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Sourcing Skepticism … what factors drive questioning of Global Warming?

September 13th, 2007 · 21 Comments

Skepticism … the ability to question unquestioned beliefs and stated certainties is a powerful intellectual tool.

Sadly, “skepticism” is receiving a bad name through association with those erady, willing, able, and enthusiastic about denying the reality before their (and our) own eyes about the global changes in climate patterns and humanity’s role in driving these changes.

Questioner … Skeptic … Denier …

Clearly, not every question, not every challenge to data, not every voicing of concern is the same.  Nor is every motivation the same.  This is not simply about “fossil-fuel-funding” — although it can be at times. This is not simply about seeking Rapture and the end of times — even though it can be.  This is not simply about political beliefs creating thought structures for dealing with science — but it can be. 

To often, it seems, skeptics/deniers are simply stated as derived from X motivation, Y reasoning when, in reality, the situation is more complex.  While it quite possibly exists, I have yet to see a treatise examining and deconstructing different types and motivations for deniers and skeptics when it comes to Global Warming.

Join me, after the fold, for a first shot at Typing Skeptics: Providing a Window on the Varying Motivations for Global Warming Skeptics …

First off, let me warn, this will be a link free discussion … this is a DRAFT, an initial thought with ideas and concepts … looking for feedback, interaction, thoughts … and, well, if you wish sources … and, especially, that link to the person who has done an already amazing job developing such a typology …

Questioner … Skeptic … Denier …

Clearly, not every question, not every challenge to data, not every voicing of concern is the same.  Nor is every motivation the same.  This is not simply about “fossil-fuel-funding” — although it can be at times. This is not simply about seeking Rapture and the end of times — even though it can be.  This is not simply about political beliefs creating thought structures for dealing with science — but it can be.

So, what are some of the motivating factors for skepticism/denial?

Funded  … Money Talks

As often said, it is hard to reject your next paycheck.  There are two basic arenas here:

Paid Skeptics: Like those paid to advocate that smoking was not related to cancer, there are scientists/pseudo-scientists/lobbyists/etc who are funded by (for example) fossil-fuel industries to sow doubt about Global Warming, to help fend off any serious efforts to reduce fossil fuel use.

Salaried/Working in the Field / Life’s Blood: While there are employees of fossil fuel companies/etc who battle for sensible Climate Crisis policies and believe in Global Warming, if your paycheck relies on selling more coal, it can be hard to acknowledge that that coal might be causing a real problem. This is different than the “paid skeptic”, in that the weltauunschaung is formed by the salaried position rather than a check simply buying a viewpoint.  This is, more likely, to have real belief and real emotion driving the skepticism.  To accept Global Warming, in this realm, would be to acknowledge that one’s life/one’s life’s work has been contributing to incredible destruction to the ecosphere and humanity’s future prospects.

Political

Again, several elements:

Philosophy re Governance: Government is BAD To accept Global Warming as a serious issue, meriting serious attention, almost axiomatically means agreeing that (at a minimum) there is a governmental role (including international cooperation and potentially international mandates) to take action to fight it. For those who philosophically reject government, who believe government to be the root of all evil, to accept Global Warming as a reality would mean to accept a serious role for government across wide ranges of human interactions, society.  Reject government as potentially good and that likely drives one to rejecting evidence of global warming and of its seriousness.

Political Philsophy/Knee-Jerk Reaction  Global Warming is discussed by environmentalists and by Al Gore translating it into being a “left-wing” agenda item to be rejected by ‘conservatives’. Focus is on messenger rather than reality/validity/importance of message.

Political Power/Funding:  Well, related back to the money, fossil-fuel industries and others fearing pain if serious measures were put in place re Global Warming have lots (LOTS) of resources (e.g., money).  Want to satisfy (attract) donors, then perhaps you become a R-EXXON like Senator Inhofe.

