Thursday, December 9, 2010

Al Gore Responsible For Climate Change Deniers?

Al Gore's Hearing on Global Warming  
I read an interesting theory over at Cosmic Variance (you should all read that post) where Sean Carroll muses over whether Al Gore's politicization of climate change is responsible for so many denying climate change. To quote Carroll:
 Republicans are alone among major parties in Western democracies in denying the reality of climate change, a phenomenon that even puzzles many American conservatives. Denialism is growing among the rank and file, and the phenomenon is especially strong among those with college degrees. So it doesn’t seem to be a matter of lack of information, so much as active disinformation...
What makes American conservatives different from other right-wing parties around the world? Note that it wasn’t always this way — there was a time when Republicans wouldn’t have attacked science so openly. I have a theory: it’s Al Gore’s fault.
I too would be interested if there was such a backlash against climate change science if it did not become a political issue.   Or maybe it really has nothing to do with politics and the same people would oppose the science whether it was a political issue or not.

An interesting graphic from Wired related to this is shown on the right. It appears the more education conservatives have the less likely they are to accept human driven global warming.  This trend is opposite for independents and democrats.



  1. It looks to me like he's on to something. There never seemed to be any real backlash against science discovering that CFCs and DDT were bad for the environment. Both Clinton and Gore left a bad enough taste in most conservatives' mouths that to concede him being right about something was essentially unthinkable.

    However, there also seems to be a mindset among many Americans which distrusts alarmists. The generation that was first having to deal with Gore and Global Warming was the same generation that had just dealt with several other issues that could have been catastrophic, but ended as a non-issue. (This would have been even more so among older voters which are more common in the GOP.) For example, supposed global cooling during the 1970s, the Cold War, the Ozone Hole, Y2K, etc. All of these were touted as a possible end to western civilization, but each ended really without incident (or, in the case of the ozone hole, it fell out of public perception and began to be ignored). (At least these ended without incident for most of the American public. Most of these took a great deal of time, sacrifice and effort by thousands of people, but most of the American public never saw any of that.) I think that by the time Global Warming came around, a lot of Americans had built up a distrust of alarmists, and so it was that much easier to view Global Warming as merely the "catastrophe du jour" which they could safely ignore, just like they had done, or could have done, with the others.

  2. Yeah, I do think he's on to something. It's really quite remarkable. And I agree that it is largely because it's a political issue. If it weren't it would likely be one of those issues like radio waves that everyone just accepts.

    It seems, however, that anytime a scientific issue gets attached to either a religious or political issue, it becomes a source for denialism. Age of the earth, evolution, global warming, etc. seem to have that trait.

  3. Three thoughts:
    1) Environmentalism has been a political issue for a lot longer than Al Gore has been the champion of the anthropogenic climate change crowd.
    2) Some minority of climate scientists have tried to use alarmist tactics to raise awareness of the issue. These guys tend to get disproportionate media coverage, awards from liberal-dominated organizations, and movies by former vice-presidents looking for some love. The media loves "the sky is falling" and hates error bars.
    3) Academia is, for the most part, extremely left-leaning, which either enthralls or alienates students based on their political views. Thus conservatives become more skeptical of everything their professors believed while liberals become less skeptical.

  4. What I want to know is the following. Is Gore right when he says that solving climate change will require corporate, political action? If climate change cannot be addressed by individual actions, then it will have to be a political problem at some point, right?

    Side note: the graph doesn't show what Joseph says it shows. It shows that Republicans with college degrees are more skeptical of AGW than those without. But the graph does not break things out by how much college education one has. I would not be surprised if this was very similar to Bacon's old adage about philosophy and atheism: a little philosophy inclineth a man to atheism but depth in philosophy inclineth a man to God.

  5. "a little philosophy inclineth a man to atheism but depth in philosophy inclineth a man to God."

    Very interesting quote and I agree both in what is meant by the quote and to the fact that it would be nice to see a plot of what happens when someone has more then a basic college education.

  6. May be those republican college grads went to the likes of Liberty University. They may also hold other beliefs that may be far more dangerous.

    It also points out the very weakness in applying psycholigical reality (belief) to scientific reality (debate on evidence, theoratical and experimental) and the abuse of math. Let us see, those who beat their kids, also probably don't believe in global warming, and those darn republicans beat their kids more often!

  7. I don't buy it. There was already plenty of denialism before AIT came out in 2006. Chris Mooney had already written The Republican War on Science. The noise of the right wing since Obama's election and the climategate pseudo-scandal have just made it more prominent, IMO.


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