Are Climate Deniers Crazy?

Read time: 4 mins

Because the end of the world has never happened before, it’s understandable many people have a hard time wrapping their heads around the potential apocalyptic consequences of climate change.

Floods, famines, mass-migrations – it might be a little too Old Testament for many folks to want to think about.

But what about climate deniers? Those people who don’t react with honest skepticism or debate, but vitriol and spleen-venting anger?

Psychologist Linda Buzzell was wondering the same thing. In an interesting post last week on Huffington, she tried to plum the depths of why some people can’t seem to have a civilized conversation about climate science.

She asks: “Why are these folks so desperate and frantic to dispute the current scientific consensus…? And if you disagree, why the need to scream and foam at the mouth?”

As a medical professional, she wonders: “why are the climate change deniers so upset, so shrill, so fearful, loud and angry at those who agree with the international scientific consensus? What’s the psychology behind the screaming? What are the deniers afraid of?”

Maybe it’s just the money talking. As itemized almost daily on this blog, many of the shrill voices in the media seem not to be speaking on their own behalf but punching the clock for Big Oil.

To understand why denial is so important to them, you have to look at the psychology of climate change for the rest of us. A recent report by the American Psychological Association looked at some of the personal brain barriers to recognizing what the scientific community is collectively telling us, and being able to act on it.

“What is unique about current global climate change is the role of human behavior,” said task force chair Janet Swim, PhD, of Pennsylvania State University. “We must look at the reasons people are not acting in order to understand how to get people to act.”

Their research turned up some fascinating findings, particularly on the importance of uncertainty. The researchers looked a recent poll by the Pew Foundation that found the over 75% of respondents believed that climate change was an important issue, but ranked it last in a list of 20 compelling issues including the economy or terrorism.

Why is that? The authors found that even small doubts about the accuracy of science, or the the motivations of researchers can have big impacts on whether individuals feel a personal urgency to act.

Of course this foible of human nature has not been lost on those who manage public opinion for a living. The PR firm Brown and Williamson famously advised their tobacco industry client:

Doubt is our product, since it is the best means of competing with the ‘body of fact’ that exists in the mind of the general public. It is also the means of establishing a controversy. … Spread doubt over strong scientific evidence and the public won’t know what to believe.”

Likewise, renown Republican spin-doctor Frank Luntz wisely advised the Bush administration:

The scientific debate is closing [against us] but not yet closed. There is still a window of opportunity to challenge the science. Voters believe that there is no consensus about global warming within the scientific community. Should the public come to believe that the scientific issues are settled, their views about global warming will change accordingly. Therefore, you need to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue in the debate.”

The world’s best PR firms can afford a lot of focus groups. Those who working hard on behalf of the fossil fuel industry have correctly advised their clients the best way to prevent the public from demanding action on climate change is to convince them the science is not settled.

And when you try and address that doubt? They get a bit irate.

As a psychologist, Buzzell believes the visceral reaction from many climate deniers has more to do with posturing than pique: “I’m afraid it comes down to politics and the corporations who pay the politicians’ bills. The true fear may be that if reforms happen, the insurance and fossil fuel industries will lose money.”

Climate deniers aren’t crazy, they’re just working.

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Government climate change actions will change the rules of the game for energy corporations and others so obviously they aren’t too anxious to see change.

Individuals too are naturally concerned about how they might be impacted. Energy is wealth so entering into various schemes that handicap energy is going to produce some worry. Reinventing energy is reinventing wealth and we can’t be so sure that works out so well.

Tinkering with the system might mean creating a deep econmomic depression. It may not, but the worry is real.

Ya, well, the probabilities are much higher that tinkering with the global climate will cause deeper economic depression … as part of broader ecological devastation.

“Are Climate Deniers Crazy”? Likely for the most part, “No”. They are probably people who just want to know the truth. For example, anthropogenic CO2 is blamed for causing global warming, but just how much CO2 does the air, at sea level, contain? Ans: Less than 400 parts per million, or less than 0.04% CO2 from ALL sources – man-made, forest fires, season decay of leaves, cow and human flatulence, bubbles in beer or champagne, cellular respiration of all living things. The worldwide concentration of atmospheric CO2 has remained remarkably steady for hundreds of years at just over 0.03%. Why? That’s because plants need it for creating their biomass, and plants can “eat” more CO2 of air if given the chance. Horticulturalists have been known to enrich the air in their greenhouses with extra CO2 to encourage their plants to grow more vigorously, bear more fruit or make more and bigger blossoms, and mature sooner. CO2 is ecologically good and essential, and is SCARCE in the biosphere no matter how much of it people and living and non-living systems manage to pump into the air. So, honest life and climate scientists are NOT crazy; just want to know why CO2 of air is vilified. It shouldn’t be!

