Climate change denial, laissez-faire economics and conspiracy theories: A productive pairing?

Reference: Scientific American Blogs

May 6, 2013

By Ashutosh Jogalekar

Climate change denial, laissez-faire economics, conspiracy theorizing. A new study suggests that these rather diverse belief systems may lie on a continuum. That climate change denialists don’t believe in anthropogenic global warming is a given, but are there other more general indicators of their belief system that include climate change denial as a subset?

This is the question that a group of psychologists from the University of Western Australia and the University of Zurich sought to answer. They found that climate change denialists also seem to display two other characteristics; a belief in laissez-faire capitalism and more troublingly, a tendency to espouse conspiracy theories. The correlation of climate change denial with free market capitalism was stronger and not completely unsurprising but the correlation with a conspiratorial mindset is more unexpected and intriguing.

To find out more about the psychology of denialists, the researchers queried about a thousand commenters on eight popular climate science blogs about their general beliefs in various conspiracy theories and free market capitalism. Blogs were picked because these are the sources where deniers and skeptics are most commonly found. A questionnaire listing about 30 miscellaneous statements relating to free markets, environmental issues and conspiracy theories of all flavors were pitched to commenters on these blogs. Interestingly the commenters on “skeptical” climate change blogs declined to answer the questions. …

… The results indicated, perhaps not surprisingly, that there is an inverse correlation between espousal of free markets and belief in the scientific consensus on climate change. This free market-dominated rejection of scientific evidence is consistent with denial of important environmental and public health concerns in the past, most notably the link between cigarette smoking and lung cancer and the effects of acid rain on the environment. Once free-market ideologues make up their mind that complete government withdrawal from markets is the only way to ensure prosperity, then it’s not surprising to find them inclined to disbelieve even rigorous scientific evidence that would somehow point to more increased government regulation as a solution. This is of course independent of actual government regulation; all that matters is a belief in future government action. Sadly, the study also found that unfettered belief in free markets seems to make deniers skeptical of any scientific consensus involving the government, no matter what the field of study or the level of rigor. Simply put, ideology trumps facts.

What is much more intriguing is the very modest but positive correlation between rejection of climate change and the presence of a general conspiratorial ideology. People who reject climate change don’t believe equally in all the conspiracy theories listed in the questionnaire, but the general trend seems to hold. It would have been enlightening to know if denialists seem to believe a particular conspiracy theory more than others, but that kind of trend does not really stand out. Finally, perceptions of whether previous environmental issues are resolved or not also track negatively with denialism. So if you believe that the consensus on acid rain is not well established you are also less likely to believe the consensus on climate change.

To read the full article, click here.

To read the study, “NASA faked the moon landing—Therefore (Climate) Science is a Hoax: An Anatomy of the Motivated Rejection of Science” by Stephan Lewandowsky and Gilles Gignac of the University of Western Australia and Klaus Oberauer of the University of Zurich and University of Western Australia, click here.