Sunday 28 December 2014

Climate change: "Conservatives don’t hate climate science. They hate the left’s climate solutions"

There is very little disagreement today about the science of climate change, as made clear by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change last month:

Continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems. Limiting climate change would require substantial and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions which, together with adaptation, can limit climate change risks.

The Science - UN and Climate Change

Now, the issue is how to deal with it:
Futures Forum: Climate change: perceptions and solutions: a summary

Fundamentally, it is about whether the system itself is to blame - in which case it needs to be changed - or whether the system can be allowed to remedy itself.

On the left, Naomi Klein is saying that it really is a fundamental question:

Capitalism vs. the Climate

There is a question from a gentleman in the fourth row.

He introduces himself as Richard Rothschild. He tells the crowd that he ran for county commissioner in Maryland’s Carroll County because he had come to the conclusion that policies to combat global warming were actually “an attack on middle-class American capitalism.” His question for the panelists, gathered in a Washington, DC, Marriott Hotel in late June, is this: “To what extent is this entire movement simply a green Trojan horse, whose belly is full with red Marxist socioeconomic doctrine?”

About the Author

Naomi Klein
Naomi Klein
Naomi Klein’s new book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, will be published this September by...

Here at the Heartland Institute’s Sixth International Conference on Climate Change, the premier gathering for those dedicated to denying the overwhelming scientific consensus that human activity is warming the planet, this qualifies as a rhetorical question. Like asking a meeting of German central bankers if Greeks are untrustworthy. Still, the panelists aren’t going to pass up an opportunity to tell the questioner just how right he is.
Chris Horner, a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute who specializes in harassing climate scientists with nuisance lawsuits and Freedom of Information fishing expeditions, angles the table mic over to his mouth. “You can believe this is about the climate,” he says darkly, “and many people do, but it’s not a reasonable belief.” Horner, whose prematurely silver hair makes him look like a right-wing Anderson Cooper, likes to invoke Saul Alinsky: “The issue isn’t the issue.” The issue, apparently, is that “no free society would do to itself what this agenda requires…. The first step to that is to remove these nagging freedoms that keep getting in the way.”
Claiming that climate change is a plot to steal American freedom is rather tame by Heartland standards. Over the course of this two-day conference, I will learn that Obama’s campaign promise to support locally owned biofuels refineries was really about “green communitarianism,” akin to the “Maoist” scheme to put “a pig iron furnace in everybody’s backyard” (the Cato Institute’s Patrick Michaels). That climate change is “a stalking horse for National Socialism” (former Republican senator and retired astronaut Harrison Schmitt). And that environmentalists are like Aztec priests, sacrificing countless people to appease the gods and change the weather (Marc Morano, editor of the denialists’ go-to website, ClimateDepot.com).
Most of all, however, I will hear versions of the opinion expressed by the county commissioner in the fourth row: that climate change is a Trojan horse designed to abolish capitalism and replace it with some kind of eco-socialism. As conference speaker Larry Bell succinctly puts it in his new book Climate of Corruption, climate change “has little to do with the state of the environment and much to do with shackling capitalism and transforming the American way of life in the interests of global wealth redistribution.”
Yes, sure, there is a pretense that the delegates’ rejection of climate science is rooted in serious disagreement about the data. And the organizers go to some lengths to mimic credible scientific conferences, calling the gathering “Restoring the Scientific Method” and even adopting the organizational acronym ICCC, a mere one letter off from the world’s leading authority on climate change, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). But the scientific theories presented here are old and long discredited. And no attempt is made to explain why each speaker seems to contradict the next. (Is there no warming, or is there warming but it’s not a problem? And if there is no warming, then what’s all this talk about sunspots causing temperatures to rise?)
In truth, several members of the mostly elderly audience seem to doze off while the temperature graphs are projected. They come to life only when the rock stars of the movement take the stage—not the C-team scientists but the A-team ideological warriors like Morano and Horner. This is the true purpose of the gathering: providing a forum for die-hard denialists to collect the rhetorical baseball bats with which they will club environmentalists and climate scientists in the weeks and months to come. The talking points first tested here will jam the comment sections beneath every article and YouTube video that contains the phrase “climate change” or “global warming.” They will also exit the mouths of hundreds of right-wing commentators and politicians—from Republican presidential candidates like Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann all the way down to county commissioners like Richard Rothschild. In an interview outside the sessions, Joseph Bast, president of the Heartland Institute, proudly takes credit for “thousands of articles and op-eds and speeches…that were informed by or motivated by somebody attending one of these conferences.”
