How Many Climate-Change Deniers Do You Know?

Count em up. Or, if you’re a denier yourself, do it backwards: How many climate-change accepters do you know? A recent interview with sociologist Elaine Howard Ecklund shows that the real issue with science denialism isn’t knowledge or ignorance. It isn’t religion or science. It’s something else.ecklund religion science

Ecklund is talking these days about her latest research. In the past, she asked elite academics how much they knew about religion. In her new book, she’s sharing her data about religious people. How many scientists do they know? What do they think about science?

In this interview, Professor Ecklund offers a compelling description of the real problem with climate-change politics. As she puts it,

Scientists tend to think that it’s all about knowledge. It’s not actually about teaching people better—there’s good science out there, there’s nearly total consensus that climate change is happening and that humans have something to do with it. But certain groups of constituents really need to build relationships with a scientific community. Once you have a relationship with someone, and you don’t think they’re crazy, then information can pass over that relational tie. [Emphasis added.]

Do religious ideas matter? Sure. Is scientific training important? Of course. But the real issue is trust. When people don’t trust all those “Al Gore” scientists, it doesn’t matter how much talking and outreach scientists do. As Ecklund suggests, if you thinks someone is crazy (or “ignorant,” or “wicked”), it doesn’t matter how many charts and graphs they show you. If you think someone is crazy or evil, you won’t believe what they tell you, no matter what.

And though it hurts to admit, the trust question goes both ways. For those of us who want to see more and better climate-change education, resistance can seem sinister. Indeed, in this very interview, the interviewer criticized Ecklund for being too naïve. The real problem with climate-change denial, the interviewer wrote, comes not from distrust or dissent, but from

well-documented lobbying and misinformation campaigns by fossil fuel interests—which target religious conservatives and the politicians who represent them with cultural kowtows…

In other words, it’s easy to see climate-change denialism as nothing but a dangerous mix of the ignorant and the wicked. For the interviewer, Ecklund’s research is suspicious because it goes against something “the general observer” knows full well. The irony is palpable.

People like the interviewer (and me) are just as susceptible to trust issues as are climate-change denialists. We don’t trust oil companies and their lackies, so we assume that climate-change denial must result from self-serving cover-ups. When research like Ecklund’s disrupts what we think we know, we’d prefer to deny it.

It’s easy to do, because most of us don’t generally hang around with people from the other side. Aside from the annual awkward Thanksgiving dinner, that is, most of us don’t interact with people who disagree about climate change or other tough topics. As Ecklund suggests, many climate-change denialists don’t have productive, healthy relationships with mainstream climate-change scientists. And those of us on the other side don’t know any real live denialists.

The result? We don’t trust one another. We don’t trust the other side’s motives. For denialists, accepting human-caused climate change can seem like a sucker move, a capitulation. For the rest of us, denying the well-founded scientific evidence for human-caused climate change seems the same.

Does ignorance matter? Yes. Does religion influence these issues? Sure. But beyond and behind those sorts of things, as Professor Ecklund points out, the real question is TRUST.

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  1. How many denialists do I know? In terms of knowing personally, I can count them on the thumbs of one hand and still have something left over. If I broaden to people that I know online, then I’ve come across quite a few. But most are people that I wouldn’t say that I know. If I limit to people that I would say I know online, then it is just one. And she’s a whack-a-doodle creationist and Trump supporter.

    I’m not a big Ecklund fan, but she is right that it is a trust issue. And the young earth creationists and the intelligent design creationists do not trust science. That, indeed, is the main problem. Yes, oil companies try to spread doubt. But they can only succeed with gullible people who already distrust science.

    • I agree that trust can be an issue, but I would want to separate whether or not I personally trust a person, from intellectual trust and deferring to the experts. For me, whether I find people personally trustworthy or not doesn’t correlate with what they accept as truth. There are some young earth creationists (what I believe) that I do not personally trust, and there are some people who accept evolution as truth that I do personally trust.

      To address your sentence about creationists not trusting science. In mainstream science, truth is discovered, and after that is when people form a consensus. Since consensus isn’t what makes something true and truth comes first, consensus is not always a powerful argument for a creationist since mainstream science was born out of philosophy, and since the method used to discover truth is sometimes contrary to what the Bible says in terms of finding truth. I’d like to ask you a sincere question if you want to answer. Why do you see young earth creationists as gullible, or why would they be more gullible than other people? I’m not saying I’ve never been gullible about anything before, I have. I’ve heard answers to this question, I’m curious as to your answer since you brought it up.

      I don’t see the issue of climate change as necessarily divided by the left or right, or religious versus non religious. I think this issue also extends beyond defining whether one is a denier or an accepter, and looking at it that way causes more harm than good. I think people have legitimate questions and concerns about this issue, and the fact that people are put in a category of accepter or denier will prevent people from asking those questions, or sharing what their concerns are. They will quietly pick the denier category instead.

      I think it is essential to build relationships with people we disagree with, and the fact that rarely happens is harmful to our society.

      • Why do you see young earth creationists as gullible, or why would they be more gullible than other people?

        Simple observation. Their gullibility sticks out like a sore thumb.

        Young Earth Creationism, in its current form, is very new. It dates from around 1961, with the publication of a book by Morris & Whitcomb. They took the idea from a 1923 book by seventh day adventist George McReady Price. Before 1961, most Christians were old earth creationists.

      • …and from our Shameless Plug Division: Fundamentalist U treats in some depth the history of the 1960s (and 1950s) birth of modern YEC at colleges and universities.

  2. I know or have known lots of climate change deniers, creationists of all kinds, holocaust deniers, and people with more and less anti Semitic “one world government” conspiracy theories. I know people with all kinds of far out “end times” beliefs and theories of “male headship” and how children should be raised — ie never allowed off the home premises without a godly adult escort until their marriages are arranged, maybe as late as their 20s or 30s. I know scads if people who believe in literal demons and their ability to spiritually combat them. Many of these people are highly educated, at least on paper. Many are teachers, pastors, missionaries and professors. Is this unusual? Y’all should get out more often. This is not just America, it’s the world.


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