Will Climate Denial, Like, Ever End?

Mon, 2012-05-21 11:12Chris Mooney
Chris Mooney's picture

Will Climate Denial, Like, Ever End?

This week, as the Heartland Institute commences its annual conference, the organization is clearly back on its heels. Funders, experts, and even some staff are bailing, reports The Guardian. Apparently pushed into defensive mode by Peter Gleick and his attempt to expose its funding, the Institute struck back with its ill-advised “you guys are kinda like madmen and murderers” billboard campaign—and, as they say, the rest is history.

Or is it?

If Heartland didn’t exist, wouldn’t some other organization simply take its place? And won't Heartland itself weather this storm? After all, new funders, like the Heritage Foundation and the Illinois Coal Association, have sprung to the institute’s defense. (Whatever else you might say about conservatives, they know how to support the team.)

I think the only conclusion that one can reach is that while Heartland might be flailing right now, climate denial itself is far, far from over.

Let’s think about this in perspective, and start with the good news.

On the one hand, those of us who stand up for science on this issue can cite a stunning amount of progress over the years. Time was, after all, when U.S. fossil fuel industry majors were united in a climate “skeptic” stance, under the aegis of the anti-Kyoto Global Climate Coalition. Nowadays, in contrast, even ExxonMobil has dropped off as a chief source of support for the climate denial machine—see investigative reporter Steve Coll’s great new book on this–and the extreme to which the Heartland Institute went with its billboards says a great deal about the intellectual weakness of the climate denial case today.

The denial of global warming is no longer mainstream within corporate America or the fossil fuel industry, then–and that can only be considered a major achievement.

And yet at the same time, it is stronger than ever among Tea Partiers and the Republican Party itself. And this fact–that these traditional industry allies have themselves diverged with industry on the matter–surely demonstrates that this is not really a live scientific issue any longer. It is a political issue.

Accordingly, we are far past the point that any amount of science can resolve it. Nor, for that matter, can the individual blunders of denialist think tanks, or exposes about their funding sources, do the trick.

Don’t get me wrong—all of this stuff helps. All of this is necessary to the fight. It’s just that in the grand scheme, it isn’t the kind of thing that will make climate denial finally go away (either because the deniers finally cop to reality, or because their view becomes marginalized, and thus ceases to be taken seriously in the media and by politicians).

To understand how to ultimately defeat climate denial, you first have to understand what it is: motivated reasoning on behalf of individualist values. What this means is that libertarian types–often white and male–who have decided that the climate issue is something that environmentalists concocted to impose global socialism will come up with any reason to attack the science that their minds can create. And the human mind can create an awful lot of reasons. Especially among the intelligent.

To stop climate denial, then, one would have to cut off its raison d’etre. You have to take away the motivation behind the reasoning—the emotional impulse that drives all this–so that individualist energies (which, likely, will always be with us) can burn themselves up somewhere else.

Individualists have fought many political battles in the past—this is just one of them. There is a constant dance to determine how vigorously the government regulates industry, say, or guns—and how much it backs off. In twenty years, with the climate debate resolved politically, it’s very easy to imagine the Heartland types today with a completely different policy agenda, one having nothing to do with climate change whatsoever.

What would lead to that outcome? I’m afraid it’s a paradox. What seems to me the most obvious denial killer is precisely what we’re fighting over in the first place–namely, a national law in the U.S. to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, either through cap and trade or a carbon tax, or some other blended type of policy. Get that in place, and let it become the new normal, and finally, I think, your deniers would largely disappear (or be relegated to the fringe).

Why? In this scenario, there would be no more political oxygen for them to breathe. The status quo would be aligned against them, rather than for them. The lack of a policy solution is what’s keeping them going and keeping them relevant; legislating one would change the terms of the debate in a way that no amount of science, and no amount of blundering on the part of deniers, could do.

Don’t get me wrong: I think a lot of deniers would never change their opinions. There would be people griping about such a law decades after it passed, saying it was based on phony science. But there would be a shifted status quo, and for the most part, a new generation of libertarian individualists would consume themselves elsewhere, rather than here.

The question, then, continues to be how to achieve policy action on the climate issue. And of course, given U.S. elections, the solution appears no nearer than it ever has…or does it?

We’re moving into summer, and then hurricane season, in a year that set staggering heat records in March. There’s no telling what the weather will be like; but weather has always been the wild card in the climate debate, and the single most powerful agenda setter. So it may be that unpredictable events make global warming a mega campaign issue down the stretch—and finally set a serious policy solution in motion. 

Previous Comments

When hell, like, freezes over.

Great analysis, Chris.

later than that.

Peter Gleick has been cleared! At least according to Suzanne Goldenberg of the Guardian, sort of like the Climategate scientists were “cleared” by several investigations, right?

