Is Climate Denial Corporate Driven, or Ideological?

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UPDATE: After posting this, I realized that the idea that climate denial is ideological, rather than corporate driven, is also the explicit and central argument of Oreskes and Conway, Merchants of Doubt. There was no intention to slight them–it’s just that I’d read Dunlap and McCright more recently, so their work was at the front of my mind. I’ve added a reference below, and my apologies to Oreskes and Conway.

Recently, I’ve been reading some research by Riley Dunlap, a sociologist at Oklahoma State University who collaborates frequently with Aaron McCright, another sociologist at Michigan State. Together, they’ve done penetrating work on the right wing resistance to climate change science in the US, and in particular, on the role of conservative think tanks in driving this resistance.

In a series of 2010 papers, however, I’m detecting a theme that runs contrary to what many often assume about the driving forces of climate denial. It is this: McCright & Dunlap argue that while corporate interests may once have seemed front-and-center in spurring resistance to climate science, at this point it’s becoming increasingly apparent that ideological motivations are actually the primary motivator. Or as they put it: “conservative movement opposition to climate science and policy has a firm ideological base that supersedes the obvious desire for corporate funding.”

Time was when defending climate research was all about finding out which conservative think tanks were being funded by Exxon Mobil. Or more recently, by the Koch brothers. And there’s certainly a lot of special interest influence out there. But McCright and Dunlap argue that we should focus on the power of conservative, free market and anti-regulatory ideology first and foremost. In other words, the corporate funding, when it occurs, may be more a symptom of what’s going on than the root cause.

Why? Well, first, Dunlap and McCright note that “conservative think tanks increased their opposition to climate science and the IPCC, even as major portions of industry were reducing theirs.” And I don’t think there’s any denying it: Corporate views on climate change have grown considerably more diverse, with many leading companies, like General Electric, now calling for cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Just look at what happened yesterday: The CEO of Royal Dutch Shell called for climate action because the “clock is ticking.” 

Meanwhile, right wing resistance has gotten increasingly shrill, especially after “ClimateGate,” and attacks on climate scientists have only grown more vicious.

A second leg of the argument takes an international focus: Climate denial, say McCright and Dunlap, seems to thrive in nations that “have or have had conservative governments and in which conservative think tanks are firmly planted.” That would include the U.S., UK, Canada, Australia, and Denmark. And then their third argument is to look at “skeptic” scientists: While this isn’t uniformly true, they tend to be political conservatives. Indeed, Naomi Oreskes and Eric Conway have written that “market fundamentalism” underlies the ideology of the scientists they discuss in their book Merchants of Doubt, like Frederick Seitz.

If McCright and Dunlap are right, there are some important implications. One would be that the continuing growth in the clean energy industry may drive a wedge between business interests on the one hand, and political conservatives on the other.

And the other is that no matter how pragmatically corporate leaders behave on this issue, free market ideologues may nevertheless continue to block action—whether or not it’s good for the economy, or for business.


Oreskes and Conway, Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming, New York: Bloomsbury, 2010.

Dunlap, Riley E. and Aaron M. McCright.  2010. “Climate Change Denial:  Sources, Actors and Strategies.”  Pp. 240-259 in Constance Lever-Tracy (ed.), Routledge Handbook of Climate Change and Society.  London:  Routledge.

McCright, Aaron M. and Riley E. Dunlap.  2010.  ”Anti-Reflexivity:  The American Conservative Movement‘s Success in Undermining Climate Science and Policy.” Theory, Culture and Society (2-3) 26:100-133.

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There is no doubt that some cooperation’s are funding a anti-climate campaign to cloud the issues and create disinformation about climate change. There are billions to be lost in the corporate world. What we need right now is a massive shock to the system. What we need right now is for every car on the road running on electric power or solar.
Think about what that would mean to the oil companies and the vast gas distribution network throughout the states. Hundreds of thousands of gas stations would need to change over night and they don’t want to. They make large profits the way things are right now. Change means massive reinvestment. That means time. Despite what we need lawmakers want to drag it out over 10 to 20 years.
So the longer Congress postpones doing what is necessary for the people, the more time these industries have to slowly self-finance their transformation. So that their profit margins are not effected. EV technology has been around for decades and FORD might have put out a EV option economy car in the 80’s. It was only after the Japanese put hybrids on the US car market, do we see the automakers move to change.

That’s what the “Auto Crisis” was all about, a government hand to help them setup new product lines. Unfortunately in the name of Jobs and the Economy we are moving far to slow and our situation continues to get worse.

