Cool White Dudes

Climate-change denial strongest among pale, male conservatives 

“The more you think you know, the more you think you’re right.” Now comes a study of sex, skin color, and political ideology that suggests this pretty much sums up how some white male conservatives in the U.S. respond to climate change.

“Even casual observers” of those arguing that climate change isn’t a serious problem “likely notice an obvious pattern,” Aaron M. McCright of Michigan State University in East Lansing and Riley E. Dunlap of Oklahoma State University in Stillwater write in Global Environmental Change. “The most prominent denialists are conservative white males”—from media pundit Rush Limbaugh to politicians such as Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe. But the pair wondered: “Does a similar pattern exist in the American public?”

To find out, the researchers analyzed ten annual polls on environmental issues conducted by the Gallup organization from 2001 to 2010. Together, they included responses from more than 10,000 adults. After slicing and dicing the numbers, the researchers spotted clear trends: “Conservative white males are significantly more likely than are other Americans to endorse denialist views,” they write. And “these differences are even greater for those conservative white males who self-report understanding global warming very well.”

Overall, while 29.6 percent of conservative white males (CWMs) believed that the effects of global warming “will never happen,” just 7.4 percent of all other adults shared that view. Similarly, 58.5 percent of CWMs—but only 31.5 percent of all other adults—denied that recent temperature increases are caused primarily by human activities.

Notably, the researchers say that CWMs also tended to assert a stronger understanding of global warming than other adults—and those who said they understood it best were the most likely to be the strongest deniers. “This, of course, seems an untenable self-assessment,” the authors write, “given that conservative white males are more likely than are other adults to reject the current scientific consensus.”

But “denialism is sufficiently diffuse within the American public that it obviously cannot be attributed solely to conservative white males,” they note. “What is most sobering, especially for the scientific community and climate-change communicators, is that climate-change denial has actually increased in the U.S. general public between 2001 and 2010.”

– David Malakoff

McCright, A.M. and R.E. Dunlap. 2011. Cool dudes: The denial of climate change among conservative white males in the United States. Global Environmental Change doi:10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2011.06.00

Photo: ©Robert Byron/Dreamstime.com

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