The psychology behind climate change denial

Climate change is a serious threat to humans, animals, and the earth's ecosystems. Nevertheless, effective climate action has been delayed, partly because some still deny that there is a problem. In a new thesis in psychology, Kirsti Jylhä at Uppsala University has studied the psychology behind climate change denial. The results show that individuals who accept hierarchical power structures tend to a larger extent deny the problem.

In the scientific community there is a strong consensus that humans have significantly affected the climate and that we are facing serious challenges. But there is a lot of misinformation about climate change in circulation, which to a large part is created and distributed by organised campaigns with the aim of postponing measures that could combat climate change. And there are people who are more prone than others to trust this misinformation.

Previous research has consistently shown that it is more common among politically conservative individuals to deny climate change. In her thesis, Kirsti Jylhä has investigated this further and in more detail. Her studies included ideological and personality variables which correlate with political ideology, and tested if those variables also correlate with climate change denial.

The results show that climate change denial correlates with political orientation, authoritarian attitudes and endorsement of the status quo. It also correlates with a tough-minded personality (low empathy and high dominance), closed-mindedness (low openness to experience), predisposition to avoid experiencing negative emotions, and with the male sex. Importantly, one variable, named social dominance orientation (SDO), helped explain all these correlations, either entirely or partially.

Social dominance orientation is a measure of the acceptance and advocating of hierarchical and dominant relations between social groups. This acceptance of hierarchies also extends to accepting human dominance over nature. The correlation between SDO and climate change denial can perhaps be explained by considering the many injustices of climate change. Our current wealthy lifestyles are the primary cause of climate change, but the most serious consequences are affecting mainly poor countries and people, as well as animals and future generations of humans.

According to Kirsti Jylhä, it is possible that individuals who accept the unequal distribution of the risks and benefits of climate change, more easily can keep demanding more evidence for climate change before admitting and addressing it.

The question then is how the issue of can best be presented to people with a high SDO to convince them of the need for action.

"The arguments used in the often revolve around giving up conveniences in life to help the environment or the poor or weak. But that is maybe not a convincing argument to someone who sees the world from a hierarchical viewpoint. It would perhaps be better to talk in other terms and describe how everyone will benefit from the measures instead of being affected by the consequences and that the measures don't have to be a threat to the current societal structure", says Kirsti Jylhä.

Explore further

Addressing climate change as a social issue

More information: Häkkinen, K., & Akrami, N. (2014). Ideology and climate change denial. Personality and Individual Differences, 70, 62–65.

Jylhä, K. M., & Akrami, N. (2015). Social dominance orientation and climate change denial: The role of dominance and system justification. Personality and Individual Differences, 86, 108–111.

Jylhä, K. M., Cantal, C., Akrami, N., & Milfont, T. L. (2016). Denial of anthropogenic climate change: Social dominance orientation helps explain the conservative male effect in Brazil and Sweden. Personality and Individual differences, 98, 184–187

Ideological roots of climate change denial: Resistance to change, acceptance of inequality, or both? … Rows=50&dspwid=-3316

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Oct 04, 2016
Maybe it has to do with all the hype surrounding Global Warming! For twenty years I have been told about the rapidly rising Sea levels, and yet when I go down to the beach the water level is the same as it was when I was a kid. Now if you look at the actual facts, you will find that the Oceans have been rising between 1 and 2 inches every 20 years. But the hype we are sold on says we are going to get up to 30 feet by 2100, or in 84 years.

Now I live in California where we have our own Cap and Trade program, this program sucks 3 billion in taxes from the community, and what to they spend it on? Why 25% goes to the Bullet Train, and another 25% goes to Affordable housing and other programs for the poor. All this really is, is a program to transfer wealth. I could get on board with it, if it encouraged things like Solar or Electric cars, but it really doesn't. So call me a denier if you like, but I simply view Global Warming as a kernel of truth in a mountain of BS.

Oct 04, 2016
Here is some psychology. When we check the facts we find that they have been distorted or are out right lies. When we ask just a simple question like"can you name the climates?" we get a ridicules answer like "what does the climate have to do with climate change" and "there are no climates". If you can not name the climates you do not even have the knowledge of 8th grade earth science and are just republishing false information from political science advocates.

Oct 04, 2016
I would love to see the follow up on "The psychology behind climate change proponents", and see who pushes this view despite made up statistics and data.

