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continuum of positions on climate change

Climate Change

Climate Change Deniers Are Getting Angrier, & Here’s Why

Climate change deniers are getting angrier and angrier because there is less and less ground that they can even moderately stand upon. They are being forced off of multiple positions and the world is ignoring their opinions en masse.

Climate change deniers are getting angrier and angrier because there is less and less ground that they can even moderately stand upon. They are being forced off of multiple positions and the world is ignoring their opinions en masse.

People used to be able to believe that warming wasn’t occurring without much cognitive dissonance.

In psychology, cognitive dissonance is the mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time, performs an action that is contradictory to one or more beliefs, ideas, or values, or is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas, or values.

More and more, their position is being challenged in multiple ways, and they are being forced to greater and greater mental leaps in order to hold on to their position. But even when they move, it’s stressful and embarrassing, leading to more anger.

Cognitive dissonance makes people mad. Being forced to change makes people mad. Being forced to admit, even subconsciously, that they were wrong and were often wrong publicly and loudly, makes people mad.

I created this continuum of positions on climate change a while ago. It ranges from the extreme of not believing that any warming is occurring at all, to believing in impacts above the range of IPCC scenarios.

continuum of positions on climate change

Image: Mike Barnard

Some people, in the face of overwhelming evidence, continue to hold to the position that warming isn’t occurring. Most who held it have been forced off of it. They have been forced to change by the sheer weight of evidence which says that they are wrong. But usually they just move slightly to the right on the continuum.

CdjaEE1UIAELtID.jpg-largeA lot of people who firmly held the belief that CO2 emissions from humans were insignificant have been forced off of that position too. And every position to the left of the chart. Basically, the leftmost positions are intellectually and empirically untenable, so anyone with a fragment of intellectual self-respect who holds them is confronted daily with evidence that gives them cognitive dissonance, and if they move to a slightly more moderate position for relief, it doesn’t help much.

What evidence of the shift to the right exists? Well, an Australian organization has surveyed people about their positions since 2010 and finds regular movement, and an acceleration in it.

And in the USA, climate change is shaping up to be a game-changing election issue, with denialists increasingly unable to get elected, and once again with recent rapid strides.

The new survey found a growing number of registered voters understand global warming is happening: “Three in four (73%, up 7 points since Spring 2014) now think it is happening. Large majorities of Democrats — liberal (95%) and moderate/conservative (80%) — think it is happening, as do three in four Independents (74%, up 15 points since Spring 2014) and the majority of liberal/moderate Republicans (71%, up 10 points).”

A counter-example of someone who has made lemonade out of the lemons they keep getting handed is Bjorn Lomborg. He has made a good fiscal career out of asserting a succession of positions on climate change from the left-hand side of the graph up to his current position of stating that we should be doing geo-engineering and continuing to burn fossil fuels. At the beginning of 1998 he claimed, “The greenhouse effect is extremely doubtful.” Later that year, after much intellectual abuse, he admitted that CO2 was causing some tiny rises in temperature. In 2001, he slipped to some warming, but no need to do anything about it. By 2010, he’d shifted to continued use of fossil fuel and geo-engineering, with maybe some token efforts to reduce carbon emissions.

Why do I say he’s made lemonade?

Lomborg’s Copenhagen Consensus Center (CCC), though long associated with his native Denmark, actually registered as a US-based non-profit organization back in 2008. That’s how we know Lomborg walked away with a cool $775,000 in pay from the CCC in 2012.

As a note, he hasn’t made academic lemonade out of this. He has actually backslid academically from an Associate Professor on tenure track, to an adjunct professor off the track, and recently a $4 million AUD governmental grant was refused by every university in Australia if it involved Lomborg setting up a ‘research’ facility among academics with actual intellectual integrity.

But most people aren’t as effective at happily getting their palms greased while being forced off of one intellectual position after another by cold, hard facts.

Patrick Moore is a fairly sad example of that. At one point he was president of Greenpeace Canada, although not a founder, as he continues to insist. He shifted to a potentially reasonable path of forming a consultancy to work with forestry industry firms to find more sustainable means of harvesting trees. However, over time he’s been fully co-opted by fairly egregious concerns, and has been denying climate change exists since at least 2006.

there is no scientific proof of causation between the human-induced increase in atmospheric CO2 and the recent global warming trend, a trend that has been evident for about 500 years, long before the human-induced increase in CO2 was evident.

More recently, his tone is increasingly angry.

“there will be a whole generation of people who are just blindly following this climate hysteria.”

And angrier.

What’s particularly absurd about this leftist conspiracy is that it is currently doing the exact opposite of the things left-wing people profess to care about: it is enriching crony capitalist fat cats at the expense of the world’s poor.

The rest of the world is strongly centered on the right side of the graph, within the IPCC range of scenarios. So much so that 195 countries agreed in Paris in December of 2015 to hold warming to 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels with an aspirational target of 1.5 degrees.

Marc Morano is another strident climate change denialist. It’s hard to say if his nastiness is actually increasing though, as he was an early adopter of the vicious Swift Boat allegations against John Kerry. Like Moore, he showed up at the poorly attended denialist counter-conference in Paris in 2015, mostly to pretend that his faux documentary was premiering to capacity crowds. Certainly his publishing the addresses of climate change scientists on his site is a very hostile action with no discernible redeeming qualities, and the actions of an increasingly isolated and embittered person.

All of the 170 COP21-signatory world leaders are showing in the starkest terms that they fundamentally disagree with the person holding positions on the left side of the chart. That exacerbates the cognitive dissonance of course, because in general, most people think that leaders of countries are often respectable and well-advised people, so their opinions likely hold weight. But it also makes them mad because they see an overwhelming majority of the world doing something that they think is unnecessary because of their un-empirical position.

They are being forced into an ugly corner. And they are painting themselves into it daily and weekly and monthly. And it’s painful. So they lash out.

A very similar dynamic is playing out with anti-wind energy advocates. The positions that they hold on issues like impacts on human health, livestock, real estate values and the like are just not supported by any facts, and study after study proves that they are wrong, so they get increasingly angry and bitter and hostile. And they are smaller in numbers as the sensible ones migrate to healthier mental positions.

Basically, the further to the left on the chart you are, the more likely you are to be bitter and angry. But anyone to the left of the low-end IPCC projections is likely to be annoyed and dismayed and lash out occasionally.

As to why they are so common, that’s simple. A group of self-interested companies and individuals set out on a course of creating uncertainty about climate change far beyond any that existed a couple of decades ago. It worked. Sadly.

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Written By

is Board Observer and Strategist for Agora Energy Technologies a CO2-based redox flow startup, a member of the Advisory Board of ELECTRON Aviation an electric aviation startup, Chief Strategist at TFIE Strategy and co-founder of distnc technologies. He spends his time projecting scenarios for decarbonization 40-80 years into the future, and assisting executives, Boards and investors to pick wisely today. Whether it's refueling aviation, grid storage, vehicle-to-grid, or hydrogen demand, his work is based on fundamentals of physics, economics and human nature, and informed by the decarbonization requirements and innovations of multiple domains. His leadership positions in North America, Asia and Latin America enhanced his global point of view. He publishes regularly in multiple outlets on innovation, business, technology and policy. He is available for Board, strategy advisor and speaking engagements.


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