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Posted by wmmbb in Global Warming Politics, Humankind/Planet Earth, Natural Environment, Social Environment.

Robert Manne , professor of politics at Latrobe University, has recently published an essay asked to my mind a reasonable question given its’ premise: “How can climate change denial be explained?”.

The essay was published at ABC’s The Drum and The Monthly, which by contrast carried the reference links.There were far more comments on the ABC site, but the pattern was the same, in my opinion missing the point. It seems on this evidence that those who would deny the understanding as is generally held by the scientists engaged in researching the climate take offence at been described as “denialists”. There are a few work-arounds. One of which is to deny that a scientific consensus exists, and The Drum is deficient in that it does not provide the links for which there may be good reasons.They quote the climate denial sources, without cross checking with sources that might correct misconceptions. Then, and I hate to say it, they engage in fallacious arguments while arguing their case is superior. After awhile, and especially at The Drum there is a lot, this stuff gets boring.

Robert Manne’s premise is that the climate change denial is a right wing project suggesting immediately that it is ideological in origin.  Some people in the Left he reminds us had a problem with “the disaster of communism” in coming to terms with the available evidence. The argument in relation to global warming is overwhelming. Thousands of scientists working on the climate throughout the world agree that the problem is man-made and an is due to the emission of greenhouse gases. Two studies, one in 2009 and the other in 2010, have identified the consensus to be 97%. Why in general terms might such a consensus be possible,other than the underlying science, as distinct from the measurement, is well established? Form memory, somebody commenting at The Drum did call one of these studies into question.

So why do people in denial about the possible, and perhaps likely in the absence of coordinated global action, consequence of anthropogenic global warming? Robert Manne proposes five possible and related explanations. In summary:
1. The role of vested economic interests eg the fossil fuel industry.
This is a familiar story and Robert Manne does not engage in demonization. He quotes Naomi Oreskes. Here is a brief interveiw:

2. The part played by the mass media.
There is a study by James Painter. Robert Manne has written about the role of the Murdoch media, in particular The Australian.
3. Extension of the culture wars  to include  scientist.
Robert Mann notes:

Following the coming of the climate crisis everything changed. The neoconservatives and the neoliberals in the media, politics, the think tanks and the academy applied their ideas about the corrosive influence of political correctness and collectivism to a group they had hitherto staunchly defended against the attacks of relativistic “deconstructionists” and “postmodernists” – the scientists. Or at least, to put it more precisely, they extended their analysis to one branch of scientists – those who specialised in analysis of the climate. When the climate scientists began pointing out the urgent need to curb emissions of greenhouse gases, the neoconservatives and neoliberals decided that these scientists were little better than the “tenured radicals” in the humanities faculties of the universities who deployed their so-called scholarship to undermine the free market or traditional Western values. Their science was dubious. They perverted the peer review process. They suppressed dissenting voices. They engaged in research they knew to be fraudulent – “climategate” – for the sole purpose of winning lucrative research grants from the “nanny state”.

And best of all since these things are true, evidence and proof, and even science are irrelevant.
4. The psychology of denial
Robert Manne’s comments are, I think worth, noting. He writes:

Ideologues only feel comfortable when they hunt in packs. Within a remarkably short time, almost all anti-political correctness and anti-collectivist ideologues became climate change denialists. Nonetheless, it would be quite misleading to argue that all leading climate change denialists are neoconservatives and neoliberals. As Clive Hamilton has pointed out, there is a certain kind of individual who is offended by the conclusions of the climate scientists. For such people – frequently ageing white males of science, engineering and technology backgrounds – the conclusions of the climate scientists are experienced as a shock, as a challenge, but most deeply of all as an affront to their deepest and most cherished basic faith: the capacity and indeed the right of “mankind” to subdue the Earth and all its fruits and to establish a “mastery” over Nature. I use these words advisedly. The conclusions of the climate scientists suggested a problem with this generally free-thinking, secular, pro-capitalist faith.

The people I have in mind were the kind who had mercilessly mocked the once-fashionable idea that there might ultimately be “limits to growth”. They are the kind of people who had vigorously and sometimes successfully disputed claims about the eventual depletion of natural resources or theories like “peak oil”. Now they were faced with scientists who had arrived at the conclusion that there was something even more fundamentally amiss in the process of the industrial revolution itself – namely, that the decision to provide the energy for industrialisation by burning fossil fuels was possibly the most consequential, although perfectly innocent, misstep human beings had ever taken. Within the mindset of the engineers and geologists, such a thought is not merely mistaken. It is intolerable and deeply offensive. Those preaching this doctrine have to be resisted and indeed denounced.

For such people – in Australia, one thinks of Ian Plimer, Bob Carter, William Kininmonth – the struggle against climate science is both urgent and existential. They are fighting to preserve life-long beliefs which have provided them with comfort and with meaning. In the fight against the climate scientists, they have proved to be important allies of the anti-political correctness and anti-collectivist ideologues, the right-wing media and the fossil fuel corporations.