The Heartland Institute, a Chicago-based think tank devoted to “promoting free-market solutions,” has been holding these confabs since 2008, sometimes twice a year. And the strategy appears to be working. At the end of day one, Morano—whose claim to fame is having broken the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth story that sank John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign—leads the gathering through a series of victory laps. Cap and trade: dead! Obama at the Copenhagen summit: failure! The climate movement: suicidal! He even projects a couple of quotes from climate activists beating up on themselves (as progressives do so well) and exhorts the audience to “celebrate!”
There were no balloons or confetti descending from the rafters, but there may as well have been.
* * *
When public opinion on the big social and political issues changes, the trends tend to be relatively gradual. Abrupt shifts, when they come, are usually precipitated by dramatic events. Which is why pollsters are so surprised by what has happened to perceptions about climate change over a span of just four years. A 2007 Harris poll found that 71 percent of Americans believed that the continued burning of fossil fuels would cause the climate to change. By 2009 the figure had dropped to 51 percent. In June 2011 the number of Americans who agreed was down to 44 percent—well under half the population. According to Scott Keeter, director of survey research at the Pew Research Center for People and the Press, this is “among the largest shifts over a short period of time seen in recent public opinion history.”
Even more striking, this shift has occurred almost entirely at one end of the political spectrum. As recently as 2008 (the year Newt Gingrich did a climate change TV spot with Nancy Pelosi) the issue still had a veneer of bipartisan support in the United States. Those days are decidedly over. Today, 70–75 percent of self-identified Democrats and liberals believe humans are changing the climate—a level that has remained stable or risen slightly over the past decade. In sharp contrast, Republicans, particularly Tea Party members, have overwhelmingly chosen to reject the scientific consensus. In some regions, only about 20 percent of self-identified Republicans accept the science.
Equally significant has been a shift in emotional intensity. Climate change used to be something most everyone said they cared about—just not all that much. When Americans were asked to rank their political concerns in order of priority, climate change would reliably come in last.
But now there is a significant cohort of Republicans who care passionately, even obsessively, about climate change—though what they care about is exposing it as a “hoax” being perpetrated by liberals to force them to change their light bulbs, live in Soviet-style tenements and surrender their SUVs. For these right-wingers, opposition to climate change has become as central to their worldview as low taxes, gun ownership and opposition to abortion. Many climate scientists report receiving death threats, as do authors of articles on subjects as seemingly innocuous as energy conservation. (As one letter writer put it to Stan Cox, author of a book critical of air-conditioning, “You can pry my thermostat out of my cold dead hands.”)
This culture-war intensity is the worst news of all, because when you challenge a person’s position on an issue core to his or her identity, facts and arguments are seen as little more than further attacks, easily deflected. (The deniers have even found a way to dismiss a new study confirming the reality of global warming that was partially funded by the Koch brothers, and led by a scientist sympathetic to the “skeptic” position.)
The effects of this emotional intensity have been on full display in the race to lead the Republican Party. Days into his presidential campaign, with his home state literally burning up with wildfires, Texas Governor Rick Perry delighted the base by declaring that climate scientists were manipulating data “so that they will have dollars rolling into their projects.” Meanwhile, the only candidate to consistently defend climate science, Jon Huntsman, was dead on arrival. And part of what has rescued Mitt Romney’s campaign has been his flight from earlier statements supporting the scientific consensus on climate change

Capitalism vs. the Climate | The Nation
Naomi Klein in the 'New York Times': Inconvenient Climate Conclusions | The Nation

When Risk-taking Becomes Too Costly: Naomi Klein on Climate Change | The Nation
Futures Forum: Climate Change: and growth on Radio 4

Libertarians are actually very wary of big business:

Big Oil, Big Government, and Big Hypocrisy
In a speech last week Newt Gingrich exulted that the estimated Bakken shale oil reserves in North Dakota had recently been revised upward to 24 billion barrels. So much, he said in a tone of patronizing dismissal, for the “Peak Oil doomsayers.” These remarks by Gingrich, who also says he’d lower gasoline prices to $2.50 a gallon as president, were just the latest version of Sarah Palin’s “Drill, Baby, Drill” theme of “domestic oil (or natural gas, or coal) production” as the solution for high energy prices.

