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Climate Change Denial

Climate change denial, or global warming denial is denial, dismissal, or unwarranted doubt that contradicts the scientific consensus on climate change, including the extent to which it is caused by humans, its effects on nature and human society, or the potential of adaptation to global warming by human actions. Many who deny, dismiss, or hold unwarranted doubt about the scientific consensus on anthropogenic global warming self-label as ‘climate change sceptics’, which several scientists have noted is an inaccurate description.

The campaign to undermine public trust in climate science has been described as a ‘denial machine’ organized by industrial, political and ideological interests, and supported by conservative media and skeptical bloggers to manufacture uncertainty about global warming. The politics of global warming have been affected by climate change denial and the political global warming controversy, undermining the efforts to act on climate change or adapting to the warming climate. Those promoting denial commonly use rhetorical tactics to give the appearance of a scientific controversy where there is none.

Organized campaigning to undermine public trust in climate science is associated with conservative economic policies and backed by industrial interests opposed to the regulation of CO2 emissions. It has been suggested that climate change can conflict with a nationalistic view because it is ‘unsolvable’ at the national level and requires collective action between nations or between local communities, and that therefore populist nationalism tends to reject the science of climate change.

Moreover, according to an article by Kirsti M. Jylhä and  Kahl Hellmer, research has shown that individuals who support right-wing populist parties tend to deny climate change to a higher degree than individuals supporting established parties. “However,” say the authors “populism combines different views, and from the current state of knowledge it is unclear if these views uniquely correlate with climate change denial. Importantly, both populist discourses and rejection of climate science tend to include anti-establishment arguments, but it has been questioned if the true motivation behind them indeed lies in anti-establishmentarianism.

Since entering Germany’s parliament two years ago on an anti-Muslim and anti-immigration manifesto, the populist far-right party Alternative for Germany (AfD) has embraced climate science denial as a campaign strategy, according to an article by Mat Hope. “Its election manifesto denies human-induced climate change and erroneously claims that rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has meant ‘world food harvests have increased significantly,” says Hope and adds that “Likewise, Belgium’s People’s Party rejects climate action as a ‘collective hysteria’. Netherlands’ Party for Freedom argues that there is no independent evidence that humans cause climate change and slams the work of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (UNIPCC) as unable to prove that relationship. And Austria’s far-right Freedom Party sees climate change as a globalist threat.”

According to an article by Beth Gardiner, as its refugee crisis recedes, Europe’s increasingly powerful nationalist and populist parties have found a new cause — attacking what they view as elitist hysteria over climate change. Gardiner also notes that the populists argue that international climate agreements are “driven by a liberal cosmopolitan agenda, that they harm the little man, that it’s a new kind of religion with Greta Thunberg as the new pope. The populists can lament the loss of sovereignty,” they perceive in multilateral cooperation.

Right-wing populists now hold a quarter of seats in the European Parliament and are part of governing coalitions in eight European countries, an analysis by the Berlin-based climate think tank Adelphi found. Given their numbers, populists’ votes within legislatures are less consequential than the gravitational pull they exert over mainstream conservatives. According to Gardiner’s article, the main power of these [far-right] parties is to drag the center more towards their position. And for Europe that could mean a softening of emissions-reduction targets and a weakening of the continent’s push for more renewable energy. Right-wing populism’s European rise is just one strand of a global story. From Donald Trump to Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro, populists are channeling a potent brew of nationalism and conspiracy theorizing to push back against global cooperation on climate.

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Jylhä, K. M., Cantal, C., Akrami, N. & Milfont, T. L. (2016). Denial of anthropogenic climate change: Social dominance orientation helps explain the conservative male effect in Brazil and Sweden. Personality and Individual Differences, 98, 184-187. 

Jylhä, K. M. & Akrami, N. (2015). Social dominance orientation and climate change denial: The role of dominance and system justification. Personality and Individual Differences, 86, 108-111.

Häkkinen, K. & Akrami, N. (2014). Ideology and climate change denial. Personality and Individual Differences, 70,62-65.

Jylhä, K. M. (2018). Denial versus reality of climate change. In D. DellaSala, & M. Goldstein (Eds). Encyclopedia of the Anthropocene. Elsevier.

Jylhä, K. M. & Akrami, N. (August 2015). Sociopolitical ideology and environmentalism: Social dominance orientation as a primary predictor of climate change denial. The 11th Biennial Conference on Environmental Psychology, Groningen, Netherlands.

Jylhä, K., Rydgren, J. and Strimling, P. 2019. “Climate Change Denial among Radical Right-wing Supporters.” Department of Sociology Working Paper Series, No. 40.

Krämer, Benjamin & Klingler, Magdalena (in Vorb.). A bad political climate for climate research and trouble for gender studies: Right-wing populism as a challenge to science communication. In Krämer, Ben- jamin & Holtz-Bacha, Christina (Hrsg.), Perspectives on populism and the media. Avenues for re- search. Baden-Baden: Nomos.

Lockwood, Matthew. (2018). Right-wing populism and the climate change agenda: exploring the linkages. Environmental Politics. 27. 1-21. 10.1080/09644016.2018.1458411.

Ruser, Alexander & Machin, Amanda. (2019). Nationalising the Climate: Is the European Far Right turning Green? https://www.greeneuropeanjournal.eu/nationalising-the-climate-is-the-european-far-right-turning-green/

Machin, Amanda & Ruser, Alexander & Werburg, Nikolaus. (2017). The Climate of Post-Truth Populism: Science vs. the People. Public Seminar.

Locating the Radical Right in an Age of Radical Climate Change,” published in CARR Insights. (London: Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right), March 2019.