Oct 04, 2016
There is no psychology involved. Some people seem to believe that heat and cold may co-exist together which is ridiculous. Cold is the absence of heat the same way that darkness is the absence of light. When we are having record cold temperatures like we did last year this is because there is a lack of heat. And where there is a lack of heat there can be no warming - only cooling.

In addition, Climate Change aka Global Warming is admitted to be a fraud by the very same people promoting the agenda:

"We've got to ride this global warming issue. Even if the theory of global warming is wrong, we will be doing the right thing in terms of economic and environmental policy." – Timothy Wirth, President of the UN Foundation

"No matter if the science of global warming is all phony, climate change provides the greatest opportunity to bring about justice and equality in the world." - Christine Stewart, fmr Canadian Minister of the Environment

Just to name a couple.

Oct 04, 2016
Or how about this? Us "deniers" simply look at the actual data, see no correlation or evidence whatsoever, and decide that it is absurd to spend trillions of dollars on something doesn't even meet the standard of a good hypothesis, much less a solid theory. Most hypothesis at least have some level of observed behavior. Climate change is based 100% on predictions-there is exactly ZERO empirical evidence linking...rising temperatures, increased storm frequency or intensity, melting ice, rising sea levels, droughts, flooding, or the endless ridiculous predictions of doom associated with the coming climate increased levels of CO2. In fact, if you zoom out a couple hundred thousand years on a temperature chart, you will see that what we are experiencing is not only nothing unusual, but a very predictable temperature cycle. Please do a little homework about this latest liberal feel-good cause, and ask yourself...why do the answers always involve more taxes and less liberty?

Oct 04, 2016
How about this? You deniers are psychotic dumb pharks, whose delusions interfere with the ability to engage in independent thought.

Oct 04, 2016
I think the delays can be attributed more towards the Psychology of Climate Change alarmists than deniers. The alarmists have simply been nearly 100% wrong in all their exaggerated predictions. That within itself creates doubt and is attributed more towards the skepticism than anything else. Stop the exaggerations and maybe you'll get better cooperation and progress?

Oct 04, 2016
Hey Zzzzzzzz! Might want to wake up from your snooze. Your comment is so typical of an hysterical liberal. No facts, just anger and name calling. All of us so called Deniers challenge you to present one, JUST ONE, piece of empirical evidence...not a computer model, no predictions, no emotions or fear. For non-scientific, emotion based libs such as yourself, that would mean measurable, repeatable, observable facts from experimentation. I know that takes you out of your comfort zone. And there is no consensus - that's been debunked long ago, so don't try that tactic. And even if there was, that's not science. We're waiting with open minds. Go ahead. Convince us.

Oct 04, 2016
The psychology behind climate change acceptance is gullible people being indoctrinated by the Watermelons.

Oct 04, 2016
Having an article called "the psychology of ANYTHING" is ipso facto designed to denigrate the views of the people who express them. My own analysis is based on careful assessment of facts since 2005, and review of the ACS Monograph on CO2 published in about 1938, and fundamentally, the conclusions drawn by the IPCC are badly flawed and largely politicization of anti-industrial bias. I would be happy to explain the issues to the psychologists, but unlike chemistry, psychology is a grossly inaccurate, not to say nearly incoherent, "science".

Oct 04, 2016
How about this? You deniers are psychotic dumb pharks, whose delusions interfere with the ability to engage in independent thought.
"You deniers...pharks"..Clearly the thoughtful response of a careful researcher and disinterested analyst. LOL! Where do you folks come from?

Oct 04, 2016
Effective climate change counter action has not taken place because no one has come up with anything effective. There are billions of people who believe in man made climate change, all it really takes is for those people to sacrifice in the name of the climate. But they will not. Personally, I have put less than 3000 miles a year on my car for the last seven years, have downsized my house by over 2000 sq. ft. , etc. If billions of others did the same we would be getting somewhere. Instead the loudest talkers are the ones flying around in private jets, and living in multiple 20,000 sq. ft. houses. It is ridiculously easy to have an impact, but even the "activists" refuse to sacrifice anything.

Oct 09, 2016
On 29 January 2001, nine days after Bush's inauguration, Arthur Randol, a former senior environmental advisor at Exxon, telephoned Nicky Sundt, then communications director for the US Global change research program, to inquire about the future of the lecture series. "I thought it was very unusual, if not inappropriate, for a fossil fuel lobbyist to be calling me directly days after the administration was sworn in only directly to instruct me on how we would be communicating to the Congress on climate change," Sundt told the Guardian. "This is ExxonMobil reaching into the federal government science apparatus and seeking to influence the communication of science."

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