It’s interesting that politicians who so tirelessly proclaim their opposition to government meddling in the economy, and deny the effectiveness of such meddling, would express such hubris on the ability of activist government to solve an economic problem.

Not only do these people fail to understand the nature of the problem they’re promising to fix, but the promised fix itself is chock full of government intervention.

For example, Professor Gingrich seems to have a poor grasp of what the Peak Oil hypothesis actually says. Maybe they didn’t cover that on The Jetsons. Peak Oil has nothing to do with the total size of oil reserves underground, or how many years of America’s present energy needs they could supply. What Peak Oil is about is the rate at which those reserves can be extracted, the cost in money and energy of extracting it, and the diminishing size of the net energy returns when the energy cost of extraction is accounted for. The Energy Return on Energy Invested (EROEI) of the predominant sources of fossil fuel energy has been declining steadily since they first started distilling petroleum into gasoline.

The EROEI of the light sweet crude extracted in the early 20th century — the kind of black gold that come a-bubblin’ up when Jed Clampett was shootin’ at some food — was a mind-blowing 100. That is, for every barrel of oil consumed in the process of extracting, processing and distributing the fuel, the net return was ninety-nine barrels of oil.

The average EROEI on oil extracted today is about 20. The EROEI from the Canadian tar sands is under ten. Anything with an EROEI under three — like corn ethanol — isn’t economically worth the trouble of extracting unless it’s subsidized by the government. Over the history of fossil fuel consumption, we’ve consumed the low-hanging fruit first, and then moved on to progressively costly and energy-intensive alternatives as the cheaper stuff was exhausted.

Now let’s take a look at those Bakken oil reserves. The seemingly astronomical figure of 24 billion barrels that Gingrich cites is about the same size as the Prudhoe Bay reserves in Alaska. But despite the enormous size of the reserves on paper, the productivity of each well was far lower than the typical light sweet crude well in the older oilfields of the “lower 48″ — for a relatively modest output from a large number of wells.

And compared to the Bakken reserves, Prudhoe Bay was a cake walk. A much lower percentage of the entire reserve is recoverable, and the oil that’s extracted will require extremely costly hydraulic fracturing to remove it from the shale strata in which it is embedded. According Derek Andreoli at The Oil Drum:
Whereas conventional wells like those in the Thunder Horse reservoir produce at a rate of 40,000 bpd, only 14 of the nearly 9,000 wells in the Bakken produce more than 800 barrels per day, and the average well produces only 52 bpd. Even at 800 barrels per day, 50 Bakken wells would need to be drilled for each Liberty/Thunder Horse size well, and nearly 800 of the average size Bakken wells would be required.
In order to arrest North Slope declines, 700 average size Bakken wells will need to be completed each and every year.
The EROEI on Bakken shale oil is a whopping 6.

The simple fact of the matter is, with EROEI and output per well going off a cliff, all these miracle sources of new oil won’t be a patch on the output of the old, high-EROEI fields that are becoming exhausted.

Even if Professor Gingrich doesn’t believe in Peak Oil, the oil companies do — and what’s more, they actually understand it. The “Drill, Baby, Drill” peanut gallery is fond of pointing to offshore drilling as some sort of panacea. But the fact is that, even before the BP oil spill, the oil companies sat on enormous reserves of offshore oil they didn’t bother to develop.

The reason is that oil production is increasingly governed by the same laws Henry George observed in real estate. Because the supply of land is for all intents and purposes fixed, the supply cannot increase in response to demand; its price is governed entirely by the fluctuating rate of competition for the fixed supply at any given time. So the rate of real estate development is governed by the land owners’ estimate at any given time of the relative payoff of selling the land now, versus sitting on it and selling it when the price appreciates.

