Why conservatives 'deny' global warming

Amateur shrink?

Don’t bother with those tedious irritations known as scientific facts or evidence, or even, heaven forbid, finding out exactly what sceptics take issue with, just attack the messenger  – it’s so much easier.

So Chris Mooney’s psychological assessment of anyone who disagrees with the global warming narrative (particularly those on the right of politics) is worth a look, if only for a few chuckles:

So first off, let’s start with the facts about climate change — facts that you’d think (or you’d hope) any human being ought to accept.

It turns out that the case for human-caused global warming is based on simple and fundamental physics. We’ve known about the greenhouse effect for over one hundred years. And we’ve known that carbon dioxide is a heat trapping gas, a greenhouse gas. Some of the key experiments on this, by the Irishman John Tyndall, actually occurred in the year 1859, which is the same year that Darwin published On the Origin of Species.

We also know that if we do nothing, seriously bad stuff starts happening. If we melt Greenland and West Antarctica, we’re looking at 40 feet of sea level rise. This is, like, bye bye to key parts of Florida.

So firstly we go from CO2 being a greenhouse gas (which we all agree on) to the catastrophic melting of the Greenland Ice sheet, without even a pause for breath. So what are we denying here?

So then, the question is, why do people deny this? And why, might I add, do Republicans in particular deny this so strongly?

And if your answer to that question is, “oh, because they’re stupid” — well, you’re wrong. That’s what liberals want to think, but it doesn’t seem be correct. In fact, it seems to be precisely the opposite — smarter (or more educated) Republicans turn out to be worse science deniers on this topic.

This is a phenomenon that I like to call the “smart idiot” effect, and I just wrote about it for AlterNet and Salon.com.

Let me tell you how I stumbled upon this effect — which is really what set the book in motion. I think the key moment came in the year 2008 when I came upon Pew data showing:

  • That if you’re a Republican, then the higher your level of education, the less likely you are to accept scientific reality — which is, that global warming is human caused.
  • If you’re a Democrat or Independent, precisely the opposite is the case.

This is actually a consistent finding now across the social science literature on the resistance to climate change. So, for that matter, is the finding that the denial is the worst among conservative white males — so it has a gender aspect to it — and among the Tea Party.

So seriously: What’s going on here? More education leading to worse denial, but only among Republicans? How can you explain that?

And the rest is all the same kind of psychobabble. Conservative “morality” impels denial, that kind of thing.

It’s not that sceptics of any political shade ‘deny’ the basic science of global warming, they are suspicious of politically-motivated and corrupted organisations like the IPCC (and conservatives are generally opposed to big government and the UN in general), they feel betrayed and misled when climate scientists massage data and fudge results in order to strengthen their case and they are deeply concerned about the embedded environmental groups such as WWF and Greenpeace who have a clear agenda. And so on and so on.

And they are particularly offended by suggestions that they are in a psychological state of denial. Quite the reverse, those more educated and informed about the current climate debate are in a far better position to see through the lies, spin and misrepresentations of mainstream climate science than those who are less so.

Maybe Chris could apply the same industry as he has in this article to the sorry state of mainstream climate science, instead of attacking those who call it out.

Read it here.


  1. Richard Abbott says:

    Hmm …..More education leading to worse denial,..

    Then using the rationale, can only conclude the climate scientist believers are then much less educated beings…..

    Ya got to laugh at the long bows…..

  2. Rather ironic that his psychoanalysis is built on strawman arguments; symptomatic of someone who suffers from what he is attempting to diagnose. Worse still, he asks the reader to explain what he cannot.

  3. Simon, would it not be consiered humane to send Mr Mooney an electronic copy of Dr David Evan’s excellent summary of the climate science – what the empricial evidence shows, and the politics behind the ‘climate change’ catastophe industry (Climate Coup – The Science; Climate Coup – The Politics).

    Could ask him to read it (I think this level of direction is not amiss) and once done, ask if he could find the time to update his depressingly uninformed tome…?

    Just a thought.

  4. This “CO2 is a greenhouse gas” rubbish has got to stop.

    Yes it absorbs a tiny sliver of the radiation spectrum, but the majority of energy and heat transfer in the Earth’s atmosphere is by conduction and convection, neither of which CO2, CH4 etc have any effect on, in any concentration. Even if CO2 does cause a tiny amount of atmospheric heating by back scattered radiation, this must immediately be transferred to a tiny increased convection. The Combined Gas laws prescribe nothing else.
    The temperature of the planet’s surface and atmosphere is governed ONLY by pressure, and incoming solar radiation. All the atmosphere does is to govern its distribution within the system.

    I suggest people read this……
    and try to refute it on his web site……. if you can.
    I go there regularly to see if any convinceing counter arguements have been put forward. None so far.

  5. I’ve read some of Mooney’s previous posts on this phenomenon of skeptics being more well versed in the scientific literature. He still can’t seem to accept the obvious conclusion.

