Guest essay by Eric Worrall
A climate psychology study by UQ Professor Matthew Hornsey suggests evidence that Conservatives are all conspiracy nuts is weak; Matthew instead believes that Conservatives have been manipulated through vested interest “ignorance-building strategies” into doubting the climate consensus.
‘It’s all about vested interests’: untangling conspiracy, conservatism and climate scepticism
Academics have suggested that people who tend to accept conspiracy theories also underplay or reject the science showing humans are causing rapid and dangerous climate change.
But a new study that tested this idea across 24 different countries found the link between so-called “conspiratorial ideation” and “climate scepticism” only really holds in the US.
University of Queensland psychology professor Matthew Hornsey and colleagues surveyed 5,300 people to test the link between climate “scepticism” and acceptance of four internationally propagated conspiracy theories around the assassination of President Kennedy, the 11 September terrorist attacks, the death of Princess Diana and the existence of a new world order.
Conservatism and climate
The study also tried to tease out the links between the rejection of human-caused climate change and the ideologies that people hold.
It’s here that the study offers the greatest cause for hope, Hornsey says. He has developed a form of “jiujitsu” persuasion technique that he thinks might work.
There’s been a general acceptance that people who have broadly conservative or rightwing ideologies tend to rail against climate science because it rubs their worldview up the wrong way. That is, that tackling climate change will require broad interventions from governments.
But Hornsey’s study finds that “there is nothing inherent to conspiratorial ideation or conservative ideologies that predisposes people to reject climate science”.
Instead, it suggests vested interests have managed to reshape the conservative identity with “ignorance-building strategies” in two countries – the US and Australia.
The abstract of the study;
Relationships among conspiratorial beliefs, conservatism and climate scepticism across nations
Matthew J. Hornsey, Emily A. Harris & Kelly S. Fielding
Studies showing that scepticism about anthropogenic climate change is shaped, in part, by conspiratorial and conservative ideologies are based on data primarily collected in the United States. Thus, it may be that the ideological nature of climate change beliefs reflects something distinctive about the United States rather than being an international phenomenon. Here we find that positive correlations between climate scepticism and indices of ideology were stronger and more consistent in the United States than in the other 24 nations tested. This suggests that there is a political culture in the United States that offers particularly strong encouragement for citizens to appraise climate science through the lens of their worldviews. Furthermore, the weak relationships between ideology and climate scepticism in the majority of nations suggest that there is little inherent to conspiratorial ideation or conservative ideologies that predisposes people to reject climate science, a finding that has encouraging implications for climate mitigation efforts globally.
Read more (paywalled): https://www.nature.com/articles/s41558-018-0157-2
Sadly the full study is paywalled, but in a sense I see this shift as progress, an attempt to move psychological thought on climate scepticism from the utterly absurd to the merely badly mistaken.
The author of the study Professor Matthew Hornsey doesn’t appear to consider the possibility that Conservatives might be right. But Hornsey’s criticism of Lewandowsky’s extreme climate psychology claims seems rather courageous.
Any criticism of extreme climate claims, even a critique as mild as Hornsey’s suggestion that Conservatives might not be completely irrational, has the potential to incur academic ostracism and strident accusations of climate denial.