Why climate skepticism is not skepticism

Sourcing Skepticism … what factors drive questioning of Global Warming?

Copied wth permission of the author, Adam Siegel, from http://getenergysmartnow.com/2007/09/13/sourcing-skepticism-what-factors-drive-questioning-of-global-warming/

The original was posted on September 13th, 2007 and attracted 23 Comments

Now it seems more relevant than ever, with such “skepticism” the posture of governments from Australia to Washington while the Arctic ice melts and methane begins to rise from the tundra.

Skepticism … the ability to question unquestioned beliefs and stated certainties is a powerful intellectual tool.

Sadly, “skepticism” is receiving a bad name through association with those ready, willing, able, and enthusiastic about denying the reality before their (and our) own eyes about the global changes in climate patterns and humanity’s role in driving these changes.

Questioner … Skeptic … Denier …

Clearly, not every question, not every challenge to data, not every voicing of concern is the same.  Nor is every motivation the same.  This is not simply about “fossil-fuel-funding” — although it can be at times. This is not simply about seeking Rapture and the end of times — even though it can be.  This is not simply about political beliefs creating thought structures for dealing with science — but it can be.

To often, it seems, skeptics/deniers are simply stated as derived from X motivation, Y reasoning when, in reality, the situation is more complex.  While it quite possibly exists, I have yet to see a treatise examining and deconstructing different types and motivations for deniers and skeptics when it comes to Global Warming.

Join me, after the fold, for a first shot at Typing Skeptics: Providing a Window on the Varying Motivations for Global Warming Skeptics …

First off, let me warn, this will be a link free discussion … this is a DRAFT, an initial thought with ideas and concepts … looking for feedback, interaction, thoughts … and, well, if you wish sources … and, especially, that link to the person who has done an already amazing job developing such a typology …

Questioner … Skeptic … Denier …

Clearly, not every question, not every challenge to data, not every voicing of concern is the same.  Nor is every motivation the same.  This is not simply about “fossil-fuel-funding” — although it can be at times. This is not simply about seeking Rapture and the end of times — even though it can be.  This is not simply about political beliefs creating thought structures for dealing with science — but it can be.

So, what are some of the motivating factors for skepticism/denial?

Funded  … Money Talks

As often said, it is hard to reject your next paycheck.  There are two basic arenas here:

Paid Skeptics: Like those paid to advocate that smoking was not related to cancer, there are scientists/pseudo-scientists/lobbyists/etc who are funded by (for example) fossil-fuel industries to sow doubt about Global Warming, to help fend off any serious efforts to reduce fossil fuel use.

Salaried/Working in the Field / Life’s Blood: While there are employees of fossil fuel companies/etc who battle for sensible Climate Crisis policies and believe in Global Warming, if your paycheck relies on selling more coal, it can be hard to acknowledge that that coal might be causing a real problem. This is different than the “paid skeptic”, in that the weltauunschaung is formed by the salaried position rather than a check simply buying a viewpoint.  This is, more likely, to have real belief and real emotion driving the skepticism.  To accept Global Warming, in this realm, would be to acknowledge that one’s life/one’s life’s work has been contributing to incredible destruction to the ecosphere and humanity’s future prospects.


Again, several elements:

Philosophy re Governance: Government is BAD To accept Global Warming as a serious issue, meriting serious attention, almost axiomatically means agreeing that (at a minimum) there is a governmental role (including international cooperation and potentially international mandates) to take action to fight it. For those who philosophically reject government, who believe government to be the root of all evil, to accept Global Warming as a reality would mean to accept a serious role for government across wide ranges of human interactions, society.  Reject government as potentially good and that likely drives one to rejecting evidence of global warming and of its seriousness.

Political Philsophy/Knee-Jerk Reaction  Global Warming is discussed by environmentalists and by Al Gore translating it into being a “left-wing” agenda item to be rejected by ‘conservatives’. Focus is on messenger rather than reality/validity/importance of message.

Political Power/Funding:  Well, related back to the money, fossil-fuel industries and others fearing pain if serious measures were put in place re Global Warming have lots (LOTS) of resources (e.g., money).  Want to satisfy (attract) donors, then perhaps you become a R-EXXON like Senator Inhofe.

Skepticism as fun and/or way of life

There are people that, simply, like swimming upstream. And, there are ‘professional iconoclasts’, prepared to challenge any and all ideas.  Re Global Warming, there are scientists who appear as “skeptics” because of how they pursue their questioning of details even as they, when confronted, accept core reality of Global Warming.

Related in this is that there are, clearly, people who relish gaining attention — scientists articulately taking a skeptic/denier position are more likely to have visibility and attention than the (vast) majority who are supporting core conclusions about Global Warming and humanity’s contributions to that warming.


There are a multitude of ways that religion can influence views re Global Warming. Note, there are many religious belief can drive a serious concern about the environment and therefore action to work re Global Warming. The below is not representative of “religious beliefs and Global Warming” but a sketch of skepticism and religion.

The arrogance of man to believe that we can have an impact on God’s creation.