Does this mean he didn’t do anything wrong at all???

Anyhow, I’m like SO relieved!

Go Peter!

Wasn’t that the Guardian article that, like, disappeared for 24 hours and then mysteriously was re-published?

Yeah, he was “cleared” alright, lol! He won’t be going to prison after all, though he may have trouble finding another job as a “scientist”.

I believe this was just the Pacific Institute’s internal examination.  It means that they bear no involvement in this issue.

Isn’t heartland trying to bring charges via the police still?

“Peter Gleick has been cleared! “

That is great news Lara, glad you thought it was great also!

re: “Does this mean he didn’t do anything wrong at all???”

Yea, lara, a highly-respected climate scientist putting his livelihood & reputation on the line to obtain & release the confidential Heartland documents that expose the donors & machinations of an ultra-libertarian, anti-science denier front group for the fossil-fuel industry that incessantly lies & deceives the American public about the clear & present dangers of anthropogenic climate change is so wrong.

And if the Redcoats had caught Sam Adams & John Hancock at Lexington & Concord, they’d’ve hung from the gallows for being so wrong.

By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard round the world.

Concord Hymn, Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1837


You should be so wrong. We all should be.

Just look at this picture and vote…


If you read the article you would see that Glieck seems to be doing alright. That said the article is fuzzy and we will have to see if they produce more information about this investigation.

The thing is that after the billboard fiasco, it’s easy to believe HI would produce a rather indiscreet memo, and there seems to be no need to believe it might have been forged..

when they have to start paying a price for it.

I agree it is a “political issue”, which is why throughout your many postings on the “repub/con brain”, I’ve argued that the proximate cause for their denial masked by willful ignorance, etc, is morality, given the inseparability of morality and politics as noted by their demi-god St. Raygun, long ago.

This is why the road to acknowledgement and acceptance for them is so long and tumultuous, as the modern day anti-Galileo/Copernicans they are. 

I also agree that the intelligent can manufacture a lot of walls/rationales, which is why I found the finding that denialism on the AGW issue has a disproportionate amount of the better educated, unsurprising.  It’s also why I noted the political/morality connection with the “libertarian” types on the AGW denialism issue in particular, because it goes directly to and undermines what they hold most sacred and fundamantal – property rights – which of course action on AGW would seriously curtail if not end in the form they desire, given what they do with their private property will be front and center on the issue, and their “freedoms” to do with it what they will, further limited.

Of course they don’t want AGW acceptance to become the new normal, and the shame of being relegated to the “fringes” is what they fear, and particularly if is is shown – as I’ve long argued it will be – that their greed-based denialisms and the political machinations that have accompanied them can be shown to have made the problem far worse than it otherwise would have been due to the inaction they are entirely responsible for. After all, who other than the truly and thoroughly evil, want infamy as their legacy?

As I see it and have argued it, the same morality-based dynamics seen on the AGW front can be seen across the modern con/repub world view and issues they fight for, and is nothing more than a survival mechanism that keeps them CONstantly hovering over the Sea of Shame, living in CONstant fear of something cutting the mooring lines on the tangled web they wove through the mouths of those like Karl Rove.

You really don’t have to look beyond their acceptance of the viability of Mitt Romney’s vision of an updated version of Bush’s econ policies to see this, which has the same in a very big way, world view at its core – “taxes are theft and regulations are sins” and infringe upon their Grisly Adams/rugged individualist identity needed to justify their pursuit of a system based on one of the seven deadly sins – unfettered greed.  http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=grover%20norquist%20nazi&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CAsQqQIwAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fthinkprogress.org%2Feconomy%2F2012%2F05%2F21%2F487465%2Fnorquist-billionaire-taxes-nazis%2F&ei=e627T7rfFoyE2QWuyoH-Bg&usg=AFQjCNFFLC5JOIHlluYME08CuFG9Qw4YbQ

Projection and deflection, lies in fact and by omission, are necessary evils from the modern con/repubs pov, which is why as the ones claiming the moral highground, they have no internal conflicts with their use either collectively or individually, because their ends – preserving their rugged individualism that grows increasingly incompatable in and with an increasingly interconnected world AGW highlights – justifies the means by which they pursue them.

I see no point in analysing the modern rightwing brain under the AGW umbrella alone, because it is imo in the final analysis, merely one of the many issues (practically if not all issues imo)  in which it manifests itself as being off the reality reservation.  After all, when will they learn that the only successful trickle down scheme they’ve ever engaged in, is the dummification program you’re seeking an explanation for?  Their trickle down econ schemes have been shown as factual matters (like their AGW rebuttals) to be complete failures, yet they cling to them like the gospel/bible too.