  6. Streetcred says:

    Richard Abbott March 27, 2012 at 2:32 pm
    Hmm …..More education leading to worse denial,..

    Then using the rationale, can only conclude the climate scientist believers are then much less educated beings…..

    Ya got to laugh at the long bows…..

    Less educated therefore supports the high level of belief of the scam amongst the warmies. That figures.

  7. “The case for human-caused global warming is based on simple and fundamental physics. We’ve known about the greenhouse effect for over one hundred years. And we’ve known that carbon dioxide is a heat trapping gas, a greenhouse gas. We also know that if we do nothing, seriously bad stuff starts happening. If we melt Greenland and West Antarctica, we’re looking at 40 feet of sea level rise … Republicans turn out to be worse science deniers on this topic.”
    This simple-minded clown attempts to hoodwink other simple-minded clowns who can’t tell the difference between fact and assertion to accept that he is conveying knowledge when he is presenting a series of propaganda slogans with not a proven, empirical fact between them. Swallowing these fairy stories works only with zombies who have not been taught to think for themselves and to accept an extremist agenda that would overturn a wealth-creating democratic western civilisation that has taken hundreds of years to establish. One of the strongest foundations of this civilisation is science that is required to observe a number of well-defined rules, none of which is present in the highly politicised field of climatology, which has become a trojan horse for radicals devoted to the destruction of capitalism.

  8. Luisa Vanco says:

    Psychoanalysis by the delusional, of the delusional, for the delusional.
    Maybe they should form their own government … Oh, wait, the UN,
    EU and Bob Brown are blueprinting a plan as we speak.

    Poor Chris Mooney. Didn’t he learn at psychology school that if you don’t know anything, it’s wiser to just, well, shu… keep quiet? But I guess he’s delusional enough to think he has just written something intelligent and that real psychologists are not cracking their sides in mirth …um, laughing at him?

  9. Another thing. THIS “argument” filled with straw men arguments also means that Chris is boring to follow. Leading the ever ignorant, no less!

  10. Dr A Burns says:

    THEORETICALLY increased CO2 should cause a very small warming but there is zero evidence that this has ever happened or will happen in the future. The tiny effect of CO2 is swamped by other factors.

    • Sorry, but CO2 does not theoretically cause a very small warming.
      That theory is based on radiative transfer only, but the atmosphere does not rely only on radiative transfer, in fact it is governed mainly by convection and conduction neither of which is influenced by CO2 concentration. Any assumed heating by CO2 back radiation must immediately be balanced by asmall increase in convection.

  11. Well, thank God Queensland’s Land Court has seen the light


    Now that’s worth celebrating. It’s equivalent to pointing the finger at Gillard’s carbon tax and her green policies!

  12. “…the less likely you are to accept scientific reality…”

    What this bit says is that hippies do not think for themselves, and that non-hippies do. Clearly. Obviously. And remarkably ironic, don’t ya think.

  13. You do know the greenhouse theory doesnt apply to earth. The greenhouse theory is based on co2 trapping heat and preventing it escaping into a cooler body. Space is not a cooler body. Space is NOT cold nor is it HOT because space has no temperature. Space is a vaccuum so it contains no matter hence it cannot hold energy of any kind whether it may be heat energy or sound energy. How far does a scream go in space.. Answer is it goes nowhere as the is nothing in space to transfer on the sound waves. We have known space to be temperatureless for almost 40 years. If you look at spacesuit designs you’d notice that they have no heating systems rather they have cooling systems so astronauts wont cook to death in their own body heat.

    • And the lapse rate is positive above the tropopause.. ie it gets warmer, until temperature becomes undefined*. Convection stops at the tropopause and only conduction and radiative energy transfer are possible.. mostly radiative.

      * the combined gas law states that PV/T = constant.
      If you have no pressure.. there cannot be any temperature since 0/0 is undefined.
      or using the ideal gas law PV=nRT , if you have n=0 as in a total vacuum, P and T become undefined.

    • “We have known space to be temperatureless for almost 40 years. If you look at spacesuit designs you’d notice that they have no heating systems rather they have cooling systems so astronauts wont cook to death in their own body heat.”

      Wow, is this true? I have never heard this before, where can i read more about this?

  14. He lost me at “We’ve all knowm abour rhe Greenhouse effect for 100 years”.

    Yeh, it would be fine if we were lving in a greenhouse. We’re not! It’s theory with no basis in observation or evidence, nimrod!

  15. Bruce of Newcastle says:

    Oh great, I did my BSc hons 1 chemistry with stats and physics minors and PhD chemistry plus 30 year career as an R&D scientist including 20 years of thermodynamic and statistical modelling and and English major calls me a smart idiot. Thanks Chris, go look at some climate science. Try reading up on Svensmark and previous solar cycle length.

    Gah, what does it take to get through the skulls of people like this?

  16. Sean2829 says:

    He called me a smart idiot. I’d rather be called an “idiot savant”. It has a much better ring to it.

