Cool dudes and red hot lies.

A few weeks ago I went to another lecture by CEMUS, the centre for environment and development studies that I wrote earlier about. The theme of this lecture was called ‘How climate change became controversial – examining the denial movement‘. I had been quite busy that week, but as I recently discovered that even some of my facebook friends are doubting climate change, I felt a strong need for deeper understanding. The guest speaker, sociology professor Riley Dunlap from Oklahoma University, was starting the evening with his lecture, which was followed by two shorter related lectures and a discussion.

“I am afraid that the American population electing Trump for president – a strong denier of climate change – is another indicator of how many do not believe, or do not wish to believe, that climate change is real.”

Dunlap started to explain the audience the history of the organized climate change denial. Truth is that back in 1988 when global warming was already noticed and became a social problem, a survey was held and 63% percent of the US population worried a great deal about this issue. A similar survey was held in 2015, showing that over the years the number had decreased to 55%. I am afraid that the American population electing Trump for president – a strong denier of climate change – is another indicator of how many do not believe, or do not wish to believe, that climate change is real. Dunlap talked a lot about the organization behind the climate change denial movement and how ‘invisible’ this ‘machine’ tries to operate. The scheme below shows the most significant relations between the different elements of organised climate change denial.

Dunlap and McCright, from the Oxford handbook of
Climate Change and Society, 2011. Click to enlarge.

Special attention should be paid to the column ‘Conservative Think Tanks’, often abbreviated as CTT’s. Dunlap spent quite some time outlining how this group empowers politicians, controversial scientists, activists, media and many others. For example there are quite a lot of books written on climate change denial. I did not make up the term ‘Red Hot Lies’ myself, this is actually supposed to be a serious book on how ‘global warming alarmists keep you misinformed’. Unfortunately, climate change denial books reach a large audience. These books may try to appear trustworthy and independent, but 92% of all books written on this matter in English language can be traced back to CTT’s. As a matter of fact, not a single one of these books is published by a university press.

It was shocking to learn about the many frightening similarities of the climate change denial movement¬† identical to that of the tobacco industry in the past. Something that had never really crossed my mind is how there are several types of climate change denial. To understand climate change denial, it is important to realize not everybody is denying the same aspects. According to Dunlap’s lecture, climate change denial can be split up into the following four groups.

  • Trend denial:
    The earth is NOT getting warmer
  • Attribution denial:
    Even if it is, human activities are NOT the cause
  • Impact denial:
    Should warming occur, the impact will be inconsequential or benign
  • Policy denial:
    There is no need for carbon emissions reduction policies

Dunlap’s lecture was followed by the British Kevin Anderson – visiting professor in climate change leadership – who gave an insight on how politicians are affected and threatened by the climate change denial movement on different levels. Finally Kirsti Jylha from the Department of Psychology at Uppsala University showed common factors in people who denied climate change, such as political orientation and ideological variables. As a matter of fact, the term ‘Cool dudes’ wasn’t my invention either, this refers to the main group of climate change deniers in the US, which are conservative white males. If you are interested, you can read all about them in this paper.

Before closing this topic I would like to mention some positive things as well. Because even though the climate change denial movement is massive in terms of power and financial capital; and yes, Trumps victory is a slap in the face of many, there are also good things happening. I would say that a large step forward to make people aware of climate change was the release of ‘Before the Flood‘, one of the most accessible and all-inclusive documentaries so far. I hope it will reach out to many, have you watched it yet? On a more local level: Last week the COP22 negotiations took place in Marrakesh and an inspiring group of Uppsala students travelled down by minivan – flying is a no-go because of the huge carbon emissions – to be part of this important follow-up of the Paris negotiations last year. They are keeping the rest of us up to date through their #minivandiaries, definitely worth a read.

Uppsala for climate justice. The beginning of the #minivandiaries two weeks ago.
Photo from The Minivan Diaries facebook page.

I hope this post gave you some insight into the topic of climate change denial. As usual all questions and comments are welcome. This is not my field of studies but I will try to answer the best I can.


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