That’s exactly what the oil companies were doing with their offshore reserves. You can open up every square mile of offshore waters up to unlimited drilling, and the oil companies will still sit on it and wait to develop it when the price is right.

Back in the early ’80s, before oil production peaked, Reagan’s deregulation and the subsequent steep price rise resulted in a significant increase in oil output. So when gasoline hit $4.50/gallon in summer 2008, why didn’t oil exploration and production go through the roof? Why did production levels remain essentially flat?

Contrary to the promises made by these apostles of the activist state, the government simply can’t do much to affect the energy supply. Promises like Gingrich’s are pure snake oil.

Now for the second point: The proposed energy policies of Gingrich, Palin and the rest of the “drill baby drill” crowd require enormous levels of government intervention in the economy. You can hardly turn on your TV without seeing examples. The Keystone XL natural gas pipeline couldn’t be built without condemning land through eminent domain in order to acquire the right of way. Oil company trucks serving the Alberta tar sand fields are driving through Lakota land in violation of Lakota law, in order to avoid South Dakota’s per truck fees on heavy-hauling trucks.

Besides that, the more costly and intensive the methods required for fossil fuel extraction, the more harm is typically imposed on the people of surrounding areas. Hydraulic fracturing simply wouldn’t be economically cost-effective if oil companies were fully subject to tort action before local juries for the damage to groundwater caused by the toxic chemical cocktail used in fracking. The same goes for the economic and health damage caused by mountaintop removal, for the people living in the surrounding countryside.

The state provides enormous benefit to extractive industries by giving them privileged access to land originally preempted by the state, and by subsidizing their operations. But perhaps the single biggest subsidy government provides to the fossil fuel industry is regulatory preemption. The regulatory state’s environmental standards preempt more stringent common law liability standards, and create a safe harbor for corporate bad actors engaged in creating what is clearly a public or private nuisance. The liability cap for offshore oil spills is just the best-known example of the phenomenon.

Let there be no mistake about this: Newt Gingrich and the “Drill, Baby, Drill” people are not pro-market. They are pro-business. Palin and Gingrich may mock Solyndra, but they have no problem at all with fossil fuel subsidies and otherwise greasing the  skids to make low-EROEI operations like Bakken profitable.

Gingrich has professed admiration for Henry Clay and the Whig policy of federal development of the economy through blockbuster infrastructure projects. Gingrich & Co. say they just want big, intrusive government to get out of the way of a fossil fuel economic boom.  But despite their framing of the issue it’s actually about big, intrusive government intervening — right now — on the side of the fossil fuels industry. Like Dick Cheney and his hunting buddies, Gingrich just wants the government to be even bigger and more intrusive — on behalf of the right people.

Center for a Stateless Society » Big Oil, Big Government, and Big Hypocrisy
Center for a Stateless Society » Reports of Peak Oil’s Death Are Somewhat Premature
Futures Forum: Peak Oil... and EROEI... or Energy Return on Energy Investment

One way to deal with 'big oil' might not be regulation or legislation - but the courts:
Want to Stop Climate Change? Take the Fossil Fuel Industry to Court | The Nation

Neoliberals are not necessarily unbridled in their approach:
Futures Forum: "Green growth is a worthwhile goal" - comment on climate change and sustainability from the FT
Futures Forum: Climate change... "Clean growth is a safe bet in the climate casino"

The Rockefellers are divesting from fossil fuels:
Futures Forum: Climate change: "industrial civilization headed for irreversible collapse"?
Divestment Statement | Rockefeller Brothers Fund

The Telgraph has drawn attention to the issue of the oil industry's 'stranded assets':
Futures Forum: The growing economic cost of fossil fuels
Fossil industry is the subprime danger of this cycle - Telegraph

And so has the Nation magazine:

To Save the Planet, We Need to Leave Fossil Fuels in the Ground—but Oil Companies Have Other Plans

