Left, Right and Climate Change

In the wake of the singularly unproductive COP15 Climate Change conference in Copenhagen, I have been reflecting on the polarisation of views on climate change along political lines. Whether or not human activity is leading to climate change is a question of scientific fact: it is either happening or it is not. So knowing someone’s politics should not help to predict their attitudes towards climate change, and yet it does.

It is not conclusive of course. Most people do believe that climate change is occurring and this includes people of a full range of political views. But, climate change skeptics seem to sit overwhelmingly on the right side of the political spectrum, while those most concerned about the effects of climate change are largely left of centre. Why is this?

Some would offer conspiracy theories to explain the dichotomy. The Australian Liberal senator Nick Minchin is an outspoken critic of climate change and in November last year he claimed that the left has been intentionally stirring up fears about global warming. While his comments elicited a storm of angry responses, including from his then party leader, Malcolm Turnbull, these views are widely held among skeptics. Indeed the controversy about climate change within the Liberal Party and its coalition partner the National Party was an important contributing factor to the downfall of Turnbull from his leadership position a few weeks later. For another conspiratorial slant, Ian Plimer regularly argues that academics are pushing the idea of climate change simply to help boost their research grant money.

At the same time, many on the left of politics are convinced that climate change skeptics are all stooges of “Big Oil” and closely monitor the flow of money from oil companies to individuals and organisations associated with climate change skepticism. Ironically, conspiracy theories tend to generate new conspiracy theories and some skeptics are now arguing that Big Oil is behind moves around the world to introduce emissions trading schemes.

Whether or not any of these theories are plausible, they are ultimately inadequate to explain the degree of left/right polarisation in the climate change debate. Most of the people I know who are concerned about climate change are not academics and are sufficiently hard-headed to be unlikely to have simply succumbed to scare-mongering. Equally, none of the people I know personally who are skeptical about climate change have ever received a single dollar from an oil company. So there is something left to explain.

I came across one promising line of thought while reading Risk by Dan Gardner, which was kindly lent to me by fellow blogger Neerav Bhatt. The book, subtitled “why we fear the things we shouldn’t – and put ourselves in greater danger”, examines the way that many of the techniques humans have evolved to make rapid decisions can lead to biases. These techniques are subconscious rules-of-thumb which psychologists refer to as “heuristics”, the study of which was pioneered by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky*, among others. Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink also explores the same ground, albeit in somewhat less academic terms.

Psychologists have identified many heuristics, such as the “availability heuristic”, which Gardner calls the “example rule”. People use this heuristic to determine how common something is based on how easy it is to recall examples of that thing. The easier it is to recall, the more common it must be and vice versa. This is an extremely reasonable rule of thumb to have hard-wired into the brain and no doubt useful out on the savanna, but it can trip us up.

Kahneman and Tversky illustrated this in many studies, including one** in which students were asked to think about words used in novels. They were told that four pages of a typical novel would contain about 2,000 words. They were then asked to estimate on average how many words in those four pages would have the form _ _ _ _ ing. The average estimate was 13.4 words. Another group was asked the same question, but for words of the form _ _ _ _ _ n _. This time the average estimate was only 4.7 words. This result is illogical because words of the form  _ _ _ _ing comprise a subset of those of the form _ _ _ _ _ n _ and so should be less common not more so. The explanation lies in the fact that people find it far easier to recall words of the form _ _ _ _ing than words of the form _ _ _ _ _ n _. You can easily test this yourself by asking someone to think of as many _ _ _ _ _ n _ words as they can in 30 seconds and then do the same for _ _ _ _ing words. Odds are they will come up with far more the second time around.

So, this is a simple example of the availability heuristic leading us astray. Admittedly, it is an artificial example, tailor-made for the psychology laboratory. But there are many more practical examples of how the availability heuristic can lead to incorrect decisions. One example Gardner gives is the apparent paradox that in earthquake-prone regions many more people buy earthquake insurance when the odds of a quake are lowest (immediately after a quake when it is fresh in their memory) than when the odds are highest (when there has not been a quake to relieve the pressure for a long time).

