change proselytizers are either corrupt, stupid, or both. Unfortunately, neither condition is curable.

    Reply

  • patsyd February 26, 2010 at 6:30 pm

    For Mr. Monbiot to say “they feel entitled” and were “brought up in a period of technological optimism” certainly has more than a tinge of elitism, denial and an overpowering intolerant slant. Are we currently in a period of “technological pessimism”. The over 65 that fly or cruise to wherever they wish apparently have ‘earned’ the ability to afford that lifestyle. Does Mr. Monbiot not fly or cruise? A state of denial is exactly where Mr. Monbiat resides. Break out of your box of suffocating denial and broaden your horizons… the horizon will still be visible when you are on your deathbed.

    Reply

  • Mike February 26, 2010 at 6:49 pm

    Since ALL the planets of the solar system are showing sign of heating, I think there is good chance we are also, but from the inside out. From the effects of entering the Galactic rim? Possibly.

    Reply

  • Raymond February 26, 2010 at 7:10 pm

    Sander van Rossen
    How strange my Great-Great-Aunt is also in her 90’s and she will always say the weather is on a cycle. We have our warm years and our cooler years…

    Just read Phil Jone’s interview with BBC. He basically states there is no significant change in the weather but Global Warming /Global Climate change whatever you wish to call it still exists and it is man made…..

    Reply

  • wrong at large February 26, 2010 at 10:12 pm

    hmmmmmm has geogie boy changed his mind??? is he taking back his APOLOGY???

    Monbiot issues an unprecedented apology – calls for Jones resignation
    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2009/11/23/monbiot-issues-an-unprecedented-apology/

    It’s no use pretending that this isn’t a major blow. The emails extracted by a hacker from the climatic research unit at the University of East Anglia could scarcely be more damaging. I am now convinced that they are genuine, and I’m dismayed and deeply shaken by them.

    Yes, the messages were obtained illegally. Yes, all of us say things in emails that would be excruciating if made public. Yes, some of the comments have been taken out of context. But there are some messages that require no spin to make them look bad. There appears to be evidence here of attempts to prevent scientific data from being released, and even to destroy material that was subject to a freedom of information request.
    Worse still, some of the emails suggest efforts to prevent the publication of work by climate sceptics, or to keep it out of a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. I believe that the head of the unit, Phil Jones, should now resign. Some of the data discussed in the emails should be re-analysed.

    I apologise. I was too trusting of some of those who provided the evidence I championed. I would have been a better journalist if I had investigated their claims more closely.

    Reply

  • wrong at large February 26, 2010 at 10:51 pm

    move along,,, move along,,, step aside,,,

    it is just George Monbiot(pronounced moonbat) barking again,,, trying to get anybody to still listen to the barking,,,

    poor little barking moonbat,,, he knows his propogandist career is over,,,

    Reply

  • wrong at large February 28, 2010 at 3:20 am

    Pack up the babies and grab the old ladies and everyone goes
    ‘Cause everyone knows ’bout Brother Bores show
    (Halleluja) Brothers (Halle, halleluja) I say brothers

    human caused global warming is upon us,,,
    but fear not,,, i have a plan,,,
    give all your money to third world corrupt leaders,,,
    no,,, that won’t do anything to stop human caused global warming,,,
    but you will feel better knowing those corrupt leaders are living in mansions outside their country with huge swiss bank accounts while their people starve and now so do you,,,

    can i get a Halleluja!!!

    Reply

  • ray March 1, 2010 at 1:06 am

    Most of you that believe there is no evidence that supports climate change get your information from expert scientists and know-it-alls Rush Limbaugh and Shawn Hannity.
    These quys are just entertainers that their only agendas are ratings and money. In private they probably just sit back and laught at how stupid you idiots are that belive all the garbage that they spew out every day. They do not have any evidence that there is no climate change and what they claim they have comes from so-called scientists that have religious based educations and backgrounds that are against evolution or any other teachings that disprove creationism.

    Reply

  • Eric March 6, 2010 at 5:52 am

    To Sander…

    The reason I didn’t ‘bring up Santa and fairies’ is because neither The North pole and Disneyland national political movements marginalized the people they disagreed with by use of ridiculing and lying about them to their subjects, until it was acceptable to their subjects to get rid of the abnormal.

    The Nazis and Soviets did. What I said was, “You dismiss opposing argument as a sign of a mental abnormality. What’s next? Remove those who are abnormal? The Nazis and the Soviets would have welcomed such advanced thinking.”