A hydraulic fracturing operation near Mead, Colorado (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)
A growing and powerful Greek chorus—composed of activists, environmentalists, billionaires, former Goldman Sachs partners, former Goldman Sachs partners who are also former Treasury secretaries, and a former vice president of the United States—has been sounding an urgent message to the world: Big Oil companies cannot, and must not, sell the vast fossil-fuel reserves they have spent billions of dollars finding, digging up and refining. These voices warn that if ExxonMobil, Chevron and Shell are allowed to burn all their carbon, the planet’s temperature will rise beyond the 2-degrees-Celsius threshold that, a consensus of scientists holds, is the tipping point to environmental Armageddon. In economic terms, this means we can have either a safe planet or an ExxonMobil worth hundreds of billions of dollars, but we can’t have both. Nothing less than Earth’s future is at stake.
In June, that chorus seemed to find an important ally: President Obama. In an interview on Showtime’s Years of Living Dangerously, Obama told New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman that Big Oil must leave two-thirds of its fossil fuel in the ground. “We’re not going to be able to burn it all,” Obama said.
There’s just one problem: Big Oil doesn’t agree. On the contrary, Big Oil wants to burn all of the fossil fuel it has found, and then some. It doesn’t want anyone telling it what it can and cannot do. Indeed, there is increasingly a sense that the latest efforts of the environmentalists—including the worldwide People’s Climate March in September—are desperate ones, reflecting political impotence in the face of an intransigent Congress. “The climate movement is choosing these narratives not because they are objectively the best way to describe the problem,” said Steve Coll, the author of Private Empire, the definitive book on the history of ExxonMobil. “It’s because they are the best way to describe the problem in the absence of comprehensive legislation to actually fix the problem, which they can’t achieve in the United States.”
That political reality just got a whole lot worse, too, in the wake of the midterm elections, when lawmakers deep inside Big Oil’s pockets swept further into power. Caught in a moment of seeming ennui a few days later, Bill McKibben, the Middlebury College professor and 350.org leader, was at something of a loss to describe exactly how the movement presses on from here. “My guess is [the election] means we need to really push outside the formal political system, so things like divestment become even more critical,” he wrote in an e-mail. “That said, we’re already working as hard on it as we know how to.” On December 2, McKibben resigned as the chair of 350.org. His interim successor, K.C. Golden, reached by phone, acknowledged there is “a yawning gap” between what is morally and ethically the right thing to do on the environment and “what the political system is able to deliver.” Nevertheless, he argues that “a lot of things are moving in the right direction.” Divestiture, he says, is one of them: “It’s one step at a time. Divestment gives every person, every institution, every pension fund the opportunity to take control and do something positive.”
* * *
Big oil companies have made no secret of their belief that they can have it all: both a huge market valuation and a planet that suffers no catastrophic effects from climate change. For the record, ExxonMobil is the world’s second-most-valuable company (trailing distantly behind Apple), and its AAA-rated bonds are yielding only slightly more than similar-duration Treasury securities, suggesting that creditors are not the slightest bit worried about a default or a write-down of the value of the so-called stranded assets—oil and gas that ExxonMobil has found but that environmentalists hope will never be sold. “They’re some of the biggest political players on Earth, and they have enormous clout,” McKibben said of Big Oil. “So they will use that clout to try and ensure that they’re allowed to burn everything they’ve got, and there’s all this stuff they continue to look for every day.”
In truth, Big Oil seems more or less indifferent to the political and media commotion. It’s as if Big Oil is from Mars and the scientists, environmentalists and enlightened politicians are from Venus. ExxonMobil is busy spending $40 billion this year searching in the remotest parts of the globe—Banyu Urip, anyone?—for new sources of fossil fuel. And it continues to rake in the dough: in 2014, ExxonMobil is expected to generate EBITDA (Wall Street jargon for the amount of cash a company generates annually) of around $80 billion, enjoying a whopping 19 percent profit margin (based on a consensus revenue estimate of around $430 billion) and an astounding annualized return on equity of nearly 20 percent. In other words, Big Oil remains incredibly profitable. For Big Oil, it’s simply business as usual. In late September, Rosneft, the Russian oil giant, announced that its joint venture with ExxonMobil in the Arctic has discovered a major cache of oil and gas.
* * *
Like Lee Raymond, his hard-charging predecessor, ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson has become the embodiment of Big Oil. Tillerson grew up in rural Texas and Oklahoma. He is a proud Eagle Scout, and Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged is his favorite book. After receiving his civil-engineering degree from the University of Texas, Tillerson joined Exxon and never left. In 2006, at 53, he became CEO. According to Private Empire, he brought to the top job a more nuanced view of climate change. Whereas Raymond was essentially a climate-change denier, Tillerson has been willing to throw Exxon’s considerable financial resources into studying the issue, lobbying Congress and trying to communicate more diplomatically. “But the essential convictions and the business model haven’t changed,” Coll said. In fact, Tillerson has made few concessions on the subject of climate change.
Tillerson rarely grants one-on-one interviews with journalists—he declined my repeated requests—but occasionally he will appear in a comfortable forum. One such moment occurred in June 2012 at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) in Manhattan. Tillerson came ostensibly to trumpet that, thanks to the newly rediscovered wonders of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” the country was awash in natural gas, of which ExxonMobil was the largest domestic producer (owing to the $35 billion acquisition of XTO Energy that Tillerson engineered in 2010). This was before the world had been clued in fully that the United States was on the verge, as Tillerson described it, of “energy security.” It was, he said, “nothing short of extraordinary.” (In October, the United States passed Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest producer of liquid petroleum, and that new dynamic has sent OPEC into some unexpected turmoil.)
Tillerson then addressed his critics. “Ours is an industry that is built on technology, it’s built on science, it’s built on engineering, and because we have a society that by and large is illiterate in these areas—science, math and engineering—what we do is a mystery to them, and they find it scary,” he said. “And because of that, it creates easy opportunities for opponents of development—activist organizations—to manufacture fear. And so as these technologies emerge, we know the immediate response from certain…interested parties out there is going to be to manufacture fear, because that’s how you slow this down. And nowhere is it more effective than in the United States.”
During the question period, David Fenton, the founder of the public relations firm Fenton Communications, asked Tillerson about the effects of burning fossil fuels on the environment. “The seas will rise, the coastlines will be unstable for generations, the price of food will go crazy,” Fenton said. “This is what we face, and we all know it…. [If] we burn all these reserves that you talked about, you can kiss future generations goodbye.”
Tillerson was unimpressed. He said the scientific models that spit out such conclusions were flawed, so the ability to predict “with any accuracy” the impact of carbon emissions on the climate “is really pretty limited.” He did concede that continuing to burn carbon would “have a warming impact” on the planet, but he didn’t believe anyone could say how much. Then he added something extraordinary: the solution to the unknown impact of climate change was merely one of “adapting” to new circumstances. “As human beings…we have spent our entire existence adapting, OK? So we will adapt to this,” he said. “It’s an engineering problem, and it has engineering solutions. The fear factor that people want to throw out there, to say ‘We just have to stop this,’ I do not accept.”