The heuristic that may provide some insight into the polarisation of views on climate change is the “affect heuristic”. With this rule of thumb, we tend to associate good things with good things and bad things with bad things. Gardner calls the affect heuristic the “good-bad rule”. An example of the “bad” is the strong influence that the negative association many people have with nuclear weapons (particularly those who lived through the “mad” mutually assured destruction years of the cold war) has on the unpopularity of nuclear power. On the “good” side, people tend to associate sun-bathing with holidays, beaches and sun. This explains why it has proved so hard to get many people to have an aversion to tanning that in any way approaches the one that they have for nuclear power, despite the fact that far more people die from skin cancer than from nuclear accidents. The point here is not to argue in favour of nuclear power or to chastise those who like a little time in the sun. Rather, the affect heuristic explains how positive or negative associations can skew the assessment of risk.

So how can the affect heuristic help to explain attitudes to climate change? I would argue that a lot hinges on prior attitudes to a major source of carbon emissions: large-scale industry.

Even before the issue of climate change arose, many on the left, particularly those associated with the environmental movement, held a fairly dim view of big business, especially resources and power companies. If you were already suspicious of industrialisation, the first time you heard about climate change the affect heuristic would lead you to find it very likely that big business was messing up the world for everyone. On the other hand, people on the right of politics tend to hold the view that business is what has made human society as successful as it is today. All of the technology and other innovations that have delivered us our way of life have been stimulated by economic activity and, of course, much of that has been driven by large-scale industries. Needless to say, some personal enrichment whether through direct employment or investment in shares would also help to nurture a sanguine view of big business. Even without money channelled from Big Oil, the affect heuristic would tend to make such people far less receptive to the idea that the activity of industry could be harmful on a global scale.

People have many reasons for believing things, so this is unlikely to be the whole story. No doubt there are people on both sides of the debate whose motives and actions are not always pure. Nevertheless, for me the affect heuristic does provide a useful way of viewing the political polarisation of attitudes towards climate change.

* Kahneman and Tversky are best known for essentially inventing the fascinating field of behavioural economics, which I touched on in one of my earliest blog posts, “Why I Always Buy the Same Sandwich”.

** This study is described in Chapter 3 of Heuristics and Biases.

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23 thoughts on “Left, Right and Climate Change

  1. Paul Heath

    That is a very plausible explanation for the interesting alignment of views on climate change with political views.

    It is interesting to then consider that explanation in the context of the saying “If you are not socialist when you are 20 you have no heart but if you are still socialist when you are 40 you have no brain”.

    Although strictly speaking that saying may be limited to the concept of wealth redistribution it seems likely to have some application to broader attitudes towards industrialisation, market economics and large corporations. That is young hippies grow into economic conservatives, corporate yuppies etc.

    Thus a person’s attitudes to the issue of climate change may ‘evolve’ as they age over time to match changes in their attitudes to economics and the distribution of wealth.

    Considering the recent coverage given to rumours concerning the death of the loch ness monster – I suspect that the issue of climate change will prove to be quite resist to scientific explanations and remain fertile ground for behavioural explanations of the views held by many.


  2. dan

    Hey Sean, Happy New Year. Gotta love that Plimer-Monbiot debate. I gotta say that while I’m no true believer or super skeptic, and I KNOW the ETS must be garbage because the only people I can see who are keen for it used to be packaging up subprime mortgages, I thought that Plimer might be worth listening to (You know the whole, “the Romans grew grapes in the shadow of Hadrian’s Wall, there was a Club Med in Greenland” thing) UNTIL I saw that Lateline debate. The guy was comprehensively creamed – and must now be regarded as a complete charlatan.

  3. Marco

    Hey Stubborn (happy New Year)

    This post came in quite timely for some reflections of my own, about methodological individualism, rationality and bounded rationality (which is one of the subjects of your post), Friedman’s and Samuelson’s views on economics and such.

    But before going into that, let me describe briefly where I stand on this specific topic of climate change: I am no specialist in atmospheric sciences, so personally I am not qualified to asses that threat.

    The fact that most specialists seem to agree that climate change is due to human intervention, although certainly influences me, is greatly moderated by my distrust on modelling in general: I am a firm believer in GIGO (garbage in, garbage out).

    In the end, I tend to side with the idea that climate change is induced by human action (mainly because of the physical evidence and by what one observes living in Sydney); but I am not sure about the prognosis, as it’s based on simulations.

    On the other hand, the fact that free marketeers and righties are largely on the sceptic side has a great influence on me. But possibly the opposite of what they expect: the more forcefully they argue, the more I distrust them.

    Besides, I believe what is at stake is so important that it seems better to err by being too cautious, than to risk a catastrophe.