    So why are technically educate Republicans so against this nonsense? I think it might have a lot to do with two things, signal to noise in climate coupled with a poor understanding of natural variability and the top down “solutions” that are being promulgated.

    Science is perhaps the most interesting when it is developing, i.e. it’s not settled. Climate science is extraordinarly interesting. The consensus position that the world’s average temperature is controlled by a CO2 thermostat is what my physics professor described at “neat, simple and wrong”. I’m not saying there isn’t a green house effect, just that it’s a small part of the system. I look forward to seeing some of the aspects of this sorted out as the sun goes into a different state over the next few decades. Mother nature may serve up a little humble pie.

    The second reason Republican scientists are so distrustful is they have a distain for top down solutions, particularly ones where its clear from the outset that the solutions won’t work and the money and time “invested” will likely make the country substantially poorer. We’ve seen the US governments contribution to health care spending slowly rise to where it’s nearly half the domestic market, driving prices through the roof so now Amercan’s with the median income contribute 1/3 of their earnings into the health care industry. More federal money for higher education has seen those costs inflating even faster than health care. And in the government’s promotion of home ownership for all lead to the huge real estate buble that almost crashed the world’s financial system.

    Personnally, I’m glad to see Chris Mooney writing these sort of essays, acknowledging that smart people with a different political point of view see the science differently. Most liberals like to think they care more about people than conservatives do. (Ecozeolots on the other hand think 80% of humans should somehow dissappear.) When the impact of poor solutions on something as fundamental as energy generation become more appearant, the independents and even some of the democrats will take second look t what they have so callously bought into.

  17. Dudley Jones says:

    Give him a break, he is only a lad, and entitled to be both arrogant and ignorant.

    Hopefully, in a decade or three, he will be really embarrassed that he wrote that crap.

  18. Your global warming CO2 theory is wrong…. It’s the sun. This CO2 lie is a scam to collect carbon trading credits and monopolize industry.

  19. If Chris would take his head out of Al Gore’s ass for one minute he might understand.

  20. One of the real problems with the politics of the AGW scare is that so many of the louder sceptics combine their perfectly sound scepticism with toxic right-wing rants.

    This is very off-putting for old socialists like me who see nearly every political, economic, and social disaster of recent years as being a result of the conservative politics of Thatcher, Reagan, Howard, and Co. and their supporters.

    We tend to think “They were wrong about everything else, so how could they have got this one right?”

    What is needed is more emphasis on the following:

    (a) It’s bad science. This to be shown without the accompanying right-wing rants.

    (a) The Global warming scare is one of those conservative disasters! It was Thatcher who really pushed it forward and bankers and types like ENRON who supported it.

    Click to access Kyoto_Conspiracy_.pdf

    (b) How damaging the AGW scare is for ordinary people.

    But I am a bit old to start a socialist sceptic movement. Anyone out there care to take it up?

    (And don’t bother responding with rants about how evil/stupid/uncool I am for not being a conservative. I’ve seen it all before.)

    • Unfortunately, the LabGreens have made it their main agenda, so there is always going to be a backlash against their acceptance of the AGW scam, and the pain and destruction their policies will bring to Australia.

      I have several times emailed the Libs to try to get them to see the truth about the scam, but with people like Hunt in their numbers, its a task that seems not to be progressing. 😦

  21. Mooney is pure poison, a hateful moron, or is a first class Ar**** Hole.
    Or maybe to be a little kinder a dipstick for a sewer farm!

  22. Damn! I wasted all my time obtaining 3 degrees heavily loaded with the mathematics, science and engineering and educating myself on the climate science by purchasing research papers, reading books, blogs and science websites. This education has lead me to denying of the facts! Well I’ll be damned … who would have thought? I’m off to the tattooist today to have AGW Denier tattooed on my forearm ….

  23. Charles gerard nelson says:

    Do you know what?
    I reckon more people of the skeptical persuasion (namely us) are paying attention to what this pillock is saying than ‘believers’. If we ignored him and his crackpot ideas he might just ‘go away’.

  24. If “theendofmystery.com” has irrefutable science contradicting mainstream climate science he only has to follow the system – hypothesis, project definition, funding, data gathering, analysis, critical thinking, conclusion, publication and peer review. His “irrefutable” science would be an immediate world wide hit and we could all go back to BAU big time without any fear at all.

    But that requires some hard work, getting the science right and earning the respect of your peers. It is far easier to sit back and chirp from the cheap seats on the internet.

  25. Chris Dumas says:

    It is interesting that an English history major cannot link the warmies attacks on educated people questioning the concept of the “science being settled” and the then religious bigots attacks on Copernicus, Galileo etal. The reason that liberals love climate change is that it is another mechanism to transfer money from the forgotten man to themselves. Similarly this is why conservatives disbelieve it. Like all scams when someone tells you that something bad will happen unless you pay the scammer only the poorly educated fall for the scam in the long term.

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