Uncovering the Methods and Institutions of Climate Change Denial
H. Christopher Frey, Ph.D.
Futrell Distinguished University Professor
Department of Civil, Construction & Environmental Engineering
North Carolina State University
Raleigh, NC 27695
Was Held on Friday, April 28, 2017
ENVIRONMENTAL, WATER, AND COASTAL ENGINEERING
DEPARTMENT OF CIVIL, CONSTRUCTION, AND ENVIRONMENTAL ENGINEERING
NORTH CAROLINA STATE UNIVERSITY
A denialist is a person who refuses to admit the truth of a concept that is supported by the majority of scientific evidence. Denialism is not new. For example, the tobacco industry misled the public regarding the health impacts of smoking and second hand smoke. Denialism typically contains a few or more of the following institutional or methodological elements: (a) stakeholders interested in preserving a status quo, usually for short-term profit; (b) front groups; (c) use of fake “experts”; (d) information laundering; (e) cherry picking and taking information out of context; (f) red herrings (e.g., mass murderer Ted Kaczynski believes in climate change, do you?); (g) creation of an “echo chamber” that repeats false messages; (h) over-emphasis or manufacturing of uncertainty; (i) conspiracy theories; and (j) outright lying. Although denialism violates principles of rational inference and critical thinking, it is persuasive to many target audiences, such as the lay public and politicians.
Denialist organizations are effective at empowering individuals to believe that they can quickly enter public discourse on complex scientific issues. With well over half a billion dollars funneled to front groups, climate change denialism is active and well-funded. Journalistic media amplify the voices of deniers, leading to false equivalency of “two sides” of climate science. Ideological beliefs and lack of critical thinking contribute to acceptance of denialist messages. Denialism seeks to obliterate the distinction between science and values in policy debates. For instance, rather than admit to not caring about climate change or not wanting to take action, a ‘skeptic’ instead asserts that the science is not valid. Conspiracy theorist deniers accuse ‘alarmists’ and ‘warmists’ of an ulterior “desire to control people’s lives” or desire to pad their resumes with more scientific grants. Denialism also leads to an inaccurate perception of controversy, which itself impedes action.
Although this seminar focuses on raising awareness of the methods and institutions of denial, some responses to denialism are discussed.