    Having said that (and I don’t intend to persuade anyone!), you mentioned the “affect heuristic” as a possible explanation of the polarization of attitudes.

    This seems to partly explain my own attitude (like I said above, I distrust free marketeers as a matter of principle), but even in my own case, the explanation is only partial (i.e. I use other heuristics). This also fits with what you affirm (that other heuristics may also explain this phenomenon).

    If this is true in my case, it seems reasonable to expect it would be true in general: that is, a whole host of heuristics could be at play here. Consider now other research issue: why did criminality fall in the 90s in the US? And the answer would be the same: because of a combination of heuristics.

    So, my question is: if it explains everything, is this really an explanation? More generally, however interesting behavioural economics finds might be, do they actually explain anything?

    Note that behavioural economics intends to supply an alternative model of human behaviour. The model of human behaviour it purports to replace is that of rational action theory. In rational action theory there is a specific explanation for those questions: criminality fell because the cost of criminal acts rose (due to zero tolerance, increased policing, mandatory sentencing, etc).

    The problem with rational action theory, though, is that it is a false explanation: people just don’t behave that way because of rational decisions. This has been shown beyond reasonable doubt by behavioural economics.

    Friedman, in his influential “The Methodology of Positive Economics” 1953 essay argued this does not matter: people behave the way they do and this behaviour is “as if” they followed rational action theory postulates.

    This idea, as can be seen in recent debates, leads to many contradictions (I suggest the article “A Pragmatic Reading of Friedman’s Methodological Essay and What It Tells Us for the Discussion of ABMs” by Deichsel and Pyka, at JASSS).

    And, in practice, Friedman legitimized the following: micro economists seem to have started with a conclusion and have been creative enough to rationalize every conceivable behaviour in terms of rational action theory. Say, is there unemployment? Well, this must be a rational decision by those unemployed. So let’s design a utility maximization problem where this can be deduced from rational action theory.

    So, the two main models of human behaviour available, in my opinion, seem to fail to explain human behaviour. Although I am not much knowledgeable, I think similar things could be said about Juergen Habermas’ communicative action theory (which is another alternative proposed).

    If we don’t have adequate models of human behaviour, I believe, we just cannot base economics on methodological individualism.

    Methodological individualism is one of Weber’s original legacies and its main justification was that many sociological and economic theories then (like Marx’s) supposed purpose when no purposeful agent existed (say, the capitalist class exists as a set of individuals, but they not always act co-ordinately to achieve a single purpose).

    Later, methodological individualism was taken up and further elaborated by Popper, Hayek, and, more recently, Samuelson and Friedman.

    Samuelson’s main contribution was a vision of economics following thermodynamics as a model. And Friedman’s was his “positive” economics.

    In another occasion I’ll try to go a bit further in my reflections (and to provide some references, too!). This is getting too long and I gotta go to work!

  4. stubbornmule Post author

    Paul: I suspect there is something in your point about changes of attitudes with age, for not only is there a left/right polarization of views on climate change, there is also an aged-based polarization. The vast majority of skeptics, Plimer included, could hardly be described as young.

    Dan: I haven’t read Plimer’s book, but as you say his performance up against Monbiot would not really inspire anyone to pursue his ideas further.

    Marco: there are some interesting reflections there. One of the things that I like about behavioural economics is that it is rooted in experiment and most of the ideas that have emerged from experiments have been confirmed in repeated experiments, the hallmark of a traditional Popperian science.

    The problem behavioural economics has is effectively the opposite to that of traditional “rational” economics. As you point out economist such as Friedman have traditionally waved their hands and said that behaviour at the individual level doesn’t matter and that rational behaviour emerges at the group level (I’ll resist calling it the “macro” level). So traditional economics works at the group level without being able to convincing work backwards to the individual level. On the other hand, all the results of behavioural economics that I am aware of work at the individual level and the challenge is to work up to the group level. The only real argument that I can think of to do this is that if the behaviour of every individual is consistent (along the lines of Ariely’s “Predictably Irrational”), then there may be some hope of saying things at the group level. However, that is not likely to be the case very often. In my example of the affect heuristic and climate change views, even though the same heuristic may be at work in everyone (along with others), it’s based on different pre-dispositions, in this example left and right-wing attitudes. So, how do you predict anything at the group level? Tricky!

  5. Marco

    Thanks for your comments, Stubborn. Much appreciated.