A focus on AGW alone stands in the way of the bigger picture, and imo, marrying their denialisms across the spectrum of political/morality issues doesn’t require any new discoveries like say, those required to formulate a “Theory of Everything” that the inability to join relativity and quantum mechanics poses to the scientists they pooh pooh. Their greed-based, exclusionary, otherizing, etc, morality and the political positions it generates is the link between their faith-based unreality and their denialisms.

As we know, JC hated the poor and the burdens they pose to society, and especially if they are off-white, gay, or even worse, an atheist like me.  The rising seas are nothing more but the Great Flood 2.0, which their greed will leave them well prepared for….lol

Sing it with me, no, lest your wickedness be your undoing as a truth-seeker, no?


And yet at the same time, it is stronger than ever among Tea Partiers and the Republican Party itself. And this fact—that these traditional industry allies have themselves diverged with industry on the matter—surely demonstrates that this is not really a live scientific issue any longer. It is a political issue.

Source: Desmogblog (http://s.tt/1cqVW)

And yet at the same time, it is stronger than ever among Tea Partiers and the Republican Party itself. And this fact—that these traditional industry allies have themselves diverged with industry on the matter—surely demonstrates that this is not really a live scientific issue any longer. It is a political issue.

Source: Desmogblog (http://s.tt/1cqVW)


Wow, they didn’t like that one Stupidicus! That cut a little close to the bone it seems.

how committed CM is to his ideas.

I’ve seen him on other lefty sites/boards respond to high praise, but nothing in the way to challenges.  That of course doesn’t mean he hasn’t.

The sad state of denialism he’s studying and seeking explanations for certainly has many and varying explanations on an individual level, but when they are all looked at collectively, I’ve been convinced in the last decade and more that one cause predominates.

The common element/denominator in all their history revisionisms/denialisms is their being on consistently on the wrong side of the issue.


They are greedy in many ways, like with their gluttony for punishment…lol 

Based on this, it was all too easy for me to predict to the rightwingers I use to “debate” daily during the aftermath of the Iraq War, torture revelations, etc, that they’d one day be denying to their kids and grandkids that they ever wholly supported ”he who can hardly be mentioned these days” as they did.

The same will one day be true of the Heartland boys and their ilk when the poop hits the proverbial fan.


As to teh speculation in the last paragraph:

Not likely Chris, i.e. no “catastrophy” in sight that would change minds collectively. From what we know about weather and climate, it is more likely that weather extremes change frequency gradually, so it sneaks up on you. Only weather nerds (and the scientists who study it) noticed the changes that are already occurring. The broader public does not. And they (i.e. standard, not scientifically trained brains) also do not understand attribution science. People understand statements such as “this was caused by …”, but not “there is a 80% chance that this heat wave was made worse by global warming” yaddayaddayadda. The extremes will have to come much more frequently and have even larger impacts than last year’s Texas drought to affect people’s thinking. It will have to heard badly in thei pocketbooks … They have to be what the deniers call “C”AGW, and we may have to wait for that for a while. “Naturally”, it it is very likely be too late then … but that is another argument …



people are waking up, which is why those like Heartland are getting correspondingly desperate

We’ve just ended a La Nina and ended the low half of an 11 year cycle.  Temperatures are about to take off again.  Correspondingly deniers MUST shift gears… They MUST agree, but I predict they will say its not that bad.  (I swear this shift occurred right at the time of the Monkton Maneuver with Potholer54.)

They have to switch gears from total denial because otherwise they will be caught out by reality.

The real question is whether the general population can be duped again by their antics.

anyone that understands and has stayed abreast of the issue is likely frightened by now, over the temps, etc, of the last decade, the things you noted, as well as the increasingly high potential for devastating feedbacks like the methane bubbling outta the permafrost and arctic ocean http://www.treehugger.com/climate-change/nasa-discovers-brand-new-global-warming-feedback-loop.html that will make the planet hell with higher waters sooner rather than later. 

I’m inclined to think given those poll numbers, that the trend towards belief and faith in the climatologists will supplant that which has been placed in the deniers in the past, and those left will be shown the fringes of society as CM suggested.

The days of “I have no scientific qualifications…” http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2012/05/23/488801/heartland-denial-conference-special-guest-lord-monckton-goes-birther-admits-he-has-no-scientific-qualification/?mobile=nc clowns like Monckton being influential are about over.


minus the billboards declaring those criticizing them and their irresponsible and immoral behavior to be _______ (fill in the blank).

The failures and denials of them leave the immoral and shameless little choice but to lie, project, deflect, etc.

It’s been the same pattern over and over again since the con of the “conservative” movement began centuries ago – claiming nobility to mask/obscure their ignobility as slaves of or servants to the monied interests, whether old money or new.

Reality always prevails, it just takes longer sometimes, depending on the issue.


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