Though I have not done social-scientific analysis, I feel that the situation in Japan about denialism of anthropogenic climate change is quite different from that in North America. I feel that something ideological is behind it, but I cannot explain what is. It is not market fundamentalism which is also prevalent here but is promoted by different people.

Influential capitalists here do not deny the importance of the issue of climate change, though some of them seem to effectively sabotage any govermental intervention.

Strong voices of AGW denialism seem more correlated with political left wing rather than right, though the correlation is not sharp. Books promoting AGW denialism have various flavors. I point to several examples.

Atsushi Tsuchida has been an anti-nuclear-power activist, was clearly socialistic in his earlier days, and is still certainly environmentalist and anti-establishment and anti-global-market. He opposes free trade and promotes local agriculture for the sake of sustainability.

Hiroo Yamagata who translated books of Lomborg and of Singer and Avery is known as a libertarian, but his favorite economist is Krugman, and he is also a promoter of Lawrence Lessig.

Makoto Ezawa, a social scientist, fell in a conspiracy theory that the outlook of climate change is overhyped by “new liberals” including financial leaders in City of London and Wall Street as well as such polititians as Clinton and Gore who want to make profit from trading of emission quota etc.

I see some nuclear power lobbyist activity which is certainly capitalist and backed by part of the establishment. The Japanese edition of James Lovelock’s “The Revenge of Gaia” (2006) was promoted by one of such lobbyist organizations. On the other hand, I do not see any fossil fuel lobbyist activity in Japan. (Singer’s book was commercially sold, but I did not see any lobbyist organization which promoted it.) I think it reasonable that an anti-establishment-minded person in Japan tends to find villain in promoters of nuclear power rather than those of fossil fuel.

(I guess that the situation is somewhat similar to France. A book by Yves Lenoir (2001) translated from French is sold in Japan, though not so popular. Lenoir is certainly left-wing and anti-nuclear-power. He fell into conspiracy theory about capitalists.)

I would like to add information about some more authors, to show variety of AGW-denialistic people in Japan. Note that this is just my subjective summary.

Tadashi Watanabe, a professor of engineering chemistry, also one of opinion leaders on education of chemistry, makes incoherent discourses similar to North American propagandists. He translated and promoted Mosher and Fuller’s book on “Climategate”. I am not sure whether he is paid by someone or driven by his own ideology.

The following people seem to make AGW-denial activities voluntarily, perhaps out of ideology, but if so, their ideology does not seem typical market fundamentalism or business-as-usual.

Kiminori Itoh, another professor of engineering chemistry, emphasizes uncertainty of climate science. He does some analysis related to solar forcing. He used to seem a rational skeptic, but since so-called “Climategate” his disbelief to climate scientists seems enhanced. He dislikes nuclear power.

Syun-Ichi Akasofu is a retired solar-terrestrial physicist (expert of aurora) based in Alaska. He is entrenched in the idea that the current warming is just “recovery from the Little Ice Age” and that the cause cannot be CO2 and likely to be solar. His perspective of the greater issue of natural resources and environment seems sound, though.

Shigenori Maruyama, a professor of geology, was hyper-active in AGW denial in 2008 but rather quiet since then. He was entrenched in the cosmic ray hypothesis of Svensmark, and he “predicted” global cooling. He said that people of the world needs to reduce use of resources, in particular fossil fuel, for sustainability.

Kunihiko Takeda, a professor of material engineering, writes his opinions about various issues about environment in very popular books. He insists that his is the better way to deal with environmental issues. His opinion about environmental policy is roughly similar to Lomborg’s, but his discourse is much less coherent than Lomborg’s. He does not always deny AGW, but he sometimes denies strongly. He is in favor of nuclear power.

Do you honestly believe that there are no lobbyists on the Hill right now working to get favorable laws from the “conservative” Republican party? Sure right now groups like the Tea party and those who consider themselves “conservative, ”might represent strong ideological views and even those on the other side of that line, have equally strong convictions. The influence paddlers will stoke the fire in their favor when it suits them.

Recently Democrats tried to passed some laws to modernize light bulb standards. Republican immediately opposed the laws because they believed that further regulation of the light bulb industry would infringe on the peoples right of choice. Think about that.. updating the current light bulb standards will infringe on the freedom of choice.. Now ask yourself is it really about freedom or is it about money?

I think that sometimes “corporate-driven” and “ideological” motives cannot be separated. Whether a cooperation directly funds some organizations or it gives high dividend to its owners (stockholders) and let them fund them is rather arbitrary.

But, if that action of the corporation is “rational” as what an economic actor should do at that situation, it is more likely “corporate-driven”, and if irrational as such, it is more likely “idelological”.