President Trump famously declared, when asked about climate change, “The concept of global warming was created by, and for, the Chinese in order to make US manufacturing non-competitive.” Ridiculous I know, but he is far from being alone. A plethora of politicians, journalists and even scientists are part of a hardcore faction of those people who deny the effects of climate change, or even that it exists.
In the UK, perhaps the highest profile climate change denier is Lord Nigel Lawson, who served as Chancellor of the Exchequer under the leadership of Margaret Thatcher. His form of neo-liberal economics, in which he states that industry must remain totally unregulated in order for the economy to function, certainly does not sit easily with climate change concerns. He even founded the Global Warming Policy Foundation, whose sole aim is to discredit those who advocate action against climate change in order to advance its own political and economic agenda.
Denial extends to journalists, hoping to add fuel to the climate change fire (perhaps not the best metaphor in the circumstances, but you get what I mean!) or, perhaps more realistically, advance their own journalistic careers by appearing to be “edgy” and “controversial”. Most notable among the list of ill-informed, and certainly ill-advised, writers is James Delingpole, who writes for the Spectator and, surprise surprise, The Telegraph. Delingpole is a proponent of “Climategate”, and his articles are designed to scupper climate change discussions and political agreements.
While it would be easy to dismiss the rantings of climate change deniers as politically motivated, designed to substantiate unfounded economic beliefs, thought has turned to the psychology of why, despite the overwhelming evidence, such views still exist. The excellent discussion website The Conversation takes a social psychology perspective, and delves into Freudian denial theory in an attempt to explain why deniers exist. Climate change does not fit well with their world view, and therefore it is easier to deny it than to grapple with facts that contradict their political and lifestyle choices. At the end of the article, the author acknowledges that what will make a real difference is the power of the people and that, through regulation, divestment, consumer choice and public protest, the worried majority will make the difference in persuading those in authority to take action.
The psychology of denial can be easily applied to the specifics of climate change denial. The psychoanalytic sociologist Stanley Cohen identified three types of denial, all of which seem appropriate to explain this specific denial. Firstly, and most obviously, we have literal denial, where those with opposing interests will quite literally lie in order to meet the needs of their own agenda. This is most obvious in the political and industrial world. Then we have interpretive denial, in which the denier will not necessarily dismiss the facts of climate change, but will interprete them in such a way as to suit their needs – largely inaction in this particular case. Finally, and most dangerously, is implicatory denial, in which the individual fails to accept any form of responsibility and therefore falls into inactivity.
But fortunately climate change deniers are in the minority, and over time the silent, but increasingly vocal, majority will have their will – to change the policies of governments and industry leaders to quite literally save the planet for future generations. It is therefore perhaps not surprising that the lead lies with young activists such as Greta Thunberg despite being easy targets for the deniers. However, as always the truth will come out and deniers will be the ones with vegan egg on their faces!