What is Behind the Denial of Climate Change?


Fear, grief, and greed appear to all be behind denial of climate change.  Are people who deny climate change in the denial stage of the grief process?  Are they motivated by fear of climate change, a global problem that can certainly feel overwhelming to an individual?  Either or both are possible, depending on the person.  I can sympathize with those who have reached the understanding that humanity has become so numerous, and is having such a big impact on the global ecology as a result, that we are facing enormous and serious challenges to our existence (and intelligence) as a species.  I can also understand the grief of anyone realizing that the good economic times of the past are probably gone, and our days of carefree consumption and travel appear to be over.  These are significant losses, and truly worthy of our concern.  The problem is, the motivation for many denials of climate change comes from another source: corporate funding.  First, though, I want to address the emotional side of the issue.

Our unsustainable prosperity will be hard to give up.  The picture of the world we are now facing is a sharp contrast with the way most of us were raised and have lived until recently.  Most of us in North America who did not go through the Great Depression of the 1930’s have only memories of relative, and some would say extreme, prosperity.  We have always been part of an extremely consumption-intensive society (link), and haven’t had the experience of being truly impoverished.  The American populace was encouraged to consume heavily after World War II as a government- and corporate-promoted step to revive the economy, and the lifestyle most people experienced created expectations and ideals that not only remain today, but, through the global media, have become goals for many of the people of the world.  It is a great tragedy that those ideals are unrealistic, and it would be impossible for the people of the world to live as we do in North America, for lack of natural resources if for no other reason.  Inevitably our high-living lifestyles must adjust downward, as much of the developing world adjusts upward, driven by ever cheaper high-volume transportation and communications systems.  That is the heart of globalization, and trade agreements like NAFTA have only accelerated the inevitable.  For those who have enjoyed the lifestyles prevalent in North America (and the other developed countries) globalization is hard enough to accept by itself, and to add the challenge of global climate change only makes it harder.  This is a compound loss, a double whammy, and it is easy to understand how this is hard for many people to accept. 

Some become stuck in a state of denial, some are supported in part by corporate funding, while some are just “hired guns”.  As often occurs in the face of great losses, the sufferers spend varying amounts of time in the stages of the process: denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.  I have begun to think that some of the most strident deniers of global climate change are stuck in the first stage of grief, while others, such as the owners of www.junkscience.com and similar sites, may be coming from such an emotional state but accepting corporate support.   It is hard not to think, though, that the scientists involved in the Exxon-funded thinktanks (link) are motivated by money. 

Corporate voices are louder due to their economic power.  Of course, some of the “sticks in the mud” are relatively powerful.  NPR news mentioned this morning that some of the Rockefeller family (original founders of what is now Exxon/Mobil) are unhappy with Exxon’s hiring of thinktank scientists expressly to cast doubt on global climate change (news).  European thinktanks have been reported not only to be keeping their funding secret, but to have been accepting money from Exxon to deny climate-related issues (link).  I expect a similar situation in North America.

It is obvious that, if the money and grief issues are taken out of the arguments against climate change, the arguments against climate change become much less prevalent.  We need everyone’s acceptance and positive action so we can move as quickly as possible to address the challenges facing us, and, fortunately, the “sticks in the mud” of climate change denial are relatively few.  As part of the pursuit of a sustainable future, I believe we must continue to look carefully at all evidence, be wary of unsupported arguments, and do everything possible to move ourselves and the corporations in which we own shares in the direction of sustainability.  Please contact your elected representatives, and officials of any companies you hold stock in, and ask them to work toward sustainability in every way possible.  It is in everyone’s best interest.

As always, I welcome your comments.

Interesting reading:
Brussels think tanks persist in funding secrecy; ExxonMobil covertly funds EU climate skeptics, December 2006, Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO)
Creating the Consumer, May 14, 2003, Anup Shah, www.globalissues.org

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