    Don’t think I dismiss behavioural economics out of hand. It already achieved something of the greatest importance: it shows that current microeconomic models are hopeless. And this extends to all neo-classical macro models (including the so-called neo-Keynesians and Analytical Marxist), as they use these micro models as a foundation.

    In other words: these micro models neither explain individual human behaviour (as Weber demanded), nor they predict it (as Friedman demanded, after subverting Weber’s conditions).

    But what behavioural economics is currently giving us is just a seemingly ever increasing collection of heuristics, without any theory of how they form, and evolve over time. We just can’t say why one heuristic dominates in one situation, while it may not in another.

    And I feel (and this is a personal intuition, I want to make this clear) what we WANT is something like a general rule, of which ALL these heuristics are special cases.

    Imagine we wrote a letter to Santa Claus (I’m still stuck in the silly season, it seems!) asking for a device such that we enter the characteristics of the decision-maker, the characteristics of the decision problem, and -voila- the general algorithm for this precise decision problem pops up from the slot. Then we aggregate these individual solutions, copy and paste the result over whatever the current macroeconomic construct is (say, market aggregate demand for labour).

    Now, we face the proverbial two-news situation: The bad news is that this “device” may not be possible at all. And if it is, it may take time to develop.

    The good news, I also suspect, is that, in order to have a working economics now, we might not NEED such a “device”.

    To put it in other terms: the Methodenstreit, in my opinion, was settled too early, and economics may have taken the wrong direction. Economics (and the social sciences, if fact) took Weber’s/Menger’s direction. This was the origin of the obsession with methodological individualism and (through Samuelson) with microfoundations as the main theoretical validity criterion for all macroeconomic theories.

    Note that Samuelson’s conception of how economics should work parallels how thermodynamics is taught today: one has the Newtonian model of how individual molecules (conceived as inelastic balls) behave individually and how they interact; add a pinch of statistics, stir on low heat for half an hour, and we have the kinetic theory of gases. This is one I prepared earlier.

    If you remember my description of the “device” we requested to Santa, you will notice that what we seem to want from behavioural economics is a new set of “more realistic micro assumptions”, to replace the old ones.

    But this is not how Keynes and Marx, to cite two leading examples, developed their theories. Neither concerned themselves too much with microfoundations. Granted, some theoretical mistakes might have been made (in my previous post I mentioned one of Marx’s).

    But, I suppose, it’s largely uncontroversial that at least Keynes seems to have been empirically successful, WITHOUT microfoundations. In fact, it was the addition of microfoundations that led to that monstrously deformed spawn: neo-classicism.

    Further, and this is particularly ironic, this is not how thermodynamics itself was developed!

    The initial advances in thermodynamics were achieved by empirical observation and by experimentation, at a time when the notion of atoms was not universally accepted and the existence of molecules was unsuspected. These empirical advances, nevertheless, were used to build the steam engines that helped start the Industrial Revolution.

    It was only after Newtonian mechanics became available that the first attempts were made to explain gases’ macro behaviour in terms of its constituent particles’ micro behaviour.

    But let’s leave this aside for now and let’s examine the inadequacy of rational action theory from the point of view of logic, which I consider at least as fundamental as what we have already discussed.

    It’s well known that from false premises and by means of correct deduction, any result (either false or true) can be achieved.

    Consider these two simple variations on the classic syllogism:

    Premise 1: All women are mortal.<— true
    Premise 2: Socrates is a woman. <—- false
    Conclusion: Socrates is mortal. <—- true

    Premise 1: All women have wings.<— false
    Premise 2: Socrates is a woman. <—- false
    Conclusion: Socrates has wings. <—- false

    Both are logically VALID, but UNSOUND arguments, and yet, one conclusion is semantically true. In the example given, it is obvious which one. In more complex situations we are not guaranteed to know this.

    Now, were we to accept Friedman's point of view (that the adequacy of the assumptions does not matter, as long as the deduction accurately predicted reality), we would be accepting a necessarily unsound argument, of whose ultimate semantic truth one would be uncertain on theoretical grounds.

    But even if the semantic truth of one such conclusion was verified empirically, one could not infer from this that its premises are true.

    To see this, allow me an example: let's assume the first syllogism above. And let's imagine we shoot Socrates in the head. As he drops dead to the ground, we verify that the conclusion is true (i.e. Socrates is mortal, indeed). But we also know that all women are mortal (a premise that is self evidently true), so we exclaim triumphantly: "He was actually a woman!" That is, we "infer" the veracity of the false premise on the basis of the conclusion! And we merrily move along, never sparing a thought again to our assumption that Socrates was a woman.