Skepticism as fun and/or way of life

There are people that, simply, like swimming upstream. And, there are ‘professional iconoclasts’, prepared to challenge any and all ideas.  Re Global Warming, there are scientists who appear as “skeptics” because of how they pursue their questioning of details even as they, when confronted, accept core reality of Global Warming.

Related in this is that there are, clearly, people who relish gaining attention — scientists articulately taking a skeptic/denier position are more likely to have visibility and attention than the (vast) majority who are supporting core conclusions about Global Warming and humanity’s contributions to that warming.

Religious

There are a multitude of ways that religion can influence views re Global Warming. Note, there are many religious belief can drive a serious concern about the environment and therefore action to work re Global Warming. The below is not representative of “religious beliefs and Global Warming” but a sketch of skepticism and religion.

The arrogance of man to believe that we can have an impact on God’s creation.  

Environmentalism=Evolution=Heresy

Rapture is coming … Global Warming is, obviously, a good thing because it is one of the signs of the End of Times. Accelerating Global Warming would help bring Rapture closer to our time and thus should be welcomed.

Life is Good

For some, life is good. To accept Global Warming as reality means accepting that some elements of “life is good” should change — whether that is the huge outdoor barbecue or jet setting around the world.  For some, life is too good to accept that Global Warming is a reality and a real threat.

Fear

For some, to acknowledge Global Warming is to acknowledge risk and to acknowledge risk for one’s children.  Far better to ignore/reject Global Warming than to face this fear, to face these risks.

Related, somewhat, is the potential that people fear rejecting their life’s legacy.  If one has been ‘living a normal American life’ for decades, to acknowledge the realities of Global Warming is to acknowledge that your own behavior has contributed to the problem. Recognizing/acknowledging this seems to be beyond some people.

Ignorance

Global Warming is a complicated subject and there are people (such as motivated by factors above) and institutions that seek to foster confusion.  Among a population dedicated to watching junk TV, reading little, and overburdened with trying to live their lives, the complication combines with confusion to foster ignorance.  

SO WHAT …

No, this is not another motivating factor but to question ’so what’. Why should we/anyone care that there are different motivating factors?  

As a trainee/presenter from The Climate Project, I seek to communicate with people about Global Warming and to seek personal change (political, energy usage, otherwise) to help move us/US toward a path to confront/surmount the Climate Crisis.  Each of these motivators and reasons for skepticism creates a need for a different communication/understanding path.  Some of these people need to be marginalized. Some need to be spoken to in their language. Some will agree on (some) remedies even while doubting Global Warming. And, some need education.  Understanding these motivations and reasons helps open the path for more successful communication.  

But …

But …

Is this an accurate breakdown?

What is missing?

Where can this be strenthened?

Who else has tackled this challenge?

Tags: Global Warming · global warming deniers · skeptic

21 responses so far ↓

  • 1 The Five stages: Denial to Determination « Energy Smart // Apr 12, 2008 at 3:53 am

    [...] with the globe from that moment on. Now, for better or worse, there are many (often illegitimate) reasons for skepticism about Global Warming. One of these is, quite clearly, an emotional desire to avoid having to face those decisions in the [...]

  • 2 The Five Stages - Denial to Determination » Celsias // Apr 14, 2008 at 5:21 pm

    [...] with the globe from that moment on. Now, for better or worse, there are many (often illegitimate) reasons for skepticism about Global Warming. One of these is, quite clearly, an emotional desire to avoid having to face those decisions in the [...]

  • 3 Global warming and the death of libertarian ideology « Energy Smart // May 23, 2008 at 2:02 pm

    [...] for denying reality and global warming denial.  This relates to my efforts to explore the motivating factors behind ‘irrational skepticism’ (term referring to those whose skepticism is not honest, not open to suasion by evidence) and [...]

  • 4 Change. Obama can change the path of Climate Change! // Dec 7, 2008 at 11:15 pm

    [...] Change. That is change that we don’t want to believe we face, that many refuse to face, but it is change that is occurring, driving many through the stages from denial to [...]

