Conservatives are more likely to be climate deniers because as a whole they tend to revert to their core belief systems when they are confronted with novel information. They have a tendency to discount information that refutes their deeply held convictions and they are also less likely to confront their prior beliefs with new empirical evidence.
Here is a summary of the experimental evidence that breaks down the climate denying demographic.
As reviewed in a Seeking Alpha article, a study called “The Psychology of Climate Change Communication“, published by the Center for Research on Environmental Decisions at Columbia University shows that a subset of white males, are especially dismissive of risks. This finding has come to be known as the “White Male Effect” and it has been experimentally demonstrated numerous times (e.g., Flynn et al. 1994, Finucane et al. 2000, Palmer 2003, Kahan et al. 2007, McCright and Dunlap 2011a).
Kahan et al. 2007 attribute most of the White Male Effect to cultural attitudes. Specifically, they find that climate change skeptics tend to have hierarchical and individualistic worldviews. This means that they believe the existing social order is just, and see individual success and status as being earned through competitive selection. Conservative-hierarchical-individualistic white males are motivated to
deny climate change because it challenges the legitimacy and
sustainability of the existing social order.
Research by McCright and Dunlap 2011a shows a linkage to ideology and political affiliation: skeptics tend to hold conservative values and, in the U.S., to be affiliated with the Republican party, especially the Tea Party wing (Pew Center 2010).
Over the past couple of decades, the group identity of conservative white males has been reinforced by an orchestrated campaign to sow doubts about climate change, bankrolled by a (white male) conservative elite (the Koch brothers, Rupert Murdoch), disseminated through talk radio (Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck), conservative news media (Fox, the WSJ), think tanks (Cato Institute, Heritage Foundation, American Enterprise Institute), lobby groups (Chamber of Commerce, ALEC) and political leaders (George Bush, Dick Cheney, James Inhofe).
McCright and Dunlap 2011a asked climate change skeptics how familiar they were with the issues and found that those who reported to being very familiar were far more likely to be skeptical. Kahan et al. 2011 and Feinberg and Willer 2011 conducted experiments which showed that when skeptics were provided with new evidence of climate change they challenged the authority of the new information and became even more strongly skeptical than before.
Despite these findings, conservative-hierarchical-individualistic individuals can change and go from what Daniel Kahneman calls “fast” to “slow” thinking (Kahneman 2011).
© 2014, Richard Matthews. All rights reserved.
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