Skepticism … the ability to question unquestioned beliefs and stated certainties is a powerful intellectual tool.

Sadly, "skepticism" is receiving a bad name through association with those ready, willing, able, and enthusiastic about denying the reality before their (and our) own eyes about the global changes in climate patterns and humanity’s role in driving these changes. What is typically viewed as a secondary definition seems, in today’s ideological environment, to becoming the dominant concept when it comes to Global Warming. Skepticism has become, it seems,

the doctrine that true knowledge or knowledge [re Global Warming] is uncertain

Yes, there are doctrinaires who have a "doctrine" about "uncertainty" in the domain of Global Warming, no matter what science tells us, no matter what is happening in front of us, no matter …

Questioner … Skeptic … Denier …

Clearly, not every question, not every challenge to data, not every voicing of concern is the same. Nor is every motivation the same. This is not simply about "fossil-fuel-funding" (although it can be at times). This is not simply about seeking Rapture and the end of times (even though it can be). This is not simply about political beliefs creating thought structures for dealing with science (but it can be).

Too often, it seems, those discussing the issue of "skeptics" and "deniers" simplify the motivational path. Thus, we will see blunt statements that X motivation, Y reasoning drives skepticism when, in reality, the situation is more complex. While it quite possibly exists, I have yet to see a treatise examining and deconstructing different types and motivations for deniers and skeptics when it comes to Global Warming. Thus, here is a shot at "Typing Skeptics: Providing a Window on the Varying Motivations for Global Warming Skeptics …"

First off, let me warn, this will be a link-free discussion, atypical of most of my work. This is a draft, a work in progress, an appeal for feedback, interaction, thoughts and, if you wish, sources. (Especially that link to the person who has done an already amazing job developing this sort of typology.)

Questioner … Skeptic … Denier …

Again, not every question, not every challenge to data, not every voicing of concern is the same. So, what seem to be some of the motivating factors for skepticism/denial?

FundedMoney Talks

As often said, it is hard to reject your next paycheck, to ignore how food gets put on the table. There are two basic arenas here:

Paid Skeptics: Like those paid to advocate that smoking was not related to cancer, there are scientists/pseudo-scientists/lobbyists/etc who are funded by (for example) fossil-fuel industries to sow doubt about Global Warming, to help fend off any serious efforts to reduce fossil fuel use. And, should we be surprised, many of the same "experts" who worked for against action on CFCs and the Ozone layer also provided "expert" commentary on the uncertainty on the uncertainty (lack) of links between tobacco and cancer also provide "expert" commentary about uncertainties in Climate Change science. Hmmm …

Salaried/Working in the Field / Life’s Blood: While there are employees of fossil fuel companies/etc who battle for sensible Climate Crisis policies and believe in Global Warming, if your paycheck relies on selling more coal, it can be hard to acknowledge that that coal might be causing a real problem. This is different than the "paid skeptic", in that the weltauunschaung is formed by the salaried position rather than a check simply buying a viewpoint. This is, more likely, to have real belief and real emotion driving the skepticism. To accept Global Warming, in this realm, would be to acknowledge that one’s life/one’s life’s work has been contributing to incredible destruction to the ecosphere and humanity’s future prospects.

Political

Note that each of the categories seems to have clear subcategories. There are ideological political reasons and funding ones.

Philosophy re Governance: Government is BAD To accept Global Warming as a serious issue, meriting serious attention, almost axiomatically means agreeing that (at a minimum) there is a governmental role (including international cooperation and potentially international mandates) to take action to fight it. For those who philosophically reject government, who believe government to be the root of all evil, to accept Global Warming as a reality would mean to accept a serious role for government across wide ranges of human interactions, society. Reject government as potentially good and that likely drives one to rejecting evidence of global warming and of its seriousness. (Hint: Libertarians and Republican base …)

Political Philsophy/Knee-Jerk Reaction: The RWSM has successfully indoctrinated a share of American opinion against "libruls", certain movement groups, and specific individuals. Environmentalists … Al Gore … the horror! That "Environmentalists" and Al Gore are focused on and discussed Global Warming translates it into being a "left-wing" agenda item to be rejected by ‘conservatives’. This creates a major focus on the messenger rather than the reality/validity/importance of message.

Political Power/Funding: Well, related back to the money, fossil-fuel industries and others fearing pain if serious measures were put in place re Global Warming have tremendous resources (e.g., money). (E.g, want to talk about Exxon’s $40 billion in profits?) If a politician wants to satisfy (attract) donors, then perhaps you become a R-EXXON like Senator Inhofe.

