Why do people deny climate change? Plus a plea for accommodationism (not from me)

July 11, 2014 • 8:01 am

This is the second post inspired by a short essay in the New York Times, “When beliefs and facts collide,” by Brendan Nyhan, whose essay itself discusses a 49-page paper by Dan M. Kahan that’s in press in Advances in Political Psychology. Kahan is a professor of law and psychology at Yale. (Kahan’s paper, in advance form, can be downloaded free at the link at bottom). All the figures and quotes in this post, save for one at the end, come from the longer paper.

The subject of both pieces is why so many Americans deny palpably true science, in particular evolution and human-caused global warming. Both of these “theories” are supported by mountains of evidence (no rational scientist would deny evolution, and something like 97% of climate scientists also accept that human activities are making the Earth warmer). My previous post, a few days ago, was on evolution; today’s is on climate change, the major topic of Kahan’s analysis.

In this case, Kahan administered a questionnaire to about 2000 American, asking them not what they thought about climate change (and by that I mean anthropogenic global warming), but about about what they thought scientists believed about climate change. But they also asked people a few questions about their own opinions about global warming, and also some questions to determine whether the respondents fell on the liberal or conservative side of the political spectrum.  The graphic analysis is the same as in the post on evolution I published earlier.

Here are a few of the questions in the assessment of climate-change knowledge (the correct answer is underlined, and the table also gives percentage of people giving the correct answer as well as the question’s source):

Screen shot 2014-07-11 at 9.45.33 AM

Screen shot 2014-07-11 at 6.57.06 AM Screen shot 2014-07-11 at 6.57.16 AM Screen shot 2014-07-11 at 6.57.26 AM Screen shot 2014-07-11 at 6.57.37 AM Screen shot 2014-07-11 at 6.58.01 AM

The first question was the hardest; the answer is “no rise in sea level”, as the Arctic ice cap floats on the sea, like an ice cube in a glass of water, and so the water it displaces will be exactly replaced by its melt. Like water and ice in a glass, the melting ice won’t change the water level. The Antarctic ice cap, however, does not float—it rests on a continental land mass. So when the Antarctic ice melts, as with any continental ice, the sea levels will rise.

The percentage of correct answers was combined into an index of “Ordinary Climate-Science Intelligence” (OCSI), which measures how much people know about what “most scientists believe.” And, as with the evolution question, for any given question the proportion of people giving the correct answer to a single question is correlated with the overall OCSI score. With harder questions, though, only those who know the most get them right. You can see this in the following example of four questions asked, with the percentage of people getting that question “right” (i.e., demonstrating what climate scientists know) shown on the Y axis, plotted against the overall OCSI score, on the X-axis:

Screen shot 2014-07-11 at 7.06.21 AM

The last two questions are hard ones for the layperson (the next-to-last was hard for me!), and so scores rise exponentially as general knowledge increases; i.e., the savvier people are the only ones who get them right.

And as with evolution, the more one knows about what scientists think (i.e., the higher your OCSI score), your expectation is that your own opinon would increasingly concur with the scientists that Earth is getting warmer because of human activities. But that wasn’t the case! When people were asked their own opinion about whether the warming was human caused, naturally caused, or whether there was no warming at all, the average OCSI score was virtually the same in all classes:

Screen shot 2014-07-11 at 7.19.18 AM

The lesson here is the same as Kahan reached for evolution: how much you know about science doesn’t necessarily affect your opinions on science-related matters related to public policy. In the case of evolution, this was because no matter how much people know about science (and about evolution), they tended to reject evolution if they were religious. For global warming, though, although religion plays a role (Christians tend to deny climate-change more often than do nonbelievers), politics is probably more important. Kahan therefore divided up his results by the political self-identification (based on answering another set of questions) of the respondents.

If you divide up the probability of getting answers correct for a given question by political affiliation, you see that it doesn’t make much of a difference: for some questions liberal Democrats do a bit better, for others conservative Republicans do better (!). Here are the same four plots as above, but divided by political grouping: red for conservatives, blue for Democrats (note that the bottom two plots have been switched compared to the four shown above):

Screen shot 2014-07-11 at 7.23.45 AM

And in those bottom two plots, the Republicans have a higher probability of getting the two questions right for a given OCSI score than do Democrats. (As with the evolution questions, the scores are lumped into 21 groups, and the size of the bars are the 95% confidence intervals.)

The graphs below show that there’s not much difference in the percentage of people getting answers correct based on political affiliation, though for five of the questions it looks as if Democrats did statistically better than Republicans (bars are two standard errors of the mean):

Screen shot 2014-07-11 at 7.40.51 AM

Finally, there is one plot giving peoples’ personal opinions on climate change divided up by political affiliation, and this one shows the real divide:

Screen shot 2014-07-11 at 7.44.15 AMThat’s a huge difference!

What we see, of course, is that the proportion of conservative Republicans giving the correct answer (that Earth is warming mostly because of human activity) is much lower than for liberal Democrats at any level of OCSI score. That’s regardless of the fact that both groups know pretty much the same thing that scientists accept. So their beliefs, then, do not rest on knowing the scientific consensus, but on one’s political affiliation.

Not only that, but the higher the Republicans score on climate-science knowledge, the less likely they are to believe in anthropogenic climate change! (Democrats showed the oppposite trend.) I’m not sure exactly why that is, and Kahan’s discussion is unclear, but it may be that the “smartest” Republicans are those most likely to seek conformity to their group identify. The group-identity explanation is how Kahan interprets why Republicans and Democrats show such a disparity in personal beliefs despite roughly equal knowledge of what science says (my emphasis):

This pattern, moreover, characterized the responses of subjects of both left- and right-leaning po-litical outlooks. Left-leaning subjects were somewhat more likely to select the correct answer when the items correctly attributed belief in a climate-change risk proposition to climate scientists, and right-leaning ones somewhat more likely to do so when the item incorrectly attributed belief in such a proposi-tion to scientists. But both classes of subjects were substantially more likely to indicate that climate sci-entists believe in global warming will cause some specified harm regardless of whether that response was correct. Right-leaning and left-leaning respondents alike, one might infer, were responding to the OCSI items on the basis of an affective orientation that disposed them to credit responses attributing high risk to climate change.

. . . The settings in which people’s beliefs in, and assessments of in-formation relating to, global warming are characterized by “motivated System 2” reasoning are the ones in which they are applying their reason to answer the question who are youwhose side are you on? In that setting, the answer that expresses and reinforces their cultural identity is the right one given what they are best understood to be trying to achieve when conveying their group allegiances is at stake. It is thus the reasoning proficiency of their identity-protective self that is being measured by such items.

But those same individuals are also collective-knowledge acquirers. When asked not whose side are you on but what do we know from science, they apply their reason to that question, and if they are for-tunate enough to be superb reasoners, then regardless of their cultural identity they get the answer right more often than other people regardless of theirs. If one wants to measure what people have used their reason to discern about the science of climate change, the one has to be sure to ask them in a manner that does not threaten their identities. The OCSI shows that this can indeed be done. 

Kahan’s last sentence gives a clue to how he, and Nyhan, think this divide can be breached: through accommodationism. For both evolution and climate-change, we need to convince people that accepting the scientific data does not threaten their religious or political identities.

Nyhan’s piece in the NYT suggests some solutions based on Kahan’s work and the recommendations in that paper, but they seem pretty lame.  Breaking the association between one’s “community” and one’s beliefs about science be they affected by politics or religion, is very hard. It hasn’t worked well for religion, as the failures of BioLogos have shown. (They’ve tried to convince evangelical Christians that evolutionary biology does not violate their faith.) How do you convince a Republican to separate his/her group-bonding beliefs from their politics? Many political beliefs are held with the same tenacity as religious beliefs.

