How Climate Denial Works, in One Handy Chart


Image: paul nine-o via Flickr/CC BY

If you know much about climate change, then you know that there are plenty of folks who would rather never address the fact that it exists. Mostly, those who profit by burning fossil fuels, and those who find the solutions to climate change ideologically distasteful. And you likely know that these folks routinely dole out a healthy helping of what we call 'climate denial', which is aimed especially to the American public. What you might not know is just how all this denial works, and where it comes from.

And that's where this handy graph comes in:
Andy Revkin explains the chart's genesis:

A chart of "key components of the climate change denial machine" has been produced by Riley E. Dunlap, regents professor of sociology at Oklahoma State University, and Aaron M. McCright, an associate professor of sociology at Michigan State University. The diagram below ... is from a chapter the two researchers wrote on organized opposition to efforts to curb greenhouse gases for the new Oxford Handbook of Climate Change and Society.
The thing itself is pretty self-explanatory, and relatively accurate. It does a solid job of displaying the various groups that play a pointed role in attempting to sculpt public opinion on the climate issue, and shows how, for example, a coal company can go through credible-looking channels to seed anti-climate messages in the mainstream media (labeled the 'echo chamber' above).

It's not rocket science. Parties with an interest in stoking disarray on the climate issue work through think tanks, lobbying groups, and front organizations to move bits of credible-looking climate denial into the national conversation. (Groups fighting for climate action work through their own channels, think tanks, and so forth, albeit in a much less united, more fractured manner ...)

The useful thing about this chart is how it reflects the media's role -- once a juicy bit of climate denial enters that echo chamber, it's liable to stay there, bouncing around and snowballing with other scraps of misinformation. Just consider Climate Gate, the 'natural cycles' gibberish, or any number of skeptic talking points. Then consider the fact that the organizations with more funding, resources, and political influence (ie, the US Chamber of Commerce) will be more likely to successfully transport messages from the fringe groups and think tanks into the mainstream. This should help us understand the disadvantages faced by those working to build greenhouse gas-reducing laws in a political system so swayed by corporate influence.

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