Monday, November 16, 3:30 pm – Climate Change Denial and Conservatism: Exploring the Connections

UMass Amherst’s excellent Environmental Institute is once again sponsoring a thought provoking lecture on Monday, November 16 in the Student Union’s Cape Cod Lounge beginning at 3:30 pm.  Riley Dunlap, Regents Professor of Sociology at Oklahoma State University, will be on hand to discuss Climate Change Denial and Conservatism: Exploring the Connections.

Historically conservatives have been less supportive than liberals of environmental protection, both among political elites such as members of Congress and the general public. However, by the early 1990s, following the downfall of the Soviet Union and the emergence of global environmentalism as exemplified by the 1992 “Earth Summit” in Rio, the American Conservative Movement mobilized overtly against environmentalism and environmental policy-making—substituting a “Green Scare” for the vanishing “Red Scare.”

Fearing the growth of national and especially international environmental regulatory policies, the movement mounted a concerted campaign against environmentalists, environmental scientists, environmental policy-makers and environmental regulations. Rather than attacking environmental protection efforts head-on, a strategy that produced a pro-environmental backlash in the Reagan years, conservatives attacked environmental science in order to undermine the evidence used by those pushing for new and stronger regulations. Conservatives applied the term “junk science,” for example, to discredit scientific evidence documenting problematic environmental conditions.

The conservative assault on mainstream science and scientists has reached new heights with anthropogenic climate change (ACC). Conservative think tanks (with support from the fossil fuels industry and conservative philanthropists) have spear-headed efforts to deny the reality and significance of ACC. Their activities range from supporting most of the small number of “contrarian” climate scientists to disseminating a vast range of material attacking the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), climate scientists and those who support efforts to reduce carbon emissions. The dissemination employs various fora (e.g., policy briefings for politicians and anti-IPCC conferences) and all forms of media from websites to videos to newspapers to television.

This free presentation will locate the current situation in historical context, and then focus on the link between conservative think tanks and the rapidly growing number of books espousing climate-change denialism (including those authored by contrarian scientists). It will also examine the degree to which these efforts have contributed to growing partisan and ideological polarization among the general public. National survey data will be used to demonstrate that over the past decade self-identified Republicans and conservatives have become less likely to view ACC as real and problematic, even as the scientific evidence for ACC has become stronger.