    The difference between the two was that the Nazis killed about 45 million people that disagreed with their thoughts and the Soviets killed about 50 million people that disagreed with their thoughts.

    Santa and faeries? So far as I’ve heard from Churchs, and Hallmark and Disney, nobody killed by either. Except maybe Capt. Hook.

    So, do you think that asking why I didn’t bring up ‘Santa and fairies’ wasn’t ridiculous? Do you think that being lied to by people that believe what you’ve been taught to believe is okay?

    Why do you and the writer believe that your First Amendment rights extend to ridiculing people to ‘prove’ your argument is actually more than just your opinion?

    This writer identified the abnormals, and villifed them. The next step, the Nazis and Soviets took after ridiculing and marginalizing the ‘abnormal’ is removing them. You’re on a slippery slope. Watch out or you’ll end up being on the same road the Nazis and Soviets trod and not even know it.

    You want to prove something in a scientific manner? Make sure that the words, ‘we lied’ don’t appear in the revised edition. Make sure the result is based on data and not just opinion. Make sure that the data isn’t destroyed after the ‘conclusion’ is foisted.

    It’s called a scientific process for a reason.

    Question: Can we do this better.
    Opinion: We can do this better this way.
    Theory: I did it this way and I think it is better.
    Practical Theory: It’s been done by many people independently and they think it is better.
    Scientific Proof: It actually is a better way.

    Live with it. The ‘scientific consensus’ is nothing more than an OPINION, based on fraudulent data, that was destroyed because if put to the practical theory test it would have been easily proven to be garbage in, garbage out.

    There is no proof that there is a better way to reduce CO2. It’s impossible to move the opinion beyond an opinion to be a theory or practical theory. The cause or the solution cannot be proven on a global scale.

    What we don’t know:

    Perfect example: Krakatoa. When it exploded 1890ish, ash circled the globe for months. The global temperature dropped, crops failed, famine, etc. How much CO2, locked into the rock, was released at the same time? Why didn’t it counteract the temperature drop? What IF we hadn’t been releasing CO2? How severe would the drop in temperature have been then?

    2nd Perfect example: If our planet is supposed to be marginally cooler than it is, how do you explain the last ice age that ended only 11 thousand years ago? It was a lot colder then. Meaning: How did man cause it? Or better yet, how could man have prevented it? Could we be preventing another ice age, right now? Could it be part of our genetic memory that if we do what we’re doing that we’ll prevent the death of half of our world’s population due to a planetary ice age reoccurence?

    You want us to believe in climate change, prove it.

    On a side note: This winter has been an average of around 10 degrees cooler and two to four times as wet as two years ago here. When that gets added to the climate average charts next year I really wouldn’t want to be selling carbon credits.

    Reply

  • Eric March 6, 2010 at 6:11 am

    Ray,

    Read above. It’s a process. If you don’t follow the process, all you have is an opinion.

    And you really lost me when you said:

    “In private they probably just sit back and *laught* at how stupid you idiots are that *belive* all the garbage that they spew out every day. They do not have any evidence that there is no climate change and what they claim they have comes from so-called scientists that have religious based educations and backgrounds that are against evolution or any other teachings that disprove creationism.”

    I always was told never to mispell two words in the same sentence where I decided to call millions of people idiots. Since I am one of the millions of people insulted, I figured it was okay to point it out to you. Nobody is perfect.

    We’ll all do better. That’s my opinion.

    Oh, and we don’t have to prove that climate change isn’t happening. In order for climate change to be more than an opinion, you all have to prove it. It’s a process.

    Reply

  • Eric March 6, 2010 at 6:21 am

    Brent,

    If you repeat garbage and cite it in your article, then expect to be tasked with having said it yourself.

    “Older people….”

    None of us would be here except for the foresight of “Older people”.

    It’s a prejudicial comment and if the author of this article wanted to site the study and disagree with the comment, he could have done so. He didn’t.

    Reply

  • Red March 7, 2010 at 10:48 am

    Raymond says: “You know why people over 65 are more likely to deny it? They have lived long enough to learn the temperatures we face are cycle. Nothing more nothing less.”

    Wow! 65 years is truly long enough to understand everything! The fact is, our industrial society over the last 150-200 years has drastically changed the face of the world, almost entirely in negative ways. Up until the 19th century, humans didn’t have the ability to mess up the world’s ecosystem in any noticeable way – population, technology and available energy simply didn’t allow us to. But all of that has changed.