    However ludicrous this example might be, it illustrates the risks of choosing a wrong model of individual human behaviour. For this is what neo-classical economists do all the time. Just remember my unemployment example in my previous post.

    As we don't have a "general theory of heuristics", I think it reasonable to assume that behavioural economics is also vulnerable to this kind of fallacy.

    In truth, thermodynamics also uses idealized models of reality. Physicists know that there is no such a thing as an "ideal gas".

    As Deichsel & Pyka successfully argue, the use of unrealistic models is inevitable when abstraction is used in the analysis of social phenomena (note that this in principle would also apply to any models eventually obtained from behavioural economics!).

    But there is a great difference between the way physicists and economists handle their respective idealizations. Physicists are not only aware of them, they have actually empirically assessed the physical conditions under which the "ideal gas" assumption resembles reality. For instance, how much can pressure and temperature vary, until the predictions of the kinetic theory of gases start to err for more than a given percentage.

    This has never been done in economics, and I am unsure whether it can actually be achieved, due to the limitations social sciences have when it comes to setting experiments.

    Note that, due to their little concern for microfoundations, both Marx and Keynes avoid this kind of fallacies.

    To sum things up: the kinetic theory of gases may be an attractive paradigm, but I'm afraid it may not be the way to go. And, as I said, it may not be necessary either.

    PS: Sorry again for a long post

  6. JamesGlover

    I am not sure the Affect Heuristic always works the way you imply. For example: a social worker will probably be more in favour of policies to increase government spending on public health than an investment banker. The Affect Heuristic would explain this in an obvious way. Perhaps though it’s is due to one sort of person who care about others who are unknown to them and therefore end up in careers in social work and approve of govt. spending on healthcare versus another sort who don’t care about other people and end up in investment banking and don’t believe in govt. healthcare.

    In terms of the climate debate; left wing = “care about total environment + all people” versus right wing = “care about own environment and only circle of family&friends”. The difference could be genetic, developmental or a combination, and apparent before they take up their respective careers. There is some evidence from twin studies to suggest this has a genetic component. An interesting question, admittedly unrelated to your blogpost is how come the left/right split is so close to 50:50?

  7. Terry Plunkett

    Happy New Year SM! Surprised your father in law and mates haven’t got you singing soprano for inserting misleading picture in your jan 7 piece of four hyperbolic cooling towers spewing out large clouds of pure water vapour (yes, it’s good pure stuff), with a couple of wee chimneys in the background doing bugger all. Keep up the good work, but keep it real, mate!

  8. Stubborn Mule

    Terry I’m surprised I got away with the cooling tower photo as long as I did. I knew I was sailing close to the wind there, but at least I made the effort to pick cooling towers from a coal-burning power plant not a nuclear one. Nevertheless, I am duly chastised.

  9. Stubborn Mule

    Marco: you make an interesting point about differing attitudes to models exhibited by physicists and economists. It does appear that (at least some) economists have reacted to challenges to the notion of rational agents by becoming defensively entrenched rather than trying to learn from the insights and develop their subject further. Mind you, that sort of reaction is not unknown in the history of physics.

    You also note that thermodynamics was developed before the micro level was well understood. The fact that macro systems tend to exhibit emergent phenomena that are difficult if not impossible to explain in micro terms, this shouldn’t really be a surprise and vindicates a study of macroeconomics that does not rely too directly on micro models. Much as I am fascinated by behavioural economics I don’t expect it to shed much light on macroeconomics anytime soon. As for a “general theory of heuristics”, at the moment the research is only just coming to grips with observations like different modes of thinking appear to take place in different parts of the brain. If a general understanding is indeed possible, and I suspect it is not, it’s still far from our grasp.

    James perhaps the affect heuristic is operating on level earlier: pushing people with a certain disposition towards being right-leaning and skeptical or left-leaning and a believer in climate change. Although there must be other factors at work too. As you note, left/right falls around 50/50 but the proportion of climate skeptics us well below 50%.

  10. Bruce

    The Left like ‘big’ scarey issues because they can use them to scare the electorate into larger more interventionist Big Brother govt. I mean like, what’s a Left wing ideologue polie going to do if the free markets are jugging along nicely thankyou very much, efficiently matching supply to demand, and generating enough wealth to pass around and keep all out of the poor house?