Nyhan gives one example of how it might work for climate change. A diverse group in South Florida came together, avoiding the “is this happening?” scenario and simply assuming it is happening and trying to fix it. And apparently they got something done. But in that case everyone in Florida is aware of the incursion of seawater into fresh-water areas, so there is a palpable and immediate danger that affects both Democrats and Republicans. As Nyhan points out, this “experiment” didn’t work in North Carolina, where sea-level rise really threatens the Outer Banks, and yet people remain polarized.

Finally, Nyhan makes this recommendation:

But we also need to reduce the incentives for elites to spread misinformation to their followers in the first place. Once people’s cultural and political views get tied up in their factual beliefs, it’s very difficult to undo regardless of the messaging that is used.

Well, I’m not sure what he’s talking about, since the incentives to spread misinformation are the same incentives that lead to climate-change denialism, it seems.  If he has concrete suggestions, what are they?

Greg Mayer has questioned the soundness of Kahan’s research on other grounds, so he may want to weigh in below. But if we take Kahan’s study at face value, it paints a dismal picture for the value of science education.  Of course that education is essential in keeping science as a going concern in our country—for producing young scientists. But as far as educating the public, well, it doesn’t seem to work if what is being taught goes against the grain of one’s political and religious beliefs. Fortunately, religion seems to be on its way out in the US, though it’s abating very slowly. But politics will be with us forever.

h/t: Wendy


Kahan, D. M. 2014 (in press). Climate science commuication and the measurement problem.  Adv. Pol. Psych.

151 thoughts on “Why do people deny climate change? Plus a plea for accommodationism (not from me)

  1. This shows what we could call “identity curse”. We are much more inclined to be swayed by what our group thinks we should believe than what we can conclude using our own reason. I don’t know of a solution, but maybe we can try to explain to people that we should not trust our group blindly.

  2. As Nyhan points out, this “experiment” didn’t work in North Carolina, where sea-level rise really threatens the Outer Banks, and yet people remain polarized.

    IMO the NC case is a bit different. The economic incentives there (for denying) are so powerful that there is no reason to think that sincere or abstract political disagreement over climate change is what’s going on. Outer banks developers, real estate agents, and investors are in the same situation as tobacco companies were in the 1940s or 1950s; they stand to lose their shirts if they admit the truth, so they won’t publicly admit the truth even if they privately accept it.

      1. So, if I were to bury myself in a time capsule for a century or ten, after re-learning “Ameriglish” I’d meet people who would tell me a tale which I would recognise as the popular one of King Canute defying the tides, but substitute and conflate N.Florida Grand Banks developers for King Canute. The ending wouldn’t change though.
        I’d better site my time capsule at least 400m above current sea level. Don’t want to wake up wet.
        (Yes, I do know that the popular version of the Canute (Knut) legend is wrong ; the tide-defying episode was a lesson to Knut’s sycophantic courtiers to stop the BS and give him some real information.)

        1. I’d better site my time capsule at least 400m above current sea level. Don’t want to wake up wet.

          Fortunately, that’s probably an order of magnitude more than necessary. The USGS says, even if we melted every last drop of the ice caps and all the glaciers, we’d “only” get an 80m rise in sea levels.


          Of course, a mere 10m rise would flood a quarter of the US population alone.

          A 400m rise…that would submerge all of the Pacific states up to the Sierras, the Eastern seaboard, most of Arizona, practically the entire Midwest…even Noah would be a bit worried about that one….


          1. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth over-doing?
            (Probably thinking in feet, not metres. Shall self-flagellate. On a Munro.)

          2. Munro

            Had to look that one up.

            3,000 feet a mountain? Ha! A mere 3,000 feet in California is an hill that generally doesn’t even deserve a name. And California is the lowlands. And 4400 feet is as high as it gets? Growing up, summer vacations were at twice that elevation, visiting Grandpa at his cabin on the south side of the summit.

            (You’d love it there. There are…interesting volcanic rocks to be found, if you know where to look. Bring your own water; all sorts of heavy metals naturally contaminate the soil and springs — even well away from the mine tailings. But is it ever breathtakingly gorgeous! And the sourdough you get from the ambient cultures is like no other in the world.)


          3. It’s the size of mountains we have.
            I remember back in the mid-90s when the record for ground-level wind speed passed, briefly, from Mt Washington in NH to the weather station on Cairngorm. The speed recorded was something approaching 200 miles per hour.
            It has since been beaten by hurricane records, and also weather stations in Antarctica. Which suggests (to me) that there have been general improvements in mountings for wind sensors, so that they don’t get destroyed in the early stages of a storm. But the weather can be undeniably foul up there. Particularly when you start the day with horizontal rain, and the temperature only drops 20 degrees (C) once all your equipment is thoroughly sodden, so that everything turns into ice-plate armour. Lovely stuff.
            We just had horizontal rain – a few degrees above freezing point – all day. Dispiriting for the wife, who looks forward to -50C in the winter and +30C in the summer. At least we didn’t get snowed on today, which is nothing unusual for this time of year. We should have just gone to the pub instead.

          4. Okay. You win on the weather front. (But we never were at Buckskin in the winter, only summer…I understand nobody goes there at all in the winter. Nearby valleys get sowed in.)

            We’re actually having a somewhat mild summer here in Arizona, believe it or not. For pretty much all of June it stayed in the mid 40s, but, ever since July, the monsoons have kicked in and it’s stayed in the upper 30s. With a great deal more humidity, of course — but, still it could be much worse.

            I’m just waiting for the overnight lows to get down to 25 or so so I can think of opening the windows and blow in some fresh air, at least for a bit before dawn….


          5. You’re talking in centigrade? For us Europeans ^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H Rest-of-the-World-eans ? Merci beaucoup, Tovarich!
            Unless you’re talking in Kelvin, for the Plutonians.

          6. Actually, if you’re into that sort of thing, that may well be the safest place to not turn them down. After all, it’s not like the Vatican has demonstrated any interest in that particular form of criminal activity.


          7. When in Rome … don’t step on a Cardinals shoes! (Aren’t they meant to wear some silly mediaeval winkle-pickers or something?)

          8. Nothing too obscene. Googling it may indicate you have a footish, but that’s not an arrestable fetish.

          9. What I mean is that, if you’re the type who, as the phrase goes, “likes them young,” the Vatican is the best place for you. Especially if you’re a priest. They’re very unlikely to do anything about it, and they’re certainly not going to cooperate with any civilized police agency who would…so, yeah. If that’s your “thing,” that’s the place to be.


  3. Another point about the North Pole is that if man-induced global warming gets so bad that the ice cap melts, then thermal expansion of water masses will occur worldwide and result in a higher sea level. I’d call a foul on that one!

    1. Me too. The answer “false” is based on the premise that north polar ice is all sea ice, but it isn’t: an awful lot of that ice is land ice on Greenland and the Canadian high arctic islands.

      1. It’s also based on the idea that there’s a scenario accepted by scientists where the arctic sea ice melts and the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets do not.

        It’s a bullshit question.

        If you need trick questions to make one side look as ill-informed as the other, then your equivalency between the two sides is a false one.

        1. It’s a crummy question, yes. But calling it a “trick question” assumes an agenda on the part of the person who composed the question that I don’t think you have evidence for.
          Rush Limbaugh made a big to-do about the fact that floating ice can’t raise water level when it melts, so I think this question was intended to address that specific argument, and show that Limbaugh was attacking a strawman.