To Save the Planet, We Need to Leave Fossil Fuels in the Ground—but Oil Companies Have Other Plans | The Nation

Last month, an interesting piece of research was published on how people respond to these proposed solutions to climate change:

©2014 American Psychological Association
Solution aversion: On the relation between ideology and motivated disbelief.

Campbell, Troy H.; Kay, Aaron C.
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 107(5), Nov 2014, 809-824.


  1. There is often a curious distinction between what the scientific community and the general population believe to be true of dire scientific issues, and this skepticism tends to vary markedly across groups. 
  2. For instance, in the case of climate change, Republicans (conservatives) are especially skeptical of the relevant science, particularly when they are compared with Democrats (liberals). What causes such radical group differences? We suggest, as have previous accounts, that this phenomenon is often motivated. 
  3. However, the source of this motivation is not necessarily an aversion to the problem, per se, but an aversion to the solutions associated with the problem. This difference in underlying process holds important implications for understanding, predicting, and influencing motivated skepticism. 
  4. In 4 studies, we tested this solution aversion explanation for why people are often so divided over evidence and why this divide often occurs so saliently across political party lines. Studies 1, 2, and 3—using correlational and experimental methodologies—demonstrated that Republicans’ increased skepticism toward environmental sciences may be partly attributable to a conflict between specific ideological values and the most popularly discussed environmental solutions. 
  5. Study 4 found that, in a different domain (crime), those holding a more liberal ideology (support for gun control) also show skepticism motivated by solution aversion. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2014 APA, all rights reserved)

PsycNET - Display Record

The Washington Post analysed the findings:

Conservatives don’t hate climate science. 