Felt strangely compelled to give you a down tick there. Sorry thats how it goes. What you’re saying makes sense to me but AGW folks such as you’ll find here are more the bookworm type who measure everything to death and come to the conclusion that the sky is falling. So a down tick it is.

It is what the chemical does that count. An 1/8th of a teaspoon of table salt has no harmful effect on you. Do not ingest that much cyanide.

CO2 is the “thermostat” for the temperature of the earth. A “little bit” is very effective at absorbing thermal radiation instead of allowing it to radiate into space. The amount of CO2 has increased by 40 percent in the last 100 years. Scientists calculate the amount of extra thermal radiation retained by the extra CO2, using laboratory data.

And yes, if we had taken away (by an unknown process) 40 percent of the CO2, we would be getting uncomfortably chilly. We do need it. Think of food – too much and you get two fat to walk through the door. Too little and you starve.

Duh. Do you really not understand?

DungBuster does have a response to “GingerLadySlipper” who argues fallaciously against my second “comment”. Please see “Pro GW, including AGW, advocates [like GingerLadySlipper, writing on Thurs., 2009-08-27 at 11:35] resort to sophistry” posted on Fri., 2009-09-04. Just scroll up (I hope – I’m new to this site) this page.

You wrote,

“Floods, famines, mass-migrations – it might be a little too Old Testament for many folks to want to think about.”

Nothing in the Old Testament is even in the same league as the Permian-Triassic Extinction. (Revelations? You’re getting warmer.) And we have a pretty clear idea of what caused “The Great Dying.”

Please see:

Dan Dorritie’s Killer in Our Midst
Methane Catastrophes in Earth’s Past … and Near Future?

… or Peter Ward’s “Under a Green Sky”

Climate change deniers are about as kooky a lot as 9-11 conspiracy theorists (the “9-11 Truthers”), those who think President Barack Obama was born in Kenya or somewhere other than Honolulu, Hawai’i, or those who still think Elvis is still alive. Rejecting overwhelming evidence to the contrary and having none on their side, they still don’t agree that AGW is happening.

Well thats certainly become the common view, however the events you mentioned are not great comparisons because AGW involves time and degree of effect, whereas Elvis, Obama and 9/11 are about specific events of the past that can be sorted out pretty easily. The fact that CO2 is a greenhouse gas does not in itself provide all answers to changes in climate - past, present and future.

It’s tempting to pretend the complex, nebulous things are as simple as a child’s birth or a fat man dead on his bathroom floor, but that’s too easy - I guess it’s okay as a cute blog comment, but you can’t really go further than that with it.

I agree AGW is complex. However, absolutely zero evidence points to anything other than human activity which is causing the global average temperatures to warm. It isn’t all CO2, but rising CO2 levels produced from human activities cause rising temperatures, which then increases evaporation and therefore more water vapour, which then causes another increase in temperatures. Feedback loops, which are well understood. Just as well understood as the fact that there was no 9-11 conspiracy, that Obama was born in Hawai’i, and that Elvis died more than 30 years ago.

Wowww!!! Earth is becoming worse and worse..
Climate is changing easily..
This condition of course give negative impacts for millions people worldwide..

reborn baby girl

Those of us who do have a good grasp of the chemistry and biology that is involved in the role of CO2 in the climate change debate, just shake our heads in disbelief at the fallacious arguments used by alarmists. You’d think that all living things live in a thick soup of CO2 gas. It just isn’t so. The concentrations of atmospheric gases at close to sea level is still 78% nitrogen gas, N2, and 21% oxygen gas, O2 for a subtotal of 99%. That leaves 1% for all remaining gases (to get to 100%) – including, still after hundreds of years of human activity, only 0.03% CO2, or just over 300 ppm (parts per million parts of air) of CO2 gas. CO2 is NOT a problem. Plants need CO2 for photosynthesis. CO2 is a good, ecologically essential gas, and it is SCARCE! It is so scarce in air that it cannot possibly be the cause of any global warming… real or imagined (probably). (Don’t bring CN into this discussion. Cyanide is not part of this story at all.) By the way, if what the alarmists say is true, and IF the CO2 concentrations in air really do get high, you would know it. You as a healthy human being would be breathing at an accelerated rate because the rate of respiration in animals, including human beings, evolved due to changes in CO2 concentrations in the animals’ bodies; not in the concentrations of O2 in air breather in. Look it up in a good physiology textbook. Our breathing rates, and those of dogs and cats and goldfish, are still slow… until you exercise and the CO2 from more cellular respiration begins to build up.) ~ DungBuster