The Grim Reaper & The Republican Party Embracing Climate Action Are The Only Things That Will Eliminate US Climate Change Deniers

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Climate change deniers continue to be vastly over-represented in many leading economies, such as the United States, Canada, and Australia. But they are a diminishing rump, and spending time and effort to convince the average denier is a waste of time. There are only four paths out of climate change denial, and only two of them are likely to be taken by more than the tiniest fraction of deniers.

Death

Deniers skew old, much older than the rest of the populace. As a result, many of them will die denying, but still, they’ll be dead and their science denial will die with them.

Age gap in climate change acceptance and action in the USA polling by Gallup
Age gap in climate change acceptance and action in the USA polling by Gallup

As the vast majority of climate change deniers are thoroughly unpleasant and vile people — I’ve been dealing with them for at least a decade in online communities around the world but rarely in person — I hope for the loved ones and caretakers who still tolerate them that this happens sooner rather than later.

Major tribal shift

In the USA, most deniers are Republicans, or outright white supremacists. Republican strategists and senior leaders made a strategic decision to accept fossil fuel oligarch money in the 1990s, and scooped up the vast majority of the climate change deniers to go with their evolution deniers. The result is that climate change “skepticism” is vastly more prevalent in the Republican Party rank and file than anywhere else in the USA (or anywhere else in the world).

Partisan split on causes of climate change — scientific consensus is all warming is anthropogenic — by Pew Research
Partisan split on causes of climate change — scientific consensus is all warming is anthropogenic — by Pew Research

In my discussions last year (part 1, part 2) with John Cook, PhD, cognitive scientist, founder of Skeptical Science, and author of Cranky Uncle vs Climate Change and The Debunking Handbook, he admitted that his entire PhD thesis was based on the assumption that it was possible to convince climate change deniers with logic and reason, and that subsequently, especially since his career took him to the USA, he realized that tribalism was a vastly more powerful force than he had understood in shaping tribal member’s world views.

A tribal authority with expertise and time

A subset of deniers can be brought to sanity if someone with the following qualifications spends a lot of time with them. Katharine Hayhoe is the best, and exceedingly rare, example of a person who actually manages to shift the needle on climate change acceptance.

  • They have to be in a position of authority with a PhD and impressive post (Hayhoe’s place to stand), or a preacher, or a winning football coach, or a successful local politician, or a rich businessperson. They have to be looked up to.
  • They have to be an expert in climate change. They actually have to know what they are talking about, and able to deal patiently and accurately with every objection.
  • They have to be able to communicate complex concepts in simple terms, and do it over and over.
  • And they have to be willing to spend a lot of time doing it.

And to be clear, I have several of the attributes necessary to succeed, but not enough of them. I don’t bother to try to change individuals’ minds about climate change. When I realize I’m dealing with a denier, I simply ghost them. It’s literally not worth my time engaging with them because my chances of success are incredibly low, and I have much higher odds of adding value by working with people who accept the science and are focused on solutions.

Intellectual honesty

It’s deeply unlikely that anyone still denying climate change in 2021 has the faintest shred of intellectual honesty and integrity, but there’s always one exception. And it’s happened before.

I spoke with a Senior Fellow of the Niskanen Center, Ed Dolan, PhD, economist and author, last year as well (part 1, part 2) about this and related subjects. They persist in trying to get Republicans to change their minds, and they are much better positioned than I am. I wish them well.


Senior conservative leaders have been raising the alarm about their parties’ electoral prospects in recent years. Lindsey Graham publicly stated that he wished Trump would accept climate change. In Canada, former Conservative prime ministers and cabinet ministers have pointed out that they just won’t win elections.

And so, when enough deniers die, and the wedge no longer outweighs the loss of voters who want good climate solutions in the twisted brains of conservative political strategists, the Republican Party, the Conservative Party of Canada, and the Liberal Party of Australia will magically become champions of climate action, and vast swaths of deniers will also magically become people who always accepted the science and the need for action.

Until then, one of the best things for anyone who wants climate action to do it is to keep the Parties of Denial out of power. In the USA, that means organizing and mobilizing for the November 2022 midterms now. In Canada, there’s likely a fall election coming, despite three-quarters of Canadians not wanting one. Australia is going through a full election in 2022 as well.

Wake conservative strategists up by eliminating their parties from power. That’s the only way to get rid of climate change deniers.


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Michael Barnard

is a climate futurist, strategist and author. He spends his time projecting scenarios for decarbonization 40-80 years into the future. He assists multi-billion dollar investment funds and firms, executives, Boards and startups to pick wisely today. He is founder and Chief Strategist of TFIE Strategy Inc and a member of the Advisory Board of electric aviation startup FLIMAX. He hosts the Redefining Energy - Tech podcast (https://shorturl.at/tuEF5) , a part of the award-winning Redefining Energy team.

Michael Barnard has 731 posts and counting. See all posts by Michael Barnard