  • 5 Mark Imisides // Dec 20, 2008 at 6:55 am

    An excellent article - well done. You’ve quite lucidly covered many of the reasons behind climate change skepticism.

    I have one suggestion, however, that you might consider adding to your list - skepticism brought about by a complete absence of any causal link between CO2 levels and global temperatures, and a substantial amount of data that suggests the very opposite.

    Cheers,
    Mark

  • 6 A Siegel // Dec 20, 2008 at 7:02 am

    Mark,

    Your assertion, however, is at odds with the science. There is, certainly, a complex linkage and interrelationship of CO2 and temperatures, but your utter denial is denying science about how there are feedback cycles and acceleration.

    And, of course, the impacts of CO2 are well beyond the issue of temperature. Why try to encompass the complexity of issues rather than stovepiping? Have anything to say about acidification of the oceans, perhaps?

    In any event, thank you for the kind words of affirmation: “excellent article”.

  • 7 Denier’s quote: True, but not truthful // Dec 20, 2008 at 7:47 am

    [...] mass media distorter of science who is in the Hall of Shame) chose to quote from a discussion here: Sourcing Skepticism … what factors drive questioning of Global Warming?  That columnist, Andrew Bolt, is quoting from here as part of an argument seeking to link those [...]

  • 8 HuffPost scores a 10 on the Inhofe Scale // Jan 5, 2009 at 12:43 pm

    [...] uncertain about which factors drive Mr Ambler’s denial and “climate skeptism”, his ‘acceptance of Al Gore’s apology’ is a case study of truthiness obscuring [...]

  • 9 How We Know Global Warming is Happening | FUTURISM NOW // Oct 15, 2009 at 6:31 pm

    [...] Sourcing Skepticism … what factors drive questioning of Global Warming? [...]

  • 10 Energy Bookshelf: Contemplating A “World Without Ice” // Nov 24, 2009 at 3:59 pm

    [...] Pollack then moves on to an examination of reasons for skepticism (such as rampant anti-science syndrome suffering due to religious reasons; “deliberate [...]

  • 11 Thomas Hager // Dec 2, 2009 at 12:35 pm

    You seem to start by differentiating skeptics from deniers, then later lump them together.

    Tom — This was/is a ‘first draft’ discussion. While I think that general approach stands up, in terms of thinking, I’m ready to listen to thoughts about how parts of it could be better structured and discussed.

    Scientists are — or should be — skeptics.

    Fully in agreement.

    We should all question shoddy methodologies, overstated results, and dogma.

    Yes.

    When it comes to global warming, it is possible to be healthily skeptical about the sometimes-overstated claims of proponents and their supporters (especially when it comes to the validity of long-term predictive climate modeling), without falling into the category of “denier.”

    True … yet …

    First, I don’t get, truthfully, what a “global warming … proponent” is supposed to be? Is there anyone actively wishing that we have catastrophic climate change?

    Second, there is the real problem of the difference between being at a conference and arguing about methodologies/approaches/assumptions or conducting debates/discussions via academic journals (footnoted articles / letters / etc) and diatribes that are what dominate the public discussion from ’self-proclaimed skeptics’.

    Third, while there are serious challenges and issues in terms of looking at the modeling, what “model” is correct. Isn’t the basic adage “all models are wrong, its just that some are useful”?

    Fourth, in terms of predictive nature of the modeling, haven’t the ‘consensus models’ generally been running behind actual change in the global climate? (E.g., they’ve been too optimistic?)

    Finally, the question differentiating “skeptic” and “denier”, truly, is whether one shows a willingness/ability to change one’s perspective in the face of data and evidence. “Deniers” jump from item to item, ignoring when something has been proved false, and often using “true” slivers of information in utterly untruthful ways.

  • 12 Mark Imisides // Dec 15, 2009 at 2:34 pm

    “Your assertion, however, is at odds with the science.”

