Guest essay by Eric Worrall
h/t The Spectator – Guardian author John Gibbons has written an extraordinary piece which blames climate denial on old white people.
Climate deniers want to protect the status quo that made them rich
Sceptics prefer to reject regulations to combat global warming and remain indifferent to the havoc it will wreak on future generations
From my vantage point outside the glass doors, the sea of grey hair and balding pates had the appearance of a golf society event or an active retirement group. Instead, it was the inaugural meeting of Ireland’s first climate denial group, the self-styled Irish Climate Science Forum (ICSF) in Dublin in May. All media were barred from attending.
Its guest speaker was the retired physicist and noted US climate contrarian, Richard Lindzen. His jeremiad against the “narrative of hysteria” on climate change was lapped up by an audience largely composed of male engineers and meteorologists – mostly retired. This demographic profile of attendees at climate denier meetings has been replicated in London, Washington and elsewhere.
Short-termism and self-interest is part of the answer. A 2012 study in Nature Climate Change presented evidence of “how remarkably well-equipped ordinary individuals are to discern which stances towards scientific information secure their personal interests”.
This is surely only half the explanation. A 2007 study by Kahan et al on risk perception identified “atypically high levels of technological and environmental risk acceptance among white males”. An earlier paper teased out a similar point: “Perhaps white males see less risk in the world because they create, manage, control and benefit from so much of it.” Others, who have not enjoyed such an armchair ride in life, report far higher levels of risk aversion.
Another 2011 paper observed uncontroversially that “conservative white males are likely to favour protection of the current industrial capitalist order which has historically served them well”. It added that “heightened emotional and psychic investment in defending in-group claims may translate into misperceived understanding about problems like climate change that threaten the continued order of the system.”
A paper earlier this year from Vanderbilt University pinpointed what motivates many who choose to reject climate change: not science denial, but “regulation phobia”. Most deniers accept science in general, and even pride themselves on their science literacy, however, combatting climate change means more regulations and, the paper says, “demands a transformation of internalised attitudes”. This, the authors conclude, “has produced what can fairly be described as a phobic reaction among many people”
I have an alternative theory.
The middle age engineers and meteorologists in that room in Ireland, and other similar gatherings, were taught how to think for themselves, back in an age when schools were focussed on education.
We learned our history – we learned that democracy is fragile, that sometimes people trade freedom for safety, even when the threat is imaginary.
We learned we should not believe everything we read – that people who call themselves scientists sometimes lie about their work.
We learned that it is OK to evaluate the evidence for ourselves, to reach our own conclusions.
And yes, we also learned that racial stereotyping is silly and wrong; that not all climate skeptics are white.