For years, I have been having this battle with my father. He simply refuses to believe in climate change. I have shown him articles, documents, statements, studies, testimonies, and anything that I could think of to convince him of its existence.
After one particularly heated argument in October of 2019, I decided to research why he will not budge. Turns out there are three major reasons why people refuse to believe in climate change.
What is climate change?
According to National Geographic, “climate change is a long-term shift in global or regional climate patterns. Often climate change refers specifically to the rise in global temperatures from the mid 20th century to present” (National Geographic Society, 2019). By burning fossil fuels, we are releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. These gases trap heat from the sun and warm our planet. This heat is negatively disrupting our ecosystems. If our planet’s temperature continues to rise, we will continue to see catastrophic results.
The burning of fossil fuels is not the only cause of climate change. Plastic pollution, deforestation, and animal agriculture are also to blame.
“8 million metric tons of plastic end up in our oceans. It’s equivalent to five grocery bags filled with plastic for every foot of coastline in the world.PlasticPollution.org
“The world lost more than one football pitch of forest every second.”The Guardian
“Animal agriculture is responsible for 13–18% of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions globally. Fossil fuel combustion for energy and transportation is responsible for approximately 64% of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions globally.”SkepticScience.org
I conducted primary and secondary research to determine the major reasons why someone would refuse to believe in climate change. According to a Yale Climate Change Communication survey, about 31% of people do not believe in climate change. After sorting through various online articles and scientific studies, the most significant reasons that I found for climate change skepticism are lack of education, political bias, and being naive to media influence.
When looking at secondary research, there are a lot of misinformation regarding climate change. In fact, “Americans on average estimate that only 54% of other Americans think global warming is happening, when in fact, 69% of Americans do” (Ballew, 2019). This shows that other people are assuming what others are thinking, without researching it themselves. “Those who think climate change is a hoax often point out the lack of evidence and proof that it even exists” (Writers, 2019). With a simple Google search, they can find hundreds are scientific articles proving that humans are the cause of climate change.
When global warming became a hot topic in Washington, it instantly became a battle between party lines. Democrats typically supported legislation that would help climate change efforts, while most Republicans were skeptical. Soon, the rumor developed that climate change is a scheme by the Democrats to boost their chances of getting into office (Kadlec, 2011). This background information serves as root to the political divide that climate change serves in our democracy today. “Of Democrats with high levels of science knowledge, just about nine out of 10 people trust environmental scientists. Of Republicans with high levels of science knowledge? Less than half” (Rogers, 2019). If there was no political bias of climate change, then the numbers would be similar to that of the general population.
When watching any reputable news program, the reporters should deliver a story in an unbiased format. “The problem is that society gets climate information from the media, not from scientists. And the media, in an effort to seem unbiased, often line up one climate scientist against one denier to debate their point. But that doesn’t mean that the scientific community is split 50/50 on climate change. Actually, it’s more like 97/3” (Why people still believe). This type of reporting creates confusion and misinformation.
The benefit of the doubt
There have been some studies that tarnished the credibility of reputable and accurate scientific projects. There have also been some reports pointing out that the way a researcher phrases a question will dictate a particular answer. Overall, the few faulty studies shouldn’t serve as proof that all climate change science is wrong.
Who is to blame for the confusion?
According to the Carbon Majors Database 2017 report, “25 corporate and state producing entities account for 51% of global industrial GHG emissions. All 100 producers account for 71% of global industrial GHG emissions” (Griffin, 2017, page 8). The 25 corporate and state producing entities (China and Saudia Arabia) are oil companies. They are the majority of producers of fossil fuels in the world.
This means that the top 25 oil companies are responsible for 51% of global industrial carbon emissions (GHG). The industrial part of that statistic is referring to other industrial companies and not the general public. Some of the highest emitting companies include: ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, Chevron, Peabody, Total, and BHP Billiton (Griffin, 2017, page 8).
These top companies are emitting trillions of tons of fossil fuels into our atmosphere. They know they are responsible, and they have known it for years. They do not care. This Guardian article, Revealed: the 20 firms behind a third of all carbon emissions, investigates how big oil companies are polluting our world, getting away with it, and are causing public confusion to delay their prosecution. “The research aims to hold to account those companies most responsible for carbon emissions, and shift public and political debate away from a focus just on individual responsibility” (Taylor & Watts, 2019).
Can you relate?
My father is under the assumption that climate change is a natural cycle of the earth and that the democrats are over-exaggerating its impeeding importance.
He also never went to college and hasn’t taken a science class is almost 40 years, so he does not understand how to recognize reputable science experiments and articles. When we are arguing, and I start to use too many scientific words in an argument, he shuts down and continues to repeats the same statement over and over again, “it’s a natural cycle, it’s a natural cycle.”
