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Tue, 2011-05-03 08:52Chris Mooney
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Climate Change and Well-Informed Denial

On climate change, we’re politically polarized—which would be bad enough, but that’s not all. The hole we’ve dug is even deeper—as new research clearly suggests.

There’s yet another study out on Democrats, Republicans, and climate change, this time from Lawrence Hamilton of the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire. Over the last two years, in a series of regional surveys, Hamilton asked nearly 9,500 people questions about climate change—from Appalachia to the Gulf Coast, and from New Hampshire to Alaska. 

Across all these regions, he consistently found the following phenomenon:

Thu, 2011-04-28 06:48Chris Mooney
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"Listen to All The Facts"

I have great admiration for Ben Santer. Not only is he a top climate scientist, but the guy went through brutal and unfair political attacks concerning the IPCC report in 1995. (Some of that story is here.) I’m glad Santer is being honored this year by being elected as a fellow of the American Geophysical Union–a development that, predictably, Joe Romm hails and Anthony Watts mocks.

However, I must confess that I literally received a jolt reading the Lawrence Livermore National Lab press release about this. It goes like this:

Ben Santer is a man with a lot of accolades under his belt: A recipient of the MacArthur “genius” grant; an E.O.Lawrence Award; a Department of Energy Office of Biological and Environmental Research (BER) Distinguished Scientist Fellowship; contributor to all four assessment reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), an organization that shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with former Vice President Al Gore; and now an American Geophysical Union fellowship. 

But he’d give all the awards up if it meant he could present his research on human-induced climate change to a patient audience – an audience that would listen to all the facts before making judgments about reality of a “discernible human influence” on climate.

To which I’m afraid my first thought was: Like how the birthers sat back and carefully contemplated the new information when Obama released his birth certificate to them yesterday?

Mon, 2011-04-25 06:55Chris Mooney
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Climate Policy Failure, and Laying Blame

Joe Romm battled extensively with Matthew Nisbet last week over the latter’s sweeping attempt to redirect much of the blame for the failure to achieve a climate bill onto environmentalists, scientists, and Al Gore. (I had a few whacks at Nisbet too.) The implication of the Nisbet report was that the standard villains—climate deniers, the Kochs, the media, the perpetrators of ClimateGate and those who can’t stop talking about it—had wrongly drawn all the attention. If we want to be charitable to Nisbet, we might recast his message as: “but look at all these other things, too.” However, his report was framed in such a way that such nuance was largely lost (and Nisbet studies framing).

Now Romm is back,  with his own apportioning of blame. He even gives figures: 60 percent for the denial machine, 30 percent for the media, and the remaining 10 percent split between what he calls “think small” centrists and the Obama team. Huh.

I now think I can see from this that I’m somewhere between Romm and Nisbet.

Wed, 2011-04-20 07:28Chris Mooney
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The Ever Growing Partisan Divide Over Global Warming

Depressing doesn’t even begin to capture it.

On the one hand, scientists have become increasingly certain that climate change is real and human caused. They’re now saying “very likely,” a degree of certainty equivalent to greater than 90 percent.

Yet at the same time, the two U.S. political parties have grown increasingly polarized over whether to accept this fact about the world. There’s now a 30 percent gap between Democrats and Republicans in their likelihood of believing the above to be true. This gap has widened, even as scientific doubt has narrowed.

That’s the finding of a comprehensive new study (press release here) on our polarization over climate change by Aaron McCright of Michigan State and Riley Dunlap of Oklahoma State. They looked at 10 years of Gallup polling on the issue, and found a steady march in opposite directions for the two parties. Or as the authors put it: “Moving from the right to the left along the political spectrum increases respondents’ likelihood of reporting beliefs consistent with the scientific consensus and of expressing personal concern about global warming.” That’s academic speak, so they didn’t add on the following next sentence, as I would have done: “A lot.”

 But that’s not the only thing McCright and Dunlap looked at.

Mon, 2011-04-18 06:05Chris Mooney
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Understanding Climate Denial, Continued: Motivated Reasoning

In a recent post, I sought to explain, from a motivational standpoint, why it is that climate deniers can reject the overwhelming evidence that humans are causing the Earth to warm. We already have reason to think their motivations are not scientific, e.g., not driven by a quest to understand the truth about the atmosphere. Rather, climate denial seems closely linked to conservative and libertarian politics—the sense that the free market simply couldn’t have made such a mess of things; and the deep distrust of large scale government solutions that involve intervening in the economy.

We also know that the selective attention to biased information sources plays an important role.  For instance, watching Fox News correlates closely with being less trusting of climate scientists, and with being misinformed about whether scientist think the Earth is warming.

But there’s another key factor.

Wed, 2011-04-13 04:11Chris Mooney
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How the War on Science Works--And How to Respond

Recently, I was reading testimony given by Bush administration whistleblower Rick Piltz about the ongoing National Assessment process, in which the U.S. government, either cheerily or reluctantly (depending on the administration) sets out to inform Americans as to their local and regional climate risks. During the Bush years, as I reported in my book The Republican War on Science, there was an all out war on the in-government scientists trying to produce this legally required document. Lawsuits were filed, a disclaimer put up on the government website housing the document (indeed, it’s still there), and before long nobody in the administration would even cite the government’s own work.

It’s in this context that I found Piltz’s testimony so refreshingly…frank. For what he tells the scientists preparing the next round of the assessment for 2013 is this: No matter how good your science is, it will never be good enough for those who disbelieve it. The blush is off the rose; this is the new reality; this is how it works:

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