Rapture is coming … Global Warming is, obviously, a good thing because it is one of the signs of the End of Times. Accelerating Global Warming would help bring Rapture closer to our time and thus should be welcomed.

Life is Good

For some, life is good. To accept Global Warming as reality means accepting that some elements of “life is good” should change — whether that is the huge outdoor barbecue or jet setting around the world.  For some, life is too good to accept that Global Warming is a reality and a real threat.


For some, to acknowledge Global Warming is to acknowledge risk and to acknowledge risk for one’s children.  Far better to ignore/reject Global Warming than to face this fear, to face these risks.

Related, somewhat, is the potential that people fear rejecting their life’s legacy.  If one has been ‘living a normal American life’ for decades, to acknowledge the realities of Global Warming is to acknowledge that your own behavior has contributed to the problem. Recognizing/acknowledging this seems to be beyond some people.


Global Warming is a complicated subject and there are people (such as motivated by factors above) and institutions that seek to foster confusion.  Among a population dedicated to watching junk TV, reading little, and overburdened with trying to live their lives, the complication combines with confusion to foster ignorance.


No, this is not another motivating factor but to question ‘so what’. Why should we/anyone care that there are different motivating factors?

As a trainee/presenter from The Climate Project, I seek to communicate with people about Global Warming and to seek personal change (political, energy usage, otherwise) to help move us/US toward a path to confront/surmount the Climate Crisis.  Each of these motivators and reasons for skepticism creates a need for a different communication/understanding path.  Some of these people need to be marginalized. Some need to be spoken to in their language. Some will agree on (some) remedies even while doubting Global Warming. And, some need education.  Understanding these motivations and reasons helps open the path for more successful communication.

But …

But …

Is this an accurate breakdown?

What is missing?

Where can this be strenthened?

Who else has tackled this challenge?

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About Paul Braterman

Science writer, former chemistry professor; committee member British Centre for Science Education; board member and science adviser Scottish Secular Society; former member editorial board, Origins of Life, and associate, NASA Astrobiology Insitute; first popsci book, From Stars to Stalagmites 2012

Posted on August 31, 2018, in Climate, Global warming, Politics, Religion, Science, Society. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. You perhaps covered these two categories in parallel holes, but it seems to me these deserve standalone emphasis: they are potent adversaries.

    I) ideological: admitting to anthropocentric global warming would be the thin edge of the wedge sliding the west to the acceptance of “social engineering” — since that is required as part of the fix — very very bad notion to a collection of free enterprisers, libertarians. This is a more widespread source of Denier strength than you might think.

    2) economic philosophical — ie the legions of neoliberal apologists and Big Business hired guns: It interferes with making money on the managed-free-market ( all the parts of that free market finding, extracting, processing, and selling oil/coal products).

    3)”The ”religious”: the right wing (or conservative) wing of US Christianity— that sector preaching, selling, exploiting the “Prosperity Christianity” theology, or anti theology, depending on the viewpoint. They take in a lot of money and assume it is a God’s wish, and do not take kindly to any suggestion that they are wrong.


  2. An interesting article. It would be interesting, too, to see a numerical breakdown of deniers into the above groups. Ideally (but highly optimistically) weighted by their influence!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Should the Funded section not include a contemplation of the effect of the risk to the career prospects of wage-slave scientists who might otherwise express a non-Establishment view?

    By the same token, with regard to the Religious section, how many atheists exhibit an unquestioning faith in scientists? (I mean faith in men in white coats, and dubious websites like ScienceAlert, not the scientific method itself… that’s another matter.) Given that more than half of us are now reputed to be atheist, of whom few are actual scientists, the consensus skewing due to atheistic faith in scientists might well be worse than that due to religious faith in ‘god’. Religionists are accustomed to making excuses for their god, but their only scapegoat is Satan. We atheists are free to pick our scapegoats at will. Like lynching Wakefield and excusing his eleven co-authors (whom we trusted to protect us from the likes of Wakefield).


  4. Among the “iconoclasts” today there seems to be a sub-category of folks who are deeply suspicious of all things scientific. They don’t necessarily fit neatly into any of the other categories although they sometimes do.


    • Suspicious of all things scientific? It seems to me that the most sceptical of us trust science to the point of reverence. But now and again something rattles our cage, doesn’t quite add up, and we demand more than anonymous, unsubstantiated, indeed fabricated, ‘consensus’.

      Notwithstanding the quotes around ‘iconoclast’, the use of the word does suggest that science has become an icon. With that, I concur.

      Heard something interesting on the radio this week, that the consequences of nuclear war are so unfathomable that no-one bothers making a survival plan. Might that be why our focus is deflected towards global warming? To keep us from worrying about what is more likely to kill us? To keep us spending and deter us from formulating a plan to eliminate those who might press The Button?


  5. I suppose your experiences of people have been more narrow than mine, Donald. I’ve known both people with a reverence for the sciences and people without any reverence, but rather a deep suspicion. You seem to have only known people with a reverence.

    Not sure you’re making any sense about a conspiracy to distract us from thermonuclear war via global warming. Could you elaborate on why you find such a conspiracy plausible?


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