One of the most admirable traits of my father is his undying loyalty to his family and country, but it is also his downfall. His blind political loyalty sides him with skeptical republicans. If he came to the conclusion on his own, then I wouldn’t be mad, but he is skeptic because other conservatives are skeptic. It is frustrating to argue with someone that is blindly believing in the absence of an issue that will affect many generations to come.
My father also only follows two conservative media sources that he uses to back up his arguments. He listens to a conservative radio station and FOX news every day. He also doesn’t know how to separate fact from opinion. So when the news anchor gives his or her opinion, he takes that information as fact. When he starts to use these points in his argument, I begin to shake my head in defeat.
Climate Change. It is a phrase that should send shivers down everyone’s spines, but it doesn’t. The main reasons why it doesn’t affect people is because they are uneducated about science, they are politically biased, and they are mistakenly lead by the media.
My father is an ex-marine, swings far right, and watches and listens to only two news programs. That combination of sources has to lead him to have an unshakable opinion that will never sway.
My father and I do not let our opinions come between us. There have been times of yelling and heated debating, but we respect what the other person has to say.
When arguing with family, friends, or strangers, I urge you to be respectful of their opinion and try to see from the opposite perspective. Hopefully, this article can provide you with a new way of thinking.
If you want to remain updated on the charges brought against big oil companies, check out Inside Climate News.
If you want to learn more about what to do to make a positive impact on our environment, check out Gerta Thumberg’s new book No One is too Small to Make A Difference.
If you want to debunk any myths surrounding climate change, check out Skeptical Science.
Aaron M. McCright & Riley E. Dunlap (2011) The Politicization of Climate Change and Polarization in the American Public’s Views of Global Warming, 2001–2010, The Sociological Quarterly, 52:2, 155-194, DOI: 10.1111/j.1533-8525.2011.01198.x
A generation gap, when it comes to climate change? (2019, March 19). Retrieved from https://thebulletin.org/2019/03/a-generation-gap-when-it-comes-to-climate-change/.
Ballew, M., Gustafson, A., Bergquist, P., Goldberg, M., Rosenthal, S., Kotcher, J., … Leiserowitz, A. (2019, June). Americans Underestimate How Many Others in the U.S. Think Global Warming is Happening. Retrieved from https://climatecommunication.yale.edu/publications/americans-underestimate-how-many-others-in-the-u-s-think-global-warming-is-happening/.
Carrington, D., Gutiérrez, P., Kommenda, N., & Levett, C. (2018, June). One football pitch of forest lost every second in 2017, data reveals. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/environment/ng-interactive/2018/jun/27/one-football-pitch-of-forest-lost-every-second-in-2017-data-reveals.
Climate Feedback. (2019, October 29). Telegraph article on climate change mixes accurate and unsupported, inaccurate claims, misleads with false balance. Retrieved from https://climatefeedback.org/evaluation/telegraph-article-misleads-with-false-balance-mixing-in-unsupported-and-inaccurate-claims-sarah-knapton/.
Climate Science Glossary. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://skepticalscience.com/animal-agriculture-meat-global-warming.htm.
Griffin, P. (2017, July). The Carbon Majors Database. Retrieved from https://b8f65cb373b1b7b15feb-c70d8ead6ced550b4d987d7c03fcdd1d.ssl.cf3.rackcdn.com/cms/reports/documents/000/002/327/original/Carbon-Majors-Report-2017.pdf?1499691240.
Kadlec, C. (2012, August 9). The Goal Is Power: The Global Warming Conspiracy. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/charleskadlec/2011/07/25/the-goal-is-power-the-global-warming-conspiracy/#742718e07c08.
Le Guern, C. (2019, November). When The Mermaids Cry: The Great Plastic Tide. Retrieved from http://plastic-pollution.org/.
National Geographic Society. (2019, March 27). Climate Change. Retrieved from https://www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/climate-change/.
Rogers, A. (2019, August 3). Climate change is the one area of science Republicans tend to doubt. Retrieved from https://grist.org/article/climate-change-is-the-one-area-of-science-republicans-tend-to-doubt/.
Taylor, M., & Watts, J. (2019, October 9). Revealed: the 20 firms behind a third of all carbon emissions. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/oct/09/revealed-20-firms-third-carbon-emissions.
Writers, S. (2019, July 1). Why Do Some People Think Climate Change is a Hoax? – Best Value Schools. Retrieved from https://www.bestvalueschools.com/faq/why-do-some-people-think-climate-change-is-a-hoax/.
Why people still believe climate change is fake… and why we know they’re wrong. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.hull.ac.uk/special/blog/why-people-still-believe-climate-change-is-fake-and-why-we-know-theyre-wrong.aspx.