    It’s not that the earth is in danger – it’s WE who are in danger, because we keep destroying our own nest.

    Reply

  • Jerry Lang March 12, 2010 at 12:48 pm

    I’m a year short of the 65-and-older crowd, but I question the theory that older Americans are particularly unconvinced of global warming because they associate the phenomenon with pending death.
    Most people (including older people) who truly believe climate change is not human caused aren’t worried about it, and certainly not worried about it in relationship to their pending deaths. It would be like worrying whether the sun was going to come up tomorrow or if there was going to be an earthquake – things over which they have no control.
    My guess, and only a guess, is that older Americans are not constructing “immortality projects” by taking cruises and flying around the globe. (The majority of seniors don’t have the resources to fly and cruise anyway. Besides, what kind of legacy do those activities leave?) The “immortality project” I most hear about from older Americans is their grandchildren, whom they generally care about greatly.
    I suggest that older Americans are more politically conservative and less questioning of the information they get from conservative sources. They also have “been around the block”, and have been exposed to many more “chicken little” public scares than have younger generations. Older people are also just plain tired, and often don’t feel like exerting effort to change lifestyles. There is also the “entitlement” issue of “I did my best, now it’s your turn to run the world. Just don’t bother me about it.“
    Ignorance of atmospheric science and science in general among the broader population (not just seniors) is also partly to blame. As soon as the local weather is colder than normal, the people directly affected start to question global warming. Global is too big for many people to handle. Additionally, global is not the way humans have evolved to think even though we now live in a “global environment”. This is especially true if any sacrifice is required. It’s the old problem of “why should I give up something, if they (out there somewhere) don’t?”
    All segments of the public are becoming more cynical relative to “authorities” of all sorts be they scientific, religious, political, economic, etc. There have been too many promises not delivered, too many authorities publically falling on their sword, and too much hype about many pending “catastrophes” that never happened.
    A failure by the scientific community and environmental groups to develop a convincing case for a huge, long-term, and insidious problem – something very difficult to do – has more to do with declining support for global warming as a real phenomenon than does people fearing death and building immortality projects. There’s only so much worrying anybody can do before becoming numb.

    Reply

  • CynthiaT in Ohio March 12, 2010 at 8:20 pm

    This is interesting information to add to the conversation, but not the only cause of denial, in my 59-year-old opinion.

    As a nation, we’ve done a lousy job of teaching the intent, logic or processes of math and science for generations. Most people who debate climate change with me have zero understanding of how the planet’s weather or atmosphere works, or how to evaluate the reliability of information they hear or see.

    What’s sadder is that many don’t want to know how these (or other) systems work, either. Seeing science as “over their head,” they combat it with folklore and denial to feel better about both climate change and themselves. I’d probably be arguing with them, except that I was lucky as an adult to have interesting opportunities to make up for my deficient science/math public education.

    As a nation, we need to develop more awareness and leadership in promoting scientific education and public understanding.

    Reply

  • Shannon Cave March 18, 2010 at 12:45 pm

    At 61, I’ve learned not to get too upset about being called either old or stupid — I know that a lot I was once certain about isn’t certain. Old coots have also learn that most proposed solutions cures don’t, they just shift things around and pop up unexpected new problems elsewhere.

    I tend to trust scientists when they measure carefully, and tell me what is. I like it when they cautioning me about margins of error rather than tell me they’ve got it handled. So if you tell me there is solid evidence the world is generally warmer today than it was in 1910 or 1010, or 8990BC, I can buy that.

    I also think these guys learn a lot, and have good insight into causes. However, I grew up when the experts saw plate techtonics as a crackpot theory, about the time transistor radios began to make quantum mechanics real. It takes time, and what would really scare me based on my knowledge of history would be to learn that all the scientists did agree about something. Appeals to authority are the weakest arguments in rhetoric, and I for one got more skeptical when someone claimed “most” of the experts endorse AGW.

    The death knell for the climate argument came when people tried to label particular cures as “science” — especially untestable hypotheses. I work for an agency that has been trying to restore quail populations for decades. Even though there’s good science behind the plan, it never seems to be gaining ground. It’s not the science that’s failing, its the milieu of social, agricultural, economic and maybe even climate change that boogers up the results.

    It does not take science to understand suspicion of proposed cures. (Yes us old fogeys may be the worst, and we probably like to do a lot of things more than worrying about death.) An international treaty seems like a good idea, although the devil is in the details. I think we’ve concluded several treaties to put an end to war, but the results monitoring is not very encouraging. We passed laws 40 years ago to assure clean water in this country, and they’ve done a lot of good — but don’t drink it and be careful where you swim.