        2. I agree. I knew the answer was technically FALSE based on the above comments. Thermal expansion, I learned not long ago, is the prime cause of sea level rise. But I imagined myself choosing TRUE on the test because I suspected the many nuances were unknown or not considered by the test makers. There must be a name for deliberately answering test questions wrong to get a higher score, thinking you’re smarter than the administrators. Hmmmm…

          1. I’ve had to do it enough.

            It’s great when you’re playing a quiz game and you’re asked to name the two species of poisonous mammals and you get it wrong because you list platypus, echidna, shrew, solenodon, and slow loris.

          2. Yeah, it was a pretty poorly researched quiz game. One of the other questions I got wrong was “which animal has vision that extends into both the infrared and ultraviolet spectrum?”

            I answered “mantis shrimp,” (of course). The “correct” answer was goldfish.

          3. Goldfish? I’ll bet not even carp would qualify. I’ll remember the Mantis Shrimp for the next TV contest I’m on. Thanks for the tip.

      2. What is more, if it gets that bad then a lot of northern permafrost will also have melted, releasing ginormous quantities of methane, causing ice everywhere to quicken its melting….
        I understand that the question is trying to establish a technical yardstick for knowledge, but even moderately knowledgeable people (me) will overthink it, getting it ‘wrong’ for the right reasons.

        1. “Overthink”! Yes, that’s the word I was looking for. If a pretty knowledgeable person overthinks a test question, or even thinks she might be overthinking, he might resort to deliberately answering incorrectly to compensate. (BTW overthink seems not to be a real word according to my spell checker).

          1. This is why a test of one’s knowledge should ask lots of questions, not just a few, in order to compensate for the inevitable problems that will plague some of the questions. Also, there are many facets of knowledge that need to be assessed. I’m unsurprised that many people know the conclusions that climate scientists have offered up as these conclusions are endlessly discussed in media of all sorts. What I am curious about is the degree to which people understand why climate scientists have come to those conclusions. Do they have any comprehension of what it means when we say CO2 is a “greenhouse gas”? Do they know how we know it’s a greenhouse gas? Do they have any comprehension of albedo? Are they aware of the levels of past and present CO2 levels and how those are measured? And so on. Having a working understanding of the background is what led me to believe what climate scientists are saying, not just a blanket faith in “scientists”.

          2. “What I am curious about is the degree to which people understand why climate scientists have come to those conclusions.”

            Good point. When scientists testify to congress at about this level of detail, denialist questioners then come back at a very much more simplistic level, speaking surely to their back home constituents who likely understood little of the testimony. I suspect folks understand about as much as the feel they need to understand in order to support their core beliefs. By all means lets have a survey to evaluate that.

    2. Ditto, and it also ignores the reduced white layer that can reflect sunlight away from the planet, thereby enabling more warming as it melts away.

    3. “I’d call a foul on that one!”

      That’s a problem with most (all?) standardized tests. Sometimes being more knowledgeable can result in lower scores.

    4. That was exactly what I was going to say! I think you also have to look very carefully at some supposed serious articles that rubbish climate change – this article by one ‘Albert parker’ formerly ‘Albert Boretti’
      has been labelled as having flaws “unacceptable in an undergraduate lab report” –
      yet was uncritically accepted by media outlets in Australia I assume because it suited them!

  4. Accommodation, be it religious or climate-change, always demands that one give up honesty for some presumed tactical political advantage. Sorry, but that’s not a deal I’m willing to make.

    1. I agree and would like to see an example of a situation in which accommodationism was successfully employed to achieve a policy goal. IMO any such strategy would most likely yield about the same benefit it has for Biologos, whose failures have been enumerated repeatedly in this very forum by Professor Coyne and many readers as well.

      1. I don’t doubt that it can be successful at achieving limited short term goals. But it is also likely to come back and bite you in the ass. And at what cost to your integrity and society as a whole? Behaviors are habit forming.

      2. Compromise has worked, where each side caves a little without really agreeing. I’m not so sure about accomodationism, where you pretend that the conflict doesn’t exist.

  5. Before discussing this subject, everyone should view this excellent 1.5 hour talk by Dr. Easterbrook showing the actual data pertinent to climate change:

    1. Easterbrook is a crank. Right up top, he lets loose with the whopper that the Arctic isn’t melting. And then, “CO2 cannot possibly cause global warming.” Dude doesn’t even know his basic physics.

      Sorry, but I shut him off at that point. I don’t have time for that shit.


    2. Can you give a good reason why he’s worth spending an hour and a half listening to? Not only is he not a climate scientist, but his arguments have already been encountered and refuted before:




      Here’s the beginning of the latter, as a free sample:

      “At the recent scandal-plagued Heartland climate conference, Don Easterbrook gave a presentation in which he discussed his previous predictions of global cooling. Given the inaccuracy of those predictions after just one decade, we were surprised to learn that Easterbrook had highlighted them in his talk, going as far as to claim that his global cooling projectons have thus far been more accurate than the global warming projections in the 2001 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Third Assessment Report (TAR).

      “However, to make this claim, Easterbrook had to distort the IPCC’s actual model projections, claiming:

      ” ‘In fact the IPCC predicted in the year 2000 that we would be experiencing 1 degree increase in temperature between the year 2000 and 2010.’

      “As Skeptical Science readers are undoubtedly aware, and as we will show in greater detail below, this assertion is an outright falsehood. Distortions of the IPCC projections aside, was Easterbrook correct in his claim that his temperature predictions were more accurate than those in the TAR? As Figure 1 shows, the simple answer is no.”

      1. Heartland climate conference,

        My Bat Detector went into alarm at that one, but I can’t bring details to mind to explain why the alarm went off.
        The Detector’s full name is the Bat-shit Insane Republican Wingnut Detector – could I have suppressed memories of past encounters with this group?

          1. Reasonshark fingered the Heartland group as “fag deniers”, which is where I probably recognise the name from.
            I use “fag” in the British, not American sense.

        1. Just looked up the Heartland Institute on Wikipedia (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heartland_Institute). It is not a pretty sight:

          The Heartland Institute is an American conservative and libertarian[2] public policy think tank based in Chicago, which states that it advocates free market policies.[3][4][5][6] The Institute is designated as a 501(c)(3) non-profit by the Internal Revenue Service and has a full-time staff of 31,[7] including editors and senior fellows,[8] as well as 222 unpaid policy advisors.[9] Heartland’s 990 form in 2011[10] reported revenues of $4.7 million. The Institute was founded in 1984 and conducts research and advocacy work on issues including government spending, taxation, healthcare, education, tobacco policy, hydraulic fracturing[11] global warming, information technology, and free-market environmentalism.

          In the 1990s, the group worked with the tobacco company Philip Morris to question serious cancer risks to secondhand smoke, and to lobby against government public-health reforms.[12][13][14] More recently, the Institute has focused on questioning the science of human-caused climate change, and was described by the New York Times as “the primary American organization pushing climate change skepticism.”[15] The Institute has sponsored meetings of climate change skeptics,[16] and has been reported to promote public school curricula challenging the scientific consensus on human-caused climate change.[17]

          They ran “conferences” between 2008 and 2012, funded a billboard campaign in 2012. They also tried this stunt:


          I don’t know what that means to you, but those are the details I could find.

          1. Ah. Fag-deniers. I thought the name might have been ringing a bell.

    3. Four years ago Roger Harrabin, then at the BBC, asked for a serious UK scientist who was a climate change sceptic –


      He twe*ted today that he is still waiting!

