I’ve previously written about University of Michigan business professor Andrew Hoffman’s insightful work on the underlying motivations behind climate skepticism. Now, I’ve come across a more detailed recent paper, in Organization and Environment, that advances the case.
Hoffman’s strategy this time is to examine newspaper editorials, op-eds, and letters to the editor from both sides of the issue—795 of them, published between September of 2007 and September of 2009. Hoffman combines a look at these opinion pieces with an examination of the rhetoric at last year’s Heartland Institute climate denial conference.
His conclusion is that the two sides of the debate simply argue past each other. The Heartland folks, of course, think climate science is ideological and corrupt, and action on this non-existent problem will hurt the economy—and that, basically, it’s all an environmentalist power grab. They even detect hints of socialism or communism at the root of the movement for climate action.
But this we know already. What’s more interesting is the newspaper writings.
A large majority of the articles were convinced of climate risks–but there were lots of disagreeing letters to the editor. Overall, “skeptic” opinions came not from journalists or experts, but from average citizens. And what lay at the center of their logic, content wise?
The skeptic articles are also very interested in diagnosing and explaining the “motives” of those who disagree with them—and in bashing one person in particular. Guess who?
Not only do skeptics love to talk about Gore—but they think he’s in it for the money, not the planet. Wild, off base? Sure. but that’s what they say. They are going after our motives, and our leaders.
Those who are convinced climate is a problem overwhelmingly talk about it in a different way. They discuss not so much the validity of the science, but the many risks from doing nothing, and the specific solutions—such as legislation—for addressing the issue.
Hoffman’s conclusion is that the two sides are talking about vastly different things—and also, that the level of demonization is far too high for de-polarization to occur:
No shock, maybe–but certainly the situation is bad, bad, bad. It is increasingly being observed that the climate debate is becoming like the abortion debate—far too polarized and entrenched for any dialogue to occur. Hoffman’s results lend strength to this characterization.