I suppose he is a political scientist, not a psychologist but the psychology of denial needs to be considered. I suppose that the alternative account to the official story of what happened seems fanciful as first, but perhaps in the light of context and evidence a different view might be considered. A number of psychologists report on reactions, including poignantly their own:

5. Public  receptivity to the message.
Robert Manne speculates:

Perhaps it is the character type that flourishes under the conditions of consumer capitalism that presents the primary obstacle to taking action on climate change. Faced by an apparent choice between the continuation of our lifestyle and the wellbeing of our planet, perhaps it is the continuation of our lifestyle that in the end we will decide to choose.

Those of us in the rich world want to keep our comfortable lifestyles, but the different in the public perception of the reality of climate change is interesting.

The question, which none of the commenters as far as I could tell addressed, is how sufficient these possible explanations might be for the denial of global warming. Robert Manne has identified that climate denial is a right wing pre-occupation. I don’t think he has the addressed the  question of asking what is it about about “right wing” ideology, as distinct from “left wing ideology” global warming a cause for denial and cognitive dissonance.  The answer may lie in the notion of cultural cognition which Wikipedia explains as:

The cultural cognition hypothesis holds that individuals are motivated by a variety of psychological processes to form beliefs about putatively dangerous activities that match their cultural evaluations of them. Persons who subscribe to relatively individualistic values, for example, tend to value commerce and industry and are inclined to disbelieve that such activities pose serious environmental risks. Persons who subscribe to relatively egalitarian and communitarian values, in contrast, readily credit claims of environmental risks, consistent with their moral suspicion of commerce and industry as sources of inequality and symbols of excessive self-seeking.

That seems to fit with what Robert Manne is saying and with the what is know about the psychology of denial, which presumably has become permanent rather than transient as it in, for example, the grieving process. So how can we get out of such a fix?

And then, I think, there is insufficient attention given to the fact that industrial society and post industrial society has been wholly constructed around and dependent on fossil fuels. But does that make the development of alternative energy sources impossible? Alternative energy sources are challenging, to corporations and governments, because they are decentralized.

The third aspect that Robert Manne does not cover is that simultaneously AGW is a global challenge with differential effects across the world, fundamentally causing a reappraisal of the relationship between human beings and the natural world, while rising the unsettling issues of fairness, justice and the sustainability of the human population.

The Independent reports that the worst case scenario appears to be happening. Russian scientists are reporting that methane is being released as the ice cover recedes from the north west east Arctic coast ( a major mistake here on my part). But lets think happy thoughts, as Robert Manne notes only one percept of Americans think it is the most urgent problem for them, even as they emit more GHG than anybody else on a per capital basis.
( I have included most of the references from The Monthly, which enhance Robert Manne’s essay. Those that I have included should be apparent.)


I examined Professor Manne’s argument closely. I can’t see the logical flaws and the lack of evidence for what he proposes.

The 97% agreement among scientists who publish is a stand out figure, which I take is a consensus on the relationship between increasing levels of GHG’s and other related climate phenomena, the rising levels of CO2. It is contentious to suggest that right-left divide on the AGW when it becomes a matter of public policy and public opinion. Of course, the adequacy of the explanation is a larger subject.

Yet this piece attracted a volume of hostile criticism at ABC’ The Drum, which seems to support the conclusions.


1. wmmbb - December 15, 2011

Anonymous asked, and I deleted the email losing the comment: How can the [warmist] position be explained?

I think that it is a matter of accepting the agreement among those are usually very well qualified and involved in climate research. Then we can look at some of the evidence for ourselves, consider the objections that have been put and the answers of the relevant scientists. For example, there was a contention that the mean ocean temperatures were falling, and that there was lags and leads with the level of atmospheric CO2 with temperature. I just read the relevant answers and form my opinion on that basis.

I would like to think that I would be swayed by the empirical evidence anyway, but I suppose I am predisposed not to deny the global warming. Robert Manne it is related to the left-right polarity in political ideology reminding us of the difficulty that some of those on the left had with accepting the worst features of the Soviet Government. Cultural cognition theory may well explain what is going on.

The problem is that when we are in denial we are less likely to consider things in a rational and considered way. It is OK to be sceptical but if a good explanation is provided, on what basis can I have to continue to reject the proposition. What I have notice about the denialist position that for example read at The Drum is that they typically ignore or don’t look at the alternative explanations.

What I am saying is that the warmist find it easier to consider the issue of climate change because they do not emotional stake in rejecting the scientist consensus, or are those people discipline to accept the facts as they are.

I welcome anybody who raises an objection to the case and then go and see what can be said about it. I take exception to people, such as Christopher Monckton, who claim expertise but do not acknowledge their mistakes and inconsistencies. I also take exception to the PR campaign waged by the vested interests.

Robert Manne does not demonize people. He points out some denialists are otherwise smart people. I think it is, as he suggest, political ideology and world view that explains emotion in the argument. One hopes that scientists involved in climate research are evaluating the evidence, and while there may be suggestions to the contrary there is no scientific studies that would support those contentions.

Naomi Oreskes deals with the contention that environmentalism is socialism by another name in the second part of her UOQ talk.

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