Skepticism as fun and/or way of life

There are people that, simply, like swimming upstream. And, there are ‘professional iconoclasts’, prepared to challenge any and all ideas. Re Global Warming, there are scientists who appear as "skeptics" because of how they pursue their questioning of details even as they, when confronted, accept core reality of Global Warming.

Related in this is that there are, clearly, people who relish gaining attention: scientists articulately taking a skeptic/denier position are more likely to have visibility and attention than the (vast) majority who are supporting core conclusions about Global Warming and humanity’s contributions to that warming. Want to end up on TV, Carl Lomborg? Write truthiness books questioning Global Warming and questioning whether it merits action.

Religious

There are a multitude of ways that religion can influence views re Global Warming. Note, there are many for whom religious belief can drive a serious concern about the environment and therefore action to work re Global Warming. The below is not representative of "religious beliefs and Global Warming" but a sketch of skepticism and religion.

The World is Greater than Humanity

Very simply: The arrogance of man to believe that we can have an impact on God’s creation. This actually fits into a basic reality of human psychology and the human condition: the world is huge and it does take a leap (move) beyond our own individuality and looking out at birds singing in spring to understand that we (collectively) have become powerful enough to actual influence the atmosphere to a great enough extent to drive climate change. Moving back to religion, there are those who argue that it is utter hubris for ‘mere’ humans to assert that humanity can drive something created by G-d.

The Earth is Ours to Do With as We Wish is a (mis)reading of Biblical words (and other religious texts/concepts) that Earth is here for humans to do with as we wish. Discussing things like Global Warming or environmental impacts are simply, in this distorted theological view, paths toward limiting humanity’s dominance of the earth and, therefore, to be rejected out-of-hand.

Environmentalism=Evolution=Heresy

Rapture is coming … Global Warming is, obviously, a good thing because it is one of the signs of the End of Times. Accelerating Global Warming would help bring Rapture closer to our time and thus should be welcomed.

Life is Good

For some, life is good. To accept Global Warming as reality means accepting that some elements of "life is good" should change: whether that is the huge outdoor barbecue or jet setting around the world. For some, life is too good to accept that Global Warming is a reality and a real threat.

Fear

For some, to acknowledge Global Warming is to acknowledge risk and to acknowledge risk for one’s children. Thus, it is far better to ignore/reject Global Warming than to face this fear, to face these risks.

Related, somewhat, is the potential that people fear rejecting their life’s legacy. If one has been ‘living a normal American life’ for decades, to acknowledge the realities of Global Warming is to acknowledge that your own behavior has contributed to the problem. Recognizing/acknowledging this seems to be beyond some people.

Ignorance

Global Warming is a complicated subject and there are people (such as motivated by factors above) and institutions that seek to foster confusion. Among a population dedicated to watching junk TV, reading little, and overburdened with trying to live their lives, the complication combines with confusion to foster ignorance. Without the time and energy to absorb complicated information, in a society that has too many outlets of communication that foster further confusion, there are many for whom "denial" and "skepticism" is the natural result of ignorance (whether self created (e.g., choosing to ignore substantive issues) or fostered (through those seeking to create confusion over Global Warming).

SO WHAT …

No, this is not another motivating factor but to question ‘so what’. Why should we (or anyone) care that there are different motivating factors? Those people are simply wrong, right? Well, the lumping together of the motivational factors can undermine ability to communicate and to convince. As a trainee/presenter from The Climate Project, I seek to communicate with people about Global Warming and to seek personal change (political, energy usage, otherwise) to help move us/US toward a path to confront/surmount the Climate Crisis. Each of these motivators and reasons for skepticism creates a need for a different communication/understanding path. Some of these people need to be marginalized. Some need to be spoken to in their language. Some will agree on (some) remedies even while doubting Global Warming. And, some need education. Understanding these motivations and reasons helps open the path for more successful communication.

But …

But …

  • Is this an accurate breakdown?
  • What is missing?
  • Where can this be strenthened?
  • Who else has tackled this challenge?

NOTE: This is a revised version of something posted last year. As noted above, I hope that the FDL community can help this evolve into something better through comments and/or (perhaps even better) perhaps point to the work which has definitely done the typology of Global Warming denialist / skeptic motivations.

It also relates closely to Five Stages from Denial to Determination, as the path along the stages (and potential to travel them) differs with each element of this typology.