      Now I suppose that the US is different in many ways, but I suspect that Republicanism, religion & self-interest as opposed to giving a damn about the rest of the world or nature are key factors. Some Conservatives in the UK would probably like to be more sceptical…

  6. If there’s one thing religion has taught us it is “get ’em while they’re young”.

    Start the science education right off the bat and don’t hold back on uncomfortable truths because we think they’re too young to know.

    Kids are curious by instinct. Why not give them the right answers.

    But of course it’s a bit uphill if mom and dad will have none of it.

    1. I’m curious about how Republicans view science and scientists. I suspect they do not trust science or scientists and I wonder if this is the anti-intellectualism that has slithered into the GOP. I’d love to see surveys that showed if this were the case.

      1. If it the case? It is clearly the case and has been for a long time. The GOP is a party that relies on the idea that truth is established by whose assertion is most loudly stated. “Facts”, for the GOP, are statements that are politically useful, not those that are confirmed by reality.

        1. Or, whose assertion is a sham designed to support a piece of legislation cooked up by ALEC at the behest of some well monied special interest group, which is usually a corporate entity. The GOP’s anti-intellectualism isn’t entirely about ignorance and religious fundamentalism, it is often a strategy employed to rebut objective reality when the facts stand in opposition to he agenda the GOP is trying to advance. Like I mentioned in an earlier comment, Brandon Smith the laughably confused legislator from Kentucky who thinks Mars is a mild 58 degrees may well be functionally illiterate on matters of science, but he’s also the owner of Mohawk Energy, a company that services natural gas wells. IMO it’s 50-50 that his ignorance is genuine, or just a mechanism for refuting the obvious truth.

      2. Science and scientists are just fine with Republicans. As long as they know their place and do what they are told.

        1. … and say what they’re told to say, and don’t publish any inconvenient results.

      3. I think it is unquestionable that the GOP has taken up the long American tradition of anti-intellectualism and made it a key part of their modern identity. You’d have to be very blind not to see it.

        That said, Democrats have their own problems with science in their anti-vax, anti-GMO (in a knee jerk way), and other woo-minded wings. There is also a fair bit of magical thinking on the left as well, as evidenced by the widespread feeling that doing a few mostly symbolic things (reuse your towels at the hotel, say) are going to address the huge problems we face. These anti-science people are not as overtly anti-intellectual as the GOP is, they play more lip service to being on the side of science and experts, and so it’s easier not to notice them, but we’d be remiss not to acknowledge that neither party has a monopoly on science acceptance.

        But there is no doubt that the modern GOP has defined themselves (with no small irony) as a populist party of the common people standing against the tyranny of “the elites”, which is pretty much a synonym for intellectuals of every stripe. Religion is their best ally in this since so many people are deeply religious and it’s well known that modern intellectuals aren’t. It’s God Fearing America vs Godless Communists Act V. That stuff sells!

        1. I think the key difference with the GOP and Democrats is you don’t see Democrats promoting anti-vax or GMO BS. There may be left leaning dumb asses but at least they aren’t leading the party.

        2. We should always be aware that the Dems have their weak side as well. But the Republican campaign for anti-science and big-oil funded woo is much richer, more powerful, and goddamn ruthless.

          1. Sorry, but us foreigners keep on forgetting which ones the GOP are : Democrats or Republicans? And what’s the other party abbreviations.
            It’s probably because from the perspective of the rest of the world, all your politicians would be wildly right-wing nutcases that it’s difficult to remember the fine distinctions.

          2. First, you’re absolutely right: by any objective measure, Obama is to the right of virtually every other president we’ve had. His signature healthcare policy was originally the corporate monopolist wet dream fantasy of the arch-conservative Heritage Fund, initially not even seriously considered for being far too radically conservative. And he’s issued more executive murder orders than any other, he’s been promising to end America’s longest war “by the end of the year” since before he was first elected, he’s overseen skyrocketing rates of incarceration for petty federal drug “crimes,” and more.

            But to your first question: “GOP” stands for, “Grand Ole Party,” and is the nickname of the Republican Party. Their mascot is the elephant; their team colors are red; and they sit on the right side of the aisle in legislative chambers. The Democratic Party has no nickname; has an ass for a mascot; wears blue; and sits left.

            The Democratic Party is the ultraconservative far-right authoritarian party of corporate interests, and the Republican Party tries to differentiate itself from the Democrats by positioning itself even farther to the right whilst pandering as hard as it possibly can to religious fundamentalists. Democrats limit their religious pandering to mainstream and ecumenical religions, and they aren’t quite so vocal about it.

            That should pretty much sum it up.

            Oh — there’re a number of “third” parties, none of which has more than a token presence on the political stage, if even that. I’m a registered member of the Green Party, which is roughly in line with where the Democrats were at the time of the Great Society. I’m not as familiar with European politics, but I’m pretty sure we’d be a generic moderate left-of-center party there; of course, here, we’re indistinguishable from Communists. The other major third party is the Libertarian Party, which is pretty good on civil liberties…but its economics is pure Ayn Rand corporatist fantasy, and hard to distinguish from the Tea Party position. (The Tea Party isn’t an actual political party (yet), but instead a super-ultra-mega-conservative faction of the Republican Party.)



          3. The term is more than a bit nebulous. Obama has been described as “progressive,” which is a joke. Many in the Green Party would claim the word for themselves, which I’m guessing you would’t be happy with. Lacking a more concrete definition or individual examples, I wouldn’t want to specify further.


          4. GOP=Republican ; No abbreviation for Democrats.
            Otherwise, too long ; did read ; didn’t absorb. As you say, all the other minority parties are window dressing.

      4. I don’t know about a survey, but there is this:

        House Republicans introduced spending legislation Friday that would strip U.S. EPA of its ability to regulate carbon dioxide emissions, gut the State Department’s climate aid programs and slash funding for energy and climate research across the federal government.

        The continuing resolution (CR), which would fund government operations through Sept. 30, seeks to trim $100 billion from the fiscal 2011 budget President Obama proposed last year. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) initially floated $32 billion in cuts but backtracked last week under pressure from lawmakers aligned with the tea party.


        1. That sounds frighteningly similar to Canada’s current government. It fired scientists studying the environment and bunches others. Often denying them access to their life’s work or “archiving” it in a way that no one could find all of it again.

    2. Speaking from experience as a teacher, your last sentence is true in many cases, but I still think your idea is a winner. An overhaul of the curriculum in primary and secondary education has been, in my opinion, long overdue. Now couple that with common core and the emphasis on standardized testing and the need for curriculum reform, focused on science and critical thinking, becomes urgent.

      1. focused on science and critical thinking, becomes urgent.

        For the same reason, it becomes politically unallowable. Regardless of what the political sock-puppets say, the powers behind the sock-puppets (the “men in grey suits” in British political parlance) would resist and undermine any effort to educate the populace in a way that would make the “grey suits” have to work harder to maintain control.
        To misquote Private Eye’s “publishers”, Panem et Circus trebles all round!

  7. I think the only realistic chance we have is with an all-out assault on faith.

    Faith is gullible credulity. It is not a virtue; it is the worst vice humans can possibly indulge in. Anybody who praises faith is either a dupe or a con.

    When we finally abandon faith, that’s when we as a civilization will finally grow out of petulant adolescence and into full maturity.

    Science’s greatest virtue isn’t the body of knowledge it has produced; it’s the unflinching honesty it demands and incubates. You may think that grapefruit should fall faster than grapes, but the simultaneous thunk when they hit the kitchen floor tells you otherwise — and you’re only lying if you insist they don’t fall together.

