the four types of climate change skeptics

There’s really no point in debating evidence: it’s not whether or not climate change is real, but rather when, where and how hard the effects will hit us. One thing is certain, though: while the sources of global warming are localized, the impacts will be global. Hence, we’re sharing the burden, while bickering over who shares the responsibility. The bickering is officially called COP on Climate Change and consists on deciding who spends how much and doing what. So, it’s not about science anymore: it’s about politics. Which means it’s about public opinion.

Bansky’s irony. Photo by maggie jones, all rights reserved.

Many researchers are interested in why some people don’t acknowledge climate change. I’ve been reading a lot about it and boiled down climate skeptics to basically four kinds.

1 – The misinformed

This sort of climate skeptic simply doesn’t have a clue. They hear some bits and pieces now and then but don’t have sufficient grasp on the information to actually know what’s going on. When there’s an exceptionally harsh cold wave or blizzard they actually think they’re making a pun with “ha! where’s global warming now??”.

Some studies suggest that people with an insight on the data that support climate change are much more likely to believe it and be concerned. So, there’s hope to skeptic type 1!

2 – The comfortable

Independently of the level of scientific knowledge on the issue, some people simply don’t want to be bothered, which can owe to a number of reasons. As Ben Newell put it in an article, “it is not the knowledge per se that is important but how it is incorporated into the way you see the world.” For example, I find it hard to believe that 30% of Americans are plain ignorant or nuts, or that the governments of the emerging economies are blind to their contribution to global warming. But it’s predictable that many people don’t want to hinder prosperity, in the terms they’ve come to know it, in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Or, while we’re at it, to give away taxpayers money to help developing countries overcoming their vulnerabilities to upcoming events.

They may act like the fourth kind (bellow), but are a mere variant of the “not on my backyard” crowd: the “not from my wallet”. Notable examples of type 2 skeptics can be found in business journal articles signed by oil industry executives and scientists who can’t lay down an argumentation coherent with existing data.

3 – The conspiracy theorist

Another plausible reason do deny climate change is that it’s a giant hoax. Scientists found out that those who to believe in things such has the fake moon landing and aliens in Area 51 are more likely to think of climate change as a conspiracy theory.

4 – The insightful contra

Some people just disagree with the mainstream or think they can read between the lines of data and see a truth no one else does. You’re likely to hear them saying “the planet has warmed up before, it’s just a natural fluctuation” or “the uncertainties are too hight, we’re jumping into conclusions”. Others argue that climate science is mere statistics, which can be used to prove all sorts of stupid correlations with global average temperature, from pirates to anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions! To put it graphically:

Many of them stayed in that stage of “Climategate” before Muller actually came to the same conclusions of the IPCC. Or hold on to that 0.2 % of scientific literature which reject climate change. It’s highly unlike that all the science in the world will ever change their minds.

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