Climate Etc.

Cool dudes

by Judith Curry

So, who are the “cool dudes”?   Well, if you are reading this post, odds are that you are a “cool dude”.

Cool dudes:  the denial of climate change among conservative white males in the United States

Aaron McCright and  Riley Dunlap

article in press, Global Environmental Change.

The article is unavailable online, but I received a copy of the article and the press release via email.  From the press release:

Research Highlights


We examine whether conservative white males are more likely than are other adults in the U.S. general public to endorse climate change denial.  We draw theoretical and analytical guidance from the identity-protective cognition thesis explaining the white male effect and from recent political psychology scholarship documenting the heightened system-justification tendencies of political conservatives.  We utilize public opinion data from ten Gallup surveys from 2001 to 2010, focusing specifically on five indicators of climate change denial.  We find that conservative white males are significantly more likely than are other Americans to endorse denialist views on all five items, and that these differences are even greater for those conservative white males who self-report understanding global warming very well.  Furthermore, the results of our multivariate logistic regression models reveal that the conservative white male effect remains significant when controlling for the direct effects of political ideology, race, and gender as well as the effects of nine control variables.  We thus conclude that the unique views of conservative white males contribute significantly to the high level of climate change denial in the United States.

Selected Findings

Our results indicate that:

These differences are statistically significant, and they hold up in multivariate analyses when controlling for the separate, direct effects of political ideology, race, and gender and for the direct effects of nine other relevant variables.  Further, the differences are even greater when comparing the denialist views of those CWMs who report understanding global warming “very well” (confident conservative white males) with those of all other adults.  For example:

In conclusion, we find that CWMs are significantly more likely than are other Americans to espouse denialist views about climate change.

Some excerpts from the article:

High consequence risks such as human-induced climate change are central to the current age of advanced modernity. Because of the mounting political and economic stakes of dealing with climate change, this global environmental problem has become extremely controversial in the US, and American efforts to deal with it have provoked a significant degree of denial—both of the reality of climate change and of its status as a problem deserving amelioration. 

JC comment.  The above is the first para in the paper.  It is the only place where they come close to defining climate change denial.    Do you know anyone that denies the reality of climate change?  I sure don’t.   Many people on their “denier” list probably also agree that the problem deserves some attention.  It seems that “denier” really means people that don’t support emissions targets.  This whole group of sociologists working in this area seems not to have given much thought to what actually characterizes “deniers.”

Even casual observers of denialist activities likely notice an obvious pattern; with rare exceptions (e.g., Sallie Baliunas), the most prominent denialists are conservative white males.1 This is true for contrarian scientists (e.g., Patrick Michaels and Fred Singer), media pundits (e.g., Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck), think tank representatives (e.g., Joseph Bast and William O’Keefe), and politicians (e.g., Senator James Inhofe and Representative Joe Barton). Within the ranks of elites, climate change denialists are overwhelmingly conservative white males. Does a similar pattern exist in the American public?

JC comment:  I guess the authors have never heard of Joanne Nova and Donna Laframboise, Ann Coulter, not to mention Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann.  Others?  Perhaps Joanne and Donna cannot be categorized as “elites.”  But the fact that they are  not says something also.

A burgeoning body of literature on the social bases of climate change concern in the American public has emerged in recent years. Such studies have analyzed the direct effects of political ideology, race, and gender, typically finding that self-identified liberals, non-whites  and females  are more likely to express concern about global warming than are their conservative, white, and male counterparts, respectively. The analysis presented below is the first to (a) consider the intersection of political ideology, race, and gender and (b) explicitly examine climate change denial.

From the section on “Theoretical rationale”

Specifically, our research question is this: Within the U.S. general public, are conservative white males more likely than other adults to espouse climate change denial? In answering this question, we engage two bodies of scholarship. We draw upon a recent theoretical argument in the risk perception literature— the identity-protective cognition thesis (Kahan et al., 2007)— that explains the ‘‘white male’’ effect, or the atypically high levels of technological and environmental risk acceptance among white males. We also draw upon recent work in political psychology on the system-justification tendencies of political conservatives, which lead them to defend the status quo and resist attempts to change it. We believe the integration of these two arguments—the latter about conserva- tives and the former about white males—provide theoretical justification for what we call the ‘‘conservative white male’’ effect.

We propose that variance in risk perceptions—across persons generally, and across race and gender in particular—reflects a form of motivated cognition through which people seek to deflect threats to identities they hold, and roles they occupy, by virtue of contested cultural norms. This proposition derives from the convergence of two sets of theories, one relating to the impact of culture on risk perception and the other on the influence of group membership on cognition.

Integrating the insights from identity-protective cognition and system-justification tendencies, we offer two complementary reasons for expecting conservative white males to be more likely than other adults to endorse climate change denial. On a specific level, conservative white male elites in the conservative movement and the fossil fuels industry have sent a consistent message—via conservative talk radio, television news, newspapers, and web- sites—to the American public for approximately twenty years: climate change is not real and thus does not warrant ameliorative action (e.g., Lahsen, 2008; McCright and Dunlap, 2000, 2003, 2010; Oreskes and Conway, 2010). This message, which is unmistakably associated with conservative political and media elites (Wolcott, 2007) and fossil fuels industry officials (Gelbspan, 1997), is remarkable for its constancy over the years and its sharp divergence from the claims emanating from the scientific community. To the extent that conservative white males in the general public view their brethren within the elite sectors as an in- group, then we expect that the former also will tend to reject the global warming claims of the scientific community, the environ- mental movement, and environmental policy-makers. In short, they will espouse climate change denial to defend the information disseminated within their in-group and to protect their cultural identity as conservative white males.