    Thank the Lord Penny and Peter guarantee to save us from skin cancer.

    Which is another thing. Why do journos not insist on leftist govts elaborating the probability of successfully combating global warming.

    And how come no one talks about the most effective means to reduce global warming…….reduce the human population. Why is Australia being encouraged by Rudd to increase our popn by 1.5-2% pa…the highest rate in the developed world?

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  12. Ramanan

    Hey Sean,

    Lord Monckton is travellling Australia. You must be hearing about him a lot. He has interesting stuff to say about Left-Right.

  13. Marco

    Ah! I see, big scary issues, like Australia being about to default its debt…

    Or that we are about to go into inflation hyperdrive.

    Or that the climate change thing is all a communist conspiracy to create a world government…


  14. Bruce

    nah….no one thinks Plimer has any credibility……including his dog.

    Marco, nah big scarey issues like

    – how much money Labor burnt on peddling ETS, and quickly forgot about it after Copenhagen. If we’re all in such peril of drowning, why has Rudd stopped pushing that barrel, and moved onto Medi-wtf…..obviously it was all a tad sensationalized…..don’t you think?

    – the Minister for Bilbies refusing to let SE Qld build a new dam, even though Captain Bligh wanted it because current reserves got down to 15% a few years back, and Captain Rudd wants at least another 15% people in SEQ by 2014. wtf?

    – Labor being so perplexed about population growth, we need a new minister for it. …. pfffttt…..what a crock….

  15. Marco


    You’ve managed to prove that Labor sucks! That’s great and I couldn’t agree more.

    How does this prove climate change is not happening, though, wasn’t clear. Would you mind explaining?

    Or how is the Coalition any better?

  16. Bruce


    Prove climate change is a bad thing in its net effect on the planet and humans. Bjorn Lomborg has spelt out the benefits of a warmer planet.

    Prove whatever ETS action is taken now to turn the tide will reverse or slow whatever lies ahead.

    Prove ETS will stop emerging nations from knocking out rainforests.

    Prove that any seconding of ETS taxes by sticky fingered govts will make a measurable difference to whatever ETS supporters want to spend the money on….let alone lead to quicker better discoveries of cleaner energy sources.

    IMHO, the most sure fire way to lower human impact on the planet is to reduce the human population…..and what is any Australian politician doing to achieve that?

    As for the Coalition, they are as uninspired as ever. So what’s the common denominator with Labor? an uninformed apathetic electorate.

    As usual in history, not until our lifestyles are eroded dramatically, will we get sensible govt on any issue.

  17. Stubborn Mule Post author

    Based on a linguistic analysis, Bruce, I would guess you are an adherent of the Austrian School. The phrase “sticky fingered govts” gives it away.

  18. Bruce

    SM, probably got it off Ron Paul…..though the Austrian view and Mises’, has some indisputable logic. It just takes decades to come to fruition I think. They understand credit very well, and how it imposes the obligation it be used productively, enough to preserve the principal and create the interest…. This is ignoring inflation of course…..Unfortunately, most don’t use credit productively, truly productively.

    And imho, those who understand credit well, understand inflation and economic cycles well.

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  20. T DeVille

    This has been an interesting discussion (I stumbled across it searching Google for something unrelated but got drawn in), but you guys are missing the elephant in the room here. And it’s a big one.

    I am almost reluctant to mention this because I find this discussion really interesting in its own right. But if you want to understand the left/right split on global warming, you have to factor in the influence of right wing media.

    By some counts, there are as many as 1000 right wing talk radio stations broadcasting nonsense about climate change every day. There is no equivalent on the left. Not even close. By one listing, the count of “progressive” talk stations is around 40.

    Nor is there a balance in more mainstream media such as television news.

    The impact of this cannot be overstated. Wall Street (banks, big oil, coal and nat. gas), which benefit from the status quo on the continued consumption of fossil fuels own almost all of the broadcast media. I assure you, this is not a conspiracy theory.

    What is the impact of such a lopsided distribution of ideas? So complete is the blanket of right wing propaganda across the US, one could find more intrigue in why more people don’t believe climate change is real.

    This is not to take away from your interesting observations and analysis. But one cannot ignore the effect of the media and expect to obtain a complete picture.

  21. Stubborn Mule Post author

    T: I’m sure there’s something in what you say. Here in Australia, right wing talk radio is not quite as dominant as it sounds to be in the US. There are certainly quite a few ridiculