Nav: Home

The psychology behind climate change denial

October 04, 2016

Climate change is a serious threat to humans, animals, and the earth's ecosystems. Nevertheless, effective climate action has been delayed, partly because some still deny that there is a problem. In a new thesis in psychology, Kirsti Jylhä at Uppsala University has studied the psychology behind climate change denial. The results show that individuals who accept hierarchical power structures tend to a larger extent deny the problem.

In the scientific community there is a strong consensus that humans have significantly affected the climate and that we are facing serious challenges. But there is a lot of misinformation about climate change in circulation, which to a large part is created and distributed by organised campaigns with the aim of postponing measures that could combat climate change. And there are people who are more prone than others to trust this misinformation.

Previous research has consistently shown that it is more common among politically conservative individuals to deny climate change. In her thesis, Kirsti Jylhä has investigated this further and in more detail. Her studies included ideological and personality variables which correlate with political ideology, and tested if those variables also correlate with climate change denial.

The results show that climate change denial correlates with political orientation, authoritarian attitudes and endorsement of the status quo. It also correlates with a tough-minded personality (low empathy and high dominance), closed-mindedness (low openness to experience), predisposition to avoid experiencing negative emotions, and with the male sex. Importantly, one variable, named social dominance orientation (SDO), helped explain all these correlations, either entirely or partially.

Social dominance orientation is a measure of the acceptance and advocating of hierarchical and dominant relations between social groups. This acceptance of hierarchies also extends to accepting human dominance over nature. The correlation between SDO and climate change denial can perhaps be explained by considering the many injustices of climate change. Our current wealthy lifestyles are the primary cause of climate change, but the most serious consequences are affecting mainly poor countries and people, as well as animals and future generations of humans.

According to Kirsti Jylhä, it is possible that individuals who accept the unequal distribution of the risks and benefits of climate change, more easily can keep demanding more evidence for climate change before admitting and addressing it.

The question then is how the issue of climate change can best be presented to people with a high SDO to convince them of the need for action.

"The arguments used in the climate debate often revolve around giving up conveniences in life to help the environment or the poor or weak. But that is maybe not a convincing argument to someone who sees the world from a hierarchical viewpoint. It would perhaps be better to talk in other terms and describe how everyone will benefit from the measures instead of being affected by the consequences and that the measures don't have to be a threat to the current societal structure", says Kirsti Jylhä.
-end-


Uppsala University

Related Climate Change Articles:

The black forest and climate change
Silver and Douglas firs could replace Norway spruce in the long run due to their greater resistance to droughts.
For some US counties, climate change will be particularly costly
A highly granular assessment of the impacts of climate change on the US economy suggests that each 1°Celsius increase in temperature will cost 1.2 percent of the country's gross domestic product, on average.
Climate change label leads to climate science acceptance
A new Cornell University study finds that labels matter when it comes to acceptance of climate science.
Was that climate change?
A new four-step 'framework' aims to test the contribution of climate change to record-setting extreme weather events.
It's more than just climate change
Accurately modeling climate change and interactive human factors -- including inequality, consumption, and population -- is essential for the effective science-based policies and measures needed to benefit and sustain current and future generations.
Climate change scientists should think more about sex
Climate change can have a different impact on male and female fish, shellfish and other marine animals, with widespread implications for the future of marine life and the production of seafood.
Climate change prompts Alaska fish to change breeding behavior
A new University of Washington study finds that one of Alaska's most abundant freshwater fish species is altering its breeding patterns in response to climate change, which could impact the ecology of northern lakes that already acutely feel the effects of a changing climate.
Uncertainties related to climate engineering limit its use in curbing climate change
Climate engineering refers to the systematic, large-scale modification of the environment using various climate intervention techniques.
Public holds polarized views about climate change and trust in climate scientists
There are gaping divisions in Americans' views across every dimension of the climate debate, including causes and cures for climate change and trust in climate scientists and their research, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.
The psychology behind climate change denial
In a new thesis in psychology, Kirsti Jylhä at Uppsala University has studied the psychology behind climate change denial.

Related Climate Change Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Setbacks
Failure can feel lonely and final. But can we learn from failure, even reframe it, to feel more like a temporary setback? This hour, TED speakers on changing a crushing defeat into a stepping stone. Guests include entrepreneur Leticia Gasca, psychology professor Alison Ledgerwood, astronomer Phil Plait, former professional athlete Charly Haversat, and UPS training manager Jon Bowers.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#524 The Human Network
What does a network of humans look like and how does it work? How does information spread? How do decisions and opinions spread? What gets distorted as it moves through the network and why? This week we dig into the ins and outs of human networks with Matthew Jackson, Professor of Economics at Stanford University and author of the book "The Human Network: How Your Social Position Determines Your Power, Beliefs, and Behaviours".