    It’s time to grow up, people. Yes, you love your blankie, but it’s ripped to shreds, stinks to high heaven, and it’s why you’re always sick. You want to sit at the big person table? Then toss the blankie in the trash where it belongs.



  8. “Not only that, but the higher the Republicans score on climate-science knowledge, the less likely they are to believe in anthropogenic climate change! (Democrats showed the oppposite trend.) I’m not sure exactly why that is, and Kahan’s discussion is unclear, but it may be that the “smartest” Republicans are those most likely to seek conformity to their group identify.”

    As far as I’m aware, Kahan has not yet done much work on determining why we see this effect. I could see a number of reasons for it, however.

    1) It seems possible that less-educated/intelligent/informed Republicans (or religious, in the case of evolution) would also be less likely to know what the “party line” of their group identity is on a particular issue in the first place. This effect could simply reflect that “smarter” Republicans are those most likely to know what particular answers best reflect their group identity.

    2) Another possibility is that educated/intelligent/informed Republicans (or etc.) are better at the intellectual gymnastics they go through as subjects of interpretative confirmation bias. They’re better at creating arguments supporting their position. There’s a good Michael Shermer quote on this: “Smart people believe weird things because they are skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for non-smart reasons.”

    These two possibilities are, obviously, neither mutually exclusive nor exhaustive.

    The flip side of Kahan’s research is that the vast majority of people who do accept evolution or climate science do so purely for group identity purposes as well, despite understanding very little about the actual science. If your interest is in bolstering science education or rationality in political decision making, that should also be distressing.

    I’m trying to recall whether Kahan has observed a similar effect running in the opposite direction (false beliefs held by liberals or non-religious due to group identity). Two popular call-out issues on that front lately are vaccines and GMOs, but Kahan has pretty convincingly demonstrated that those issues are not yet culturally polarized. Maybe nuclear power?

    Whether your strategy is accomodationism or confrontational, it’s a hard, difficult slog to change minds on issues that are wrapped up in someone’s identity. So I agree with Nyhan’s point of view that it would be best to prevent issues from becoming culturally polarized in the first place. Sadly, I have no idea how one would go about accomplishing this.

    1. I agree with your flip side. I have a lot of friends of every stripe and every level of education and I find it distressing how few on any side of any issue seem to really be using critical thinking in coming to their conclusions. From my personal perspective, it *feels* like group-identity all the way down.

      1. Many of my musician friends and colleagues, as they are part of the arts community and therefore lean decidedly left, have this problem. I often share their views, but a little discussion makes it clear that they’re simply toeing a party line without having thought about the whys and wherefores.

        I agree; it’s distressing, and, to me, perplexing. When I encounter an issue, the very first thing I realize is that, if I’m not already familiar with the details involved, familiarizing myself with the details is obligatory before committing to a view. This doesn’t seem to occur to many people. Perhaps it’s the seduction of just assimilating to the group coupled with the aversion to saying “I don’t know” (until you’ve done some research).

        1. Me too. I see this a lot when it comes to what I call the “environmentalist Mishnah”[1]. These are the set of things you do to show that you “care about the environment”. A few are just wrong, but most are sensible to some degree. The way they are adhered to, though, is more like a set of religious rules than an engineering solution to a problem. There is no concept of scale or of relative costs or anything. They are just rules, and you are either a saint or a sinner as measured by these rules. I always tell the story of being chastised by a friend for leaving a towel on the floor at an expensive hotel in Chicago, which was the signal that I wanted it washed. The “environmental” thing to do is to hang it back up and reuse the towel. I was startled to hear that I, alone in the group, didn’t care about the environment. After all, we all flew in airplanes from many different states to get to Chicago, we were all running our air conditioners in our rooms, we were all taking taxis all over town, we all were eating extravagant meals with fish and crab flown in from god knows where, we were all sitting in hot tubs on the roof of the hotel, and on and on in an orgy of first world excess. But it was the towel that marked me as an infidel, as someone who “didn’t care”. That was a long time ago, but I think that’s when I first clearly realized that these people hadn’t thought even cursorily about the real environmental costs of our lifestyle, that their “environmentalism” went no deeper than parroting a set of observances that, by magic apparently, would absolve them of their sins.

          [1] Mishnah being, of course, a set of rabbinical rules on top of the Torah, because 631, or however many, Torah rules were not enough.

          1. Yeah — dude’s clearly not hoopy; doesn’t know where his towel is. And I bet he even paid for all that travel and food and what-not!


  9. Doesn’t the data suggest that society does better if Conservatives are kept ignorant, and Liberals are educated? Of course, it also suggests that society, as a whole, would do better with only well educated liberals.

    1. “society, as a whole, would do better with only well educated liberals.”

      Ideologically-blinded liberals are as scary as their conservative counterparts.

          1. How about Francis Collins or Kenneth Miller (assuming you count Christianity as an ideology, which it certainly is).

          2. If an ideology survives an education, then the education was not sufficient enough. I think this is in the realm of metaphysics. What is a sufficient education anyway and can it be decided?

          3. Hmmm, having been through a Scottish university education, and heard the frequent proclamations of the breadth of subject choice allowed – nay, encouraged – there, I suspect some of the same experience is allowing some bile to mix with the vitriol there.
            Incidentally, I’m not – and never claimed to be – a true Scotsman. But when I wear my kilt (Co.Cork tartan), I’m wary of midges and mosquitos. More wary than many a “true Scotsmn” on the same night out.

          4. gravelinspector, I first read that as “wary of midgets and mosquitoes”. Sorry about that…

          5. “If an ideology survives an education, then the education was not sufficient enough. ”

            Circular argument, aka “No True Scotsman Fallacy”.

          6. There are two sides to education–delivery and acceptance. The best pedagogy in the world can’t change the minds of those who refuse to hear it.

  10. I read something a few years ago that tried to make the case that the lack of acceptance for climate change among Republicans was in part due to Al Gore: since he was a prominent Democrat it made Republicans oppose him by default.

    I thought it was an interesting idea, but also one that really only worked if you ignored that Republicans have considered environmentalism to be a dirty word for decades longer than he’d been on the scene. I’ve worked with people who thought that global warming was a myth because scientists said that it would cause flooding and the bible says in the story of Noah that God promised he wouldn’t flood the world again. When you’re going that deeply to deny climate change, it isn’t because of Al Gore.

    1. It is curious that Newt Gingrich did a PSA one time supporting the reality of climate change. Something happened since that time, because no one on the right would dare to do such a thing now, including Gingrich himself. When did that shift occur, and why?

      1. When and why of Gingrich climate positions:


        Newt Gingrich really doesn’t like it when Barack Obama takes his advice. It’s not just true of intervention with Libya — it’s also the case with fighting global warming pollution. In short, Newt was for carbon cap and trade, until Obama became president:
        February 15, 2007: “I think if you have mandatory carbon caps combined with a trading system, much like we did with sulfur, and if you have a tax-incentive program for investing in the solutions, that there’s a package there that’s very, very good. And frankly, it’s something I would strongly support.” [Frontline, 2/15/07]
        April 4, 2009: “And now, in 2009, instead of making energy cheaper—which would help create jobs and save Americans money—President Obama wants to impose a cap-and-trade regime. Such a plan would have the effect of an across-the-board energy tax on every American. That will make our artificial energy crisis even worse—and raising taxes during a deep economic recession will only accelerate American job losses.” [Newsweek, 4/4/09]

        Gingrich’s full record on global warming is actually a series of epic flip-flops over more than two decades, with his positions mostly coinciding with whether the party holding the presidency is a Republican or a Democrat. Since 1989, when Gingrich supported aggressive climate action against “wasteful fossil fuel use,” until today, as he proposes abolishing the Environmental Protection Agency, the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has risen from 353 ppm to 391 ppm (from 26 percent above pre-industrial levels to 40 percent above), and the five-year global mean temperature anomaly has nearly doubled from 0.3°C to 0.56°C.

        1. Thanks. I was hoping someone would do the research for me. 😉

          I had sort of expected it to be something more substantial, some shift in the Republican base composition or something. It’s fairly depressing that it’s just tribalism. Or maybe that’s hopeful, since there is at least one thing that might make them consider climate change a problem worth addressing: a Republican in the White House. Nixon in China again.

          The only other thing I can think of, aside from crippling financial losses from obvious effects of climate change, is if there were some way to paint some other country as the bogey man, so that the tribe could be Americans vs them instead of Dems vs Repubs. I don’t know how you could spark a clean energy cold war, though.

          1. Just as certain as climate change is reality is the reality that the GOP must change, and relatively soon, its present ideological stance regarding this increasing change to the planet’s climate, the causal factors of this change, and the inevitable outcomes of the change.

            At times I somewhat gleefully anticipate a humiliating about-face for an inevitable 100% conservative climate policy reversal, because there can be no doubt their story will simply fail to hold up for much longer. I sorta salivate then about a return to more sane centrist positions by the 30% or so of Americans whose political affiliation is fickle and have been enthralled by the GOP media propaganda machine for the past thirty years. If that group comes around, then the right-wing Democratic Party leadership might be emboldened to pull at the leash of their plutocrat masters, and the USA could move forward for a change instead of hauling ass the opposite direction.

            Then I recall every other issue Repub’s get wrong, WMD in particular, the dysfunctional dissonance that ensues within leadership and amongst rank-and-file alike, and how not even colossal judgmental fuck-up taking life in the tens of thousands and costing $trillions (I’d expect the money frittered away to wake them up, live lost/dislocated not so much) seems to slow the reactionary GOP juggernaut, and despair sets in again.

          2. “gleefully anticipate a humiliating about-face”
            I’m doubtful there will be any humiliation felt by the politicians. I think they are immune to such emotions. Unfortunately, they never seem to pay any price for flip-flopping (see notes on Gingrich above). Sorry, I anticipate no opportunity for glee in Mudville.

  11. If more scientific knowledge does not make accepting climate change more likely, why then do climate scientists accept climate change? I presume it’s not because they’re all Democrats. Surely there is some level of knowledge at which acceptance trends toward 100%.

    1. This is what bothers me about this analysis. My concern with questions like those above is that they may measure knowledge of conclusions but not of reasoning behind those conclusions. It’s one thing to know the climate scientists claim the CO2 is a greenhouse gas, it’s another to know how they know that. It’s the latter kind of knowledge that I think is more convincing. Otherwise it’s just an appeal to authority: these guys say.

      1. “it’s another to know how they know that… It’s the latter kind of knowledge that I think is more convincing.”

        Agreed. But I do think it often suffices to understand how the scientific process takes place, without necessarily knowing how a particular piece of knowledge was acquired.

    2. Surely there is some level of knowledge at which acceptance trends toward 100%.

      Look at the composition of the sample :

      Kahan administered a questionnaire to about 2000 American ( sic )

      No indication there that anything was attempted to make the sample anything other than random, or representative (large random samples should be representative if they’re truly random ; but 2000 is not a huge sample size, so you might well be better served by selecting a representative sample, not a random one ; as with all statistics, the devil is in the detail. No, I haven’t RTFA.)
      I don’t have statistical tables to hand for the US populations of scientists in general and climate scientists in particular. but dividing the sample into 21 classes of general scientific knowledge degree (which exhibit roughly Gaussian distributed confidence intervals, suggesting the classes are not wildly dissimilar in size) makes each class represent about 5% of the population. That even the most extreme of these classes doesn’t show the “hockey stick” upturn you’re expecting allows me to estimate the “scientist” population of the USA at not greater than 2.5%. 2.5% of 300 million (the first number to come into my mind for a US population) or 7½ million “scientists”.
      Does the US really have more than 7½ million “scientists”?

      1. In 2012, there were 6.2 million scientists and engineers (as defined in this report) employed in the United States, accounting for 4.8% of total U.S. employment. Science and engineering employment was concentrated in two S&E occupational groups, computer occupations (56%) and engineers (25%), with the rest accounted for by S&E managers (9%), physical scientists (4%),life scientists (4%), and those in mathematical occupations (2%). From 2008 to 2012, S&E employment increased by 352,370, a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 1.5%, while overall U.S. employment contracted at 0.9% CAGR. Viewed only in aggregate, the increase in
        S&E employment masks the varied degrees of growth and decline in detailed S&E occupations.

        Congressional Research Service, 2/19/2014

        1. So, in round numbers, 3 million nerds (I use Slashdot ; no shortage of people lacking science backgrounds there), a million and a half engineers (we’ve discussed their predilections often enough) and about 2 million approximating to “working scientists”.
          Not enough to show up in a 2000 strong representative sample. There would be at best a couple of dozen specimens.

    3. Amongst scientists the more you know about the physical science of climate science the trend is towards 100%. The figure of 97% which Jerry quotes is for climate change physical science specialists.

      That figure falls towards the 80% mark for scientists more generally. Then lower still for the layperson.The important question is whether humans are a significant driver of climate change. Which is where the so called skeptics enter in. Motivated reasoning based on economic/political self interest may lead some physical (non climate) scientists and many non-scientists to adopt outliers within the climate science community as their preferred authority.

      The battleground has shifted though. Even sceptics now are not disputing that humans cause climate change.

      Witness the change in position of the AAPG:

      And “sceptic” blogs:

  12. I wonder whether the political trends are artefacts of the questions being asked? If the graphs above are representative of the wider set of questions, Republicans are only more “knowledgable” when the correct response is something connected to climate change NOT being bad.

    It would be interesting to know what proportion of the tricky (i.e. OCSI-discriminating) questions are like this. If Democrats are generally going for “climate change is bad” answers, and Republicans for “climate change is not bad”, the results might simply reflect this.

  13. You cant ignore the fact that the more invested a conservative/Republican is in AGW denial, the better they will know the consensus. Those types are so invested that they spend lots of time looking for alleged facts that refute the generally accepted ones. This is a trait amongst all conspiracy theorist types.

  14. Doesn’t the North Pole Ice Cap include at the very least parts of Greenland and Ellesmere Island? And therefore their glaciers? Which, if they melt, will raise sea levels?

    1. Speaking as a geologist with some experience of working in near-Arctic areas (and hope to work further north. and at higher latitudes south, too), I’d be very careful about terminology here too. Someone has been trying to be careful to talk about sea-ice, but it sounds as if there has been some clumsiness about translating the science into journalism.
      It’s a mental equivalent of a typo – annoying, but fundamentally not important.
      As discussion above indicates, there are a number of effects interacting here ; not just grounded ice versus sea-floated ice.

  15. There is an article on the Rocket Boot Company in El Paso, TX. They make colorful boots. Sorry, can’t make your email work.

  16. “Not only that, but the higher the Republicans score on climate-science knowledge, the less likely they are to believe in anthropogenic climate change!….I’m not sure exactly why that is,…but it may be that the “smartest” Republicans are those most likely to seek conformity to their group identify.”

    Couldn’t another explanation be that Republicans who know the most about climate change are those who read the most attacks on climate change?

  17. Firstly, I wouldn’t elevate Climate Change to the same level of status as Evolution – Climate Change is a ‘Mickey Mouse’ Theory.
    Climate HAS changed recently, quite dramatically, but it has only reverted to the pre-industrial-revolution type of climate. Have you not noticed there is now very little air-pollution – the Sun can get through and heat the surface of the Earth. In the last couple of centuries, factories, mills,and every house poured out sulphurous pollution from coal fires. In Britain, long before industrial times, the Romans were able to grow vines as far north as Hadrian’s Wall.

    The level of CO2 is no higher now than it was in the early 1970’s when I was studying Botany at Newcastle University.
    It has been shown that plants in glass-houses thrive better and produce more yield if C02 levels are increased. This suggests that C02 is a SCARCE resource for plants and they are used to having more of it than is currently available. A lot of Carbon has been locked up in the shells of small animals (in chalk and limestone)over the past 120 million years and previous to that in oil and coal. So CO2 has become depleted and this means that plant life is eagerly absorbing all that is being produced by us humans. Don’t worry about it.

    1. “The level of CO2 is no higher now than it was in the early 1970′s”

      To be specific, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean which represents a well-mixed global average, CO2 has risen from the 320’s (in early 1970s) to nearly 400 parts per million now. The Keeling Curve (much shorter than it is now, and without the obvious upward curvature that it now shows) was in my high school textbooks in the mid-1970s.

      Also, that chalk and limestone is soluble in acid, which is what you have when CO2 dissolves in seawater.

    2. “Climate HAS changed recently, quite dramatically, but it has only reverted to the pre-industrial-revolution type of climate. Have you not noticed there is now very little air-pollution – the Sun can get through and heat the surface of the Earth. In the last couple of centuries, factories, mills,and every house poured out sulphurous pollution from coal fires. In Britain, long before industrial times, the Romans were able to grow vines as far north as Hadrian’s Wall.”

      I’d like to know where you’re getting your information, considering the evidence is not in your favour:


      “When presented with the overwhelming evidence that the planet is warming, many people react by asking “but how can we be sure that we’re causing the warming?” It turns out that the observed global warming has a distinct human fingerprint on it.

      “In climatology, as in any other science, establishing causation is more complicated than merely establishing an effect. However, there are a number of lines of evidence that have helped to convince climate scientists that the current global warming can be attributed to human greenhouse gas emissions (in particular CO2). Here are just some of them:”

      “It has been shown that plants in glass-houses thrive better and produce more yield if C02 levels are increased. This suggests that C02 is a SCARCE resource for plants and they are used to having more of it than is currently available.”

      I somehow doubt you are a botanist, and not just because of the frankly uneducated notion that the decrease in CO2 over 120 million years means individual plants in modern environments are going to develop overnight into CO2 guzzlers, eagerly or not. It might also have to do with the observation that your argument has been done to death by climate change deniers, and refuted about as often:


      It is possible to boost growth of some plants with extra CO2, under controlled conditions inside of greenhouses. Based on this, ‘skeptics’ make their claims of benefical botanical effects in the world at large. Such claims fail to take into account that increasing the availability of one substance that plants need requires other supply changes for benefits to accrue. It also fails to take into account that a warmer earth will see an increase in deserts and other arid lands, reducing the area available for crops.

      “So CO2 has become depleted and this means that plant life is eagerly absorbing all that is being produced by us humans. Don’t worry about it.”

      On the frankly half-baked comic book logic that plants will save us because plants are inexhaustible CO2 sinks that don’t need water, nutrients, and any other conditions, I need not say more than I already have. There are reasons to worry about climate change:


      Risk to Unique and Threatened Systems addresses the potential for increased damage to or irreversible loss of unique and threatened systems, such as coral reefs, tropical glaciers, endangered species, unique ecosystems, biodiversity hotspots, small island states, and indigenous communities.

      Risk of Extreme Weather Events tracks increases in extreme events with substantial consequences for societies and natural systems. Examples include increase in the frequency, intensity, or consequences of heat waves, floods, droughts, wildfires, or tropical cyclones.

      Distribution of Impacts concerns disparities of impacts. Some regions, countries, and populations face greater harm from climate change, whereas other regions, countries, or populations would be much less harmed—and some may benefit; the magnitude of harm can also vary within regions and across sectors and populations.

      Aggregate Damages covers comprehensive measures of impacts. Impacts distributed across the globe can be aggregated into a single metric, such as monetary damages, lives affected, or lives lost. Aggregation techniques vary in their treatment of equity of outcomes, as well as treatment of impacts that are not easily quantified.

      Risks of Large-Scale Discontinuities represents the likelihood that certain phenomena (sometimes called tipping points) would occur, any of which may be accompanied by very large impacts. These phenomena include the deglaciation (partial or complete) of the West Antarctic or Greenland ice sheets and major changes in some components of the Earth’s climate system, such as a substantial reduction or collapse of the North Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation.

      “All of these reasons for concern enter the red (substantial negative impact, high risk) region by 4°C. Aggregate impacts are in the red region by 3°C, and some types of concerns are in the red region by 1°C.

      “For more details we also recommend Mark Lynas’ book Six Degrees, which goes through the climate impacts from each subsequent degree of warming, based on a very thorough review of the scientific literature. A brief review of the book by Eric Steig and summary of some key impacts is available here. National Geographic also did a series of videos on the Six Degrees theme, which no longer seem to be available on their websites, but which can still be found on YouTube.”

    3. The experts, climate scientists´, are worried about it. That is why others are worried too.

      It is of course easy to characterize your comment as the thread’s “Mickey Mouse” comment. =D

    4. In Britain, long before industrial times, the Romans were able to grow vines as far north as Hadrian’s Wall.

      If you’d claimed as far north as London, I’d have hat-tipped you : as reasonably well-established fact.
      If you’d claimed, say, as far north as Derby, I’d have said “Hmmm, bit dubious that one. Not impossible, where’s the archaeological evidence on that? Or is it literary evidence, like a Vindolanda letter where someone has been trying to grow vines, but they can’t get them to ripen enough to make wine, “so send more/ better wine!”
      As far North as Hadrian’s Wall? I call “incredible”. Back up your claim with a citation to material published in a peer-reviewed paper in an archaeological journal. Or retract your claim.
      That said, I do know of 17th and 18th century attempts to grow vines in heated glasshouses in Aberdeenshire. Experiments which barely worked. But I don’t think the Romans had enough glass for glasshouses.
      Heh heh heh. Remembering the man from Hi-Rope and the Case of the Royal Glasshouse.

      1. In fact, growing wine in Britian is one example Adam Smith gives of what one might call an economically foolish decision.

        That said, part-whole, people. Was the earth as a whole warmer in the famous “warm period”. No!

        1. There are actually a number – a growing number – of British vinyards. They operate, TTBOMK, on the south-facing slopes of the North Downs and Salibury Plain in the south of Englandshire. One of the sedimentological luminaries of the Geol.Soc. makes a retirement habit of consulting on aspects of “terroir” about siting such things. I’d have to look up more details though, because I’m not exactly a oenophile.
          Making wine in Geordieland in Roman times though? You’d need more than this amount of bovine excrement [self : points at large lake of bovine excrement].

      2. I just watched a short doc about new vineyards in Minnesota subject to -35F. This is a recent development and depends on cleverly crossing local wild grapes with varieties from Northern Europe. From the film I gathered the taste was not exactly classic. Maybe Thurber might have said “…I’m sure you’ll be amused by its presumptions”.
        Anyway, I wonder if the Romans might have done something like this crossing business. Not impossible.

        1. Many of the vineyards of Central Europe get some pretty severe cold during the winter. The constraint on getting enough grapes, and sugar in the grapes, for making wine is about summer sun and warmth. Both of which are severely lacking in Northern England and Scotland (as my wife never ceases to remind me).

  18. In the case of climate change, it really should be possible to bring some conservatives around. The fossil fuel industry may be winners with the status quo, but the conservative base has to be convinced that being dominated by the fossil fuel industry isn’t necessary a “free market” thing – because it isn’t.
    I think Kahan has drawn the (obvious) parallels between creationism and climate denialism, but there important differences. As Jerry has pointed out, there really is a fundamentsl conflict between science and religion. The conflict in climate science isn’t so fundamental and has been intentionally fed by fossil fuel interests. Climate denial and its targeting of conservatives is more a result of an intense and well-funded marketing effort.

    1. Ah, I see your confusion. You believe that they are “free market” capitalists. 😉

      You can only understand conservatives by ignoring their claim to be for a “free market”. They are not. They are corporatists, supporting the corporations that already exist to a fault. Free market be damned. Knowing this makes it much easier to predict what they will do.

      I exaggerate, but not too much.

      You are right, though, that in principle the conflict could be less immutable than with religion, since people’s ties to specific sources of energy is less entrenched (though their love of cars might not be). I don’t think it’s just oil interests at stake here, though. Cheap energy is the life blood of most modern industry. While some people feel that we can switch to renewables and make energy even cheaper, I am not so sanguine. There is a reason that renewables haven’t spontaneously put Exxon out of business, and I don’t think it’s purely political. I think conservatives are right that it will come at a significant short term cost, and that short term cost directly translates into less short term wealth for somebody.

      The other thing at play is, of course, cultural. Conservatives are also for the past. They worship the past. Any and all kinds of change are regarded with a fair degree of hostility. They see America in it’s glory in the 50’s, say, with big automobiles and striding the globe like a colossus. That much of that vision is fiction doesn’t matter. Their yearning for a better, simpler, time drives them.

      1. We’re totally in agreement about the guys running the show – they’re corporatists – the “free market” crap is pure PR bullshit. I just think that there should be a fair fraction of their base who should be convincible one seeing renewable energy as liberating, not “nanny state”. Maybe you’re right though – once you’ve acquired a taste for right-wing koolaid, you can’t kick it.

        1. Well, as I said in another comment, I’m surprised that society is as decent and functional as it is, so that tempers my cynicism some. We’ve muddled this far, so that makes me think it is less hopeless than it may appear.

          Weaning ourselves off of oil seems very hard to me, though. It just touches so many things and the price of fossil fuels is so closely tied to the wealth and well being of so many (most people in the industrialized world). I just can’t see us doing that until we experience some really obvious and personally serious effects of climate change, and that will be too late. I fully expect us to burn every last ounce of fossil fuel we can extract. Or rather, I expect us to burn every ounce we can extract cheaper than we can build and deploy an alternative. It will be fossil fuel price shocks that end the reign of fossil fuels and nothing less.

          Because of that I’m really for more effort going into how to live with climate change and ameliorate it’s effects, including even research into the unmentionable: geo-engineering. Not that we should give up on trying to slow down or eliminate our contribution to it but that we should be seriously hedging our bets that we won’t find the will to do that.

          1. Agreed. Plus, there’s the problem that even if we find the will to make immediate and drastic changes, will it be enough? The deniers like pointing out that the climate has always changed; on that point they’re right (even though we’re making it change faster), but our ability to develop technology to adapt to climate change is key whether or not we find the will to get to alternative energy faster. We’ll get there because, as you point out, we’ll ultimately have to get there.

          2. Well, we have some idea of where the targets are:

            Atmospheric CO2 levels should be around 350ppm (roughly where it was before 1990) if we’re to avoid the beginnings of major climate changes and keep things stable, and we’re currently at or around 45 or 50ppm greater than that. Add another 50ppm, and if maintained at that level, it would pretty much melt the ice caps. At a rough rate of increase of 2ppm per annum, that would put us at 450ppm within 25 years, so long as the rate stays constant. Unfortunately, that’s not what we’re seeing. The long-term forecasts give the level being double what it was in 1850 by 2050.

            A temperature increase of roughly 0.2°C per decade matches the data for recent decades, and at that rate would linearly increase global temperatures by 2°C within a century. Even such a seemingly modest increase would cause the beginnings of severe impacts on a large patchwork of regions globally, but it’s possible the slow feedbacks would catch up and accelerate the warming. An increase of another 2°C on top would pretty much be a lower limit for worst-case scenario.

            The amount of time needed to halt these rates before the task becomes difficult is about a decade or two. After that, the best case climate scenario is still going to involve a high degree of environmental and regional damage. Lastly, the aims of halting all CO2 emitting industrial practices, and extracting the existing CO2 out of the atmosphere ASAP, don’t look like they’ll be implemented any time in the next few years.








      2. “Free markets” cannot exist for more than a moment, because they presuppose undistored preferences. The latter presupposes no advertising. QED.

        Hence “free market” is an ideological type, or at best a spherical frictionless point cow. (Physics people should get this.)

  19. My understanding is that beliefs on the big issues are largely tribal.

    This is why it is important for liberal scientists to speak on issues such as vaccines and the safety of GMO foods; once one “belief” is established as a “all good liberals believe this” it is difficult to shake.

    1. I think this also points to what it will take to change the politics of climate change. The only hope will be if credible conservative authority figures embrace the reality of climate change. Non-conservatives are mostly bystanders in this drama, since anything they say is undermined by tribalism.

      It will ultimately come down to Nixon going to China.

      1. It will ultimately come down to Nixon going to China.

        The last thing we need in the anti-religion trenches is a contemporary example of resurrection.
        Or are you suggesting a disinterment and relocation?

        1. Or are you suggesting a disinterment and relocation?

          [Gets shovel.]Where is the queue?

  20. If we had to sum the problem up in one word, it is beliefs. People get more questions wrong when they are violating their political or religious beliefs. Not their political or religious facts.

    While holding tight to a political ideology not based in reality is a bit puzzling, I think this is has to be at least partially rooted in the respect society gives to beliefs and faith. Better to stick with your party/religion/tribe than to actually care what reality says.

  21. The really scary thing isn’t the politics but what it has lead to.

    If you score low on science knowledge (OSI) the public baseline is that the warming is natural. But that for some reason (no doubt based in some vague notion that the atmosphere is changing) climate scientists worry about skin cancer. (O.o)

  22. It is thus the reasoning proficiency of their identity-protective self that is being measured by such items.

    Unless I am mistaken, Kahane claims that the more OSI advanced has more resources to fool themselves, my usual take on this.

    Or maybe I am using a “motivated system”. (But I doubt that “motivated reasoning” is a well tested model.)

  23. What really bothers me about this study is that the knowledge tested has nothing whatsoever to do with why one should accept evolution or global warming. It’s a list of bare facts, mostly about what scientists assert. That a person can know what’s asserted by scientists says nothing about whether or not that person is in possession of the facts relevant to reaching the correct conclusions about whether or not the scientists are right.

    For example, consider knowing that evolution stipulates the development of humans from earlier animal ancestors. That’s an empty fact that leads nowhere. A person who knows that can be utterly ignorant of what evolution is and how it works.

    I don’t think there’s any doubt that people let ideology trump facts, but this study demonstrates nothing of the sort.

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