More generally, conservative white males are likely to favor protection of the current industrial capitalist order which has historically served them well. Fiscally conservative white males have disproportionately occupied positions of power within our economic system, controlling stocks and flows of various forms of capital and benefiting from ample amounts of prestige, status, and esteem (e.g., Massey, 2007). Given the expansive challenge that climate change poses to the industrial capitalist economic system, it makes sense that conservative white males’ strong system- justifying attitudes—triggered by the anti-climate science claims of the conservative movement (McCright and Dunlap, 2010)—may drive them toward climate change denial.

The parallel dynamics of identity-protective cognition and system-justifying attitudes also suggest that heightened emotional and psychic investment in defending in-group claims may translate into misperceived understanding about problems like climate change that threaten the continued order of the system. In the context of this study, we thus expect a positive association between conservative white males’ self-reported understanding of global warming and their climate change denial. Further, we expect that the subgroup of conservative white males who self-report understanding global warming very well (which we will term ‘‘confident’’ conservative white males) will be even more likely than other conservative white males who self-report understanding global warming less than very well to espouse climate change denial.

From the results analysis section:

To explore our assertion of an association between confidence and denial, we extended the analyses reported in the top part of Table 2. Our confident conservative white male dummy variable identifies those conservative white males who self-report under- standing global warming very well. The baseline group for this variable includes not only all adults who are not conservative white males but also the conservative white males who self-report understanding global warming less than very well. We replicated our comparisons with this new dummy variable, and the results are reported in the bottom part of Table 2. Compared to their respective counterparts in the top part of Table 2, each of the Gamma values in the bottom part of the table are stronger. In other words, the relationship between conservative white male status and climate change denial is stronger among those who are most confident in their understanding of global warming.

The results of the likelihood ratio tests (1 df, x2 distribution) in Table 6 indicate that the confident conservative white male dummy variable improves model fit more than does the conservative white male dummy variable. Further, for each denial indicator, the odds ratio for the confident conservative white male dummy variable is greater than the one for the conservative white male dummy variable. For example, while conservative white males are 1.43 times more likely than other adults to believe the effects of global warming will never happen, confident conserva- tive white males are 3.39 times more likely than other adults to do so. Thus, confident conservative white males are much more likely than are other adults to report climate change denial. Building  upon the results presented in Table 3, the patterns revealed in Table 6 further suggest that climate change denial is a form of identity-protective cognition, reflecting a system-justifying ten- dency.

JC comment:  you think that this relationship would give them a clue about what “denial” is actually about.

It is also important to note the effects of the other social, demographic, political, and temporal variables we employed as controls in our models. Age generally has no effect on climate change denial, but older adults are more likely than are younger adults to believe there is no scientific consensus. Lesser educated adults are more likely than are their more highly educated counterparts to believe human activities are not the primary cause of recent warming and that there is no scientific consensus. Adults with higher socioeconomic status (both educational attainment and annual income) are more likely than are their lower SES counterparts to believe the media exaggerates the seriousness of global warming. Employment status and parental status have no direct effect on climate change denial. For each of the five denial items, more religious individuals, people unsympathetic to the environmental movement, and self-identified Republicans are more likely to express climate change denial than are their respective counterparts. Finally, climate change denial has increased over the time period between 2001 and 2010.

From the conclusions:

The positive correlation between self- reported understanding of global warming and climate change denial among conservative white males is compelling evidence that climate change denial is a form of identity-protective cognition, reflecting a system-justifying tendency.

Our results relate back to earlier work on the political mobilization of conservative elites and organizations in the US to challenge climate science and policy . Conservative think tanks, conservative media, corporations, and industry associations (especially for the fossil fuels industry)—domains dominated by conservative white males—have spearheaded the attacks on climate science and policy from the late 1980s to the present. The results presented here show that conservative white males in the general public have become a very receptive audience for these efforts. When mobilized, these conservative white males may constitute a key vector of climate change denial in their own right via their online and offline social networks and through participation in various protest and campaigning events.

Since the mid-1990s, organized climate change denial has diffused from the US to other Anglo nations with established conservative think tanks that promote free-market conservatism and front groups promoting industry interests, most notably Great Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand . This spread of climate change denial has been driven to a significant degree by key actors—and their resources, strategies, and tactics—in the U.S. climate change denial machine. Throughout these Anglo countries organized denial seems to be dominated by politically conservative white males, and this suggests that a similar conservative white male effect might be emerging in the general publics of these nations with regard to climate change denial. Clearly the extent to which the conservative white male effect on climate change denial exists outside the US is a topic deserving investigation.

JC conclusion:  This article is notable primarily for coining the term “cool dudes” in the context of climate change “denial.”    My main reaction to this is to question how social scientists, who actually study this, can be so clueless about the whole thing.  Perhaps someone needs to develop a demographic and behavioral theory about social scientists who write about climate change “deniers.”    I look forward to the reactions of the “cool dudes” to these ideas.