    Is it? I notice you forgot to substantiate this statement. You can easily do it now by providing a causal link between CO2 and global temperatures.

    Mark,

    My life responsibility is not to spend time to seek out basic information for people who are going to reject it on spurious basis and come back with additional talking points. Read IPCC, etc …

  • 13 Climate Change: the bigger the lie « Greenfyre’s // Dec 23, 2010 at 10:49 pm

    [...] Sourcing Skepticism … what factors drive questioning of Global Warming? [...]

  • 14 Mark Imisides // Sep 4, 2013 at 8:36 am

    “Read IPCC, etc …”

    I have indeed read the IPCC report. It is full of assumptions and speculation, but no evidence.

    Sigh.

    Typical demand to seek to put work on others which, when they have done it, will be rejected and ignored.

    In any event, very simply put, just two words demonstrate the absurdity of your comment (and your position …):

    “no evidence”

    Temperature records (archeological, measured, etc …) = evidence

    Ice extent and mass records = evidence

    Co2 and other GHG concentration measurements = evidence

    Glacier melting = evidence

    Ocean ph levels … floral and fauna extinctions and changed ranges … and so on all equal evidence.

    To assert that there is “no evidence” is a clear demonstration that you should reflect on the differentiation between skeptic (a valuable and critical path toward advancing scientific understanding) and denier (of basic science and the scientific method).

    Those two words provide enough basis for a diagnosis of a virulent case of anti-science syndrome.

    Also,

    Please enlighten me. Tell me which page or pages contain the evidence of which you speak.

    Or to put it another way, here’s the bit where you convince me that YOU have read it and understood it, and your belief in global warming is based on evidence.

    For what it’s worth I have asked this question of dozens of global warming believers but have yet to get an answer. I hope you can do better

  • 15 Mike Haseler // Oct 3, 2013 at 2:41 pm

    Thanks, I’m looking to understand why the two sides view the same information and come to very different conclusions. Yours is by far the best articulated warmist view of us sceptics.

    If you want to add suitable comments please see my article: http://scottishsceptic.wordpress.com/2013/10/03/sceptics-vs-academics/#comment-2438

  • 16 Global warming and the death of libertarian ideology // Dec 7, 2013 at 10:43 pm

    [...] for denying reality and global warming denial.  This relates to my efforts to explore the motivating factors behind ‘irrational skepticism’ (term referring to those whose skepticism is not honest, not open to suasion by evidence) and [...]

  • 17 The Five stages: Denial to Determination // Dec 8, 2013 at 6:18 am

    [...] with the globe from that moment on. Now, for better or worse, there are many (often illegitimate) reasons for skepticism about Global Warming. One of these is, quite clearly, an emotional desire to avoid having to face those decisions in the [...]

  • 18 McBlurring McSame McCain … // Dec 8, 2013 at 6:24 am

    [...] has been over ‘Does Global Warming Exist?’ and ‘Are Humans Involved?’  With all the financial, ideological and all the other efforts attacking scientific findings, that someone simply acknowledged that Global Warming actually existed put them on the side of [...]

  • 19 Antarctic is NOT cooling!!! … expanded // Dec 8, 2013 at 6:25 am

    [...] there are literally trillions of dollars at stake in how we set our pathway forward. There are many reasons driving deniers/skeptics, but adherence to the scientific method and a striving for truth is rarely one of [...]

  • 20 Anti-Science by anecdote vs evidence-based scientific method // Dec 9, 2013 at 8:46 am

    [...] Sourcing Skepticism … what factors drive questioning of Global Warming? [...]

  • 21 Steer-ing the climate conversation to sanity re economic analysis // Feb 21, 2014 at 9:02 am

    [...]  The ‘mainstream’, however, is sadly horribly wrong due not just disinformation from those opposing action and denying basic science (for whatever set of reasons) but more fundamentally due to the difficulty of assessing ‘wicked problems‘. [...]

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