    Some climate change deniers are fools, but a lot are healthy skeptics. Some climate change proponents are fools too, especially those jump from decent data and plausible theory to arguing for some particular solution trajectory. Carbon is nice datum to monitor, but its not an engineering control like the little slider on my radio. No science supports saying people can push up and down, or that doing so would reliably produce desirable results.

    What really needs to be done? Maybe it would help to spread iron over the ocean, or build more wind farms instead of oil wells, or plant trees in the Sahara. I think the basic science predates current research by thousands of years: live gently on the earth, be kind to people, honor the waters, learn from the wildlife, and look for a peaceful solution.

    Believe it or not, lots of deniers are looking for a sensible cure. And a lot of those are things that are supposedly needed to address AGW have been worked on for other reasons than the East Anglia data set. I speak of traditional conservation activities, e.g. restore wetlands, plant trees, maintain biotic diversity, moderate development, decrease reliance on non-renewable energy, etc.

    Reply

  • Cascade April 13, 2010 at 12:00 pm

    I don’t think the idea of the world getting warmer is necessarily in doubt…not long ago it was covered in ice so there is something warming it. But it’s not people. When dinosaurs lived, they didn’t go south for the winter…there wasn’t a winter. If the world existed for 100s of millions of years without winter, then it leads me to believe that that is the baseline temperature of the planet…like it or not.

    Over-analyzing as a goal to convey a message is also counter productive.

    Reply

  • VancouverJoe April 27, 2010 at 4:23 pm

    It’s fascinating how people who deny climate change respond so aggressively to this article and a recurring “reason” for denial is “contradictory” evidence. To me that shows that people are reasoning based on their values, not by using evidence. A value is either right or wrong. Contradicting a value means either that one of the principles with which one can evaluate actions is flawed, or the deviant behaviour is morally wrong. In science the state of knowledge is constantly in flux, changing to reflect the most current information. Values are static. I believe it is the propensity to rationalize using values that is one of the root causes of climate change denial because the normal scientific process of iterative research appears to be “contradictory” to someone who has not been trained to develop analytic skills. To help address climate change it is not data that is needed, it’s public scientific literacy. Only when people understand science can they begin to have faith that a process that is very different from the way of thinking they are used to.

    Reply

  • Tamin September 12, 2010 at 4:40 pm

    I remain neutral on this issue; I certainly do not purport to understand the facts and figures to a degree enabling me to support either side. What I find ridiculous is that Environmentalism and climate change has divided the globe into two aggressive camps- in the modern era being a climate change sceptic is almost a personal affront to climate change supporters, a notion the author is certainly supporting when he likens this scepticism to a ‘contagious disease.’ This has rendered the debate so subjective and so incensed that it seems to have lost all meaning apart from ‘I BELIEVE IN CLIMATE CHANGE’ and ‘I DON’T’, with either side throwing statistics at each other without truly understanding anything about the issue or endeavouring to comprehend the viewpoint of the other side.

    I’m sixteen years old. Until the people who run this world are mature enough to approach this issue in a grown-up way, I will continue to remain neutral.

    Reply

  • Yathartha Tuladhar August 31, 2011 at 8:21 am

    The author is really out of his mind!
    He is trying to use assumptions to prove his belief!

    Rock on! To everyone who denies climate change and global warming is due to human activities.
    The information published by IPCC (International Panel on Climate Change) is biased and is in vested interest of few politicians and businessmen who view the Climate change problem as a “BIG BUISNESS”. They want people to PANIC! And eventually make money out of it.

    Today hundrends and thousands of jobs rely on it. It is a blooming business.

    I am not the only one saying this, renowned Scientists and meteorologists also support this claim. If someone says that the climate change is due to man made carbon dioxide, he hasn’t look at the basic figures!

    Reply

  • Arab News Blog » Why there will be Masses in the Streets Protesting Climate Change (Engelhardt) March 4, 2013 at 7:21 am

    […] why bother?  Why not focus on what matters to you now and forget the rest?  This is where denial, the almost involuntary turning away from unpalatable futures that seem beyond our power or ability […]

    Reply

  • Largest Climate Rally » all4peacenow.com March 30, 2013 at 6:01 pm

    […] well, why bother? Why not focus on what matters to you now and forget the rest? This is where denial, the almost involuntary turning away from unpalatable futures that seem beyond our power or ability […]

    Reply

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