They hate the left’s climate solutions.

 November 10  

In the past half decade, a small cottage industry has arisen among communications researchers, political scientists, and political psychologists, all of whom have sought to explain the same phenomenon: Why Republicans and conservatives have become so dogged in their rejection of the science of climate change. Psychological causes that have since been highlighted include conspiratorial thinkingfree market ideology, an "individualist" worldview, and "system justification," or the motive to defend the status quo. (As I've noted, liberals also deny science, though it can be a struggle to find equally clear-cut cases.)
You might think there is little more to add here. But a new study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, by Troy Campbell and Aaron Kay of the Duke University Fuqua School of Business, teases out a key factor that, while not inconsistent with many of the above explanations, definitely helps us better understand what is going on. Namely, the researchers show that Republicans reject climate science a lot more when they perceive it to support ideologically inconvenient policy solutions (like, say, the EPA's Clean Power Plan) than when they don't. In other words, the authors argue, this "solution aversion" feeds back into conservatives' perception of science itself.
The paper shows the significance of “solution aversion”  through a series of four experiments -- the final of which also catches liberals engaging in the behavior. But first, let's look at this phenomenon as it manifests on the right.
In one of the paper's experiments, politically diverse research subjects were separated into two groups, one of whose members read about a climate change solution that involved regulatory action to reduce emissions (much like the EPA's approach), while the other group read about "how the United States could help stop climate change and profit from leading the world in green technology." Afterwards, subjects were asked how much they agreed that humans are causing climate change.
The result was that whether or not they'd read about a "free market" climate solution or a "government regulatory" climate solution, Democrats believed in the science of climate change about equally. But for Republicans, which solution they'd read about seemed to have a very big effect on their feelings about the science:
A similar result, incidentally, has been found by Yale researcher Dan Kahan and his colleagues: Framing climate solutions around either nuclear poweror geoengineering (artificial interference with the climate system in order to slow the rate of warming, a technological fix) also seems to make conservatives more accepting of climate science. This is presumably because these solutions are also perceived as being based on the free market and individual ingenuity, rather than a command and control government regulatory approach.
Thus, the new paper definitely adds to the mountain of evidence suggesting that conservatives reject modern climate science because they think that it implies a series of policies that they find unacceptable. But interestingly, Duke's Campbell and Kay also show in the final study of their paper that liberals, too, can change their views of the facts because they don't like what those facts seem to imply.

In this last experiment, individuals were first asked for their opinions about gun control, and then either read 1) an essay arguing that the availability of weapons helps citizens fight off home intruders (an anti-gun control view) or 2) an essay suggesting that having guns around worsens intruder violence and deaths in home invasions (a pro-gun control view). Finally, the study subjects were asked about how severe they thought the problem of violent break-ins or home invasions actually was.
In this case, views about the home invasion problem seemed to swing wildly among gun control supporters depending upon whether they had been put in a pro- or anti-gun control state of mind:
In other words, gun control supporters -- liberals, we presume -- were less likely to take the problem of violent home invasion seriously if they had previously read an essay suggesting such evidence would favor  a pro-gun or anti-gun control point of view. To be sure, whether this actually counts as a case of "science denial" depends on the actual facts at issue -- and there is reason to think that deadly gun violence in home invasions is relatively rare. Nonetheless, gun control supporters did see their views of the problem change depending upon their perception of the solution, suggesting a pretty clear case of "solution aversion."
Granted, the new study has its weaknesses. For instance, we probably shouldn't assume based on this paper that running out and singing the praises of clean energy and green tech, framed as a free-market solution, would actually work to depolarize the climate issue. Other research, for instance, implies  that the issues of clean energy and energy efficiency have also become infected with partisan emotions, to a significant extent.
Still, it is very useful to bear in mind that often, when we appear to be debating science and facts, what we're really disagreeing about is something very different.

Chris Mooney reports on science and the environment.

Conservatives don’t hate climate science. They hate the left’s climate solutions - The Washington Post
Center for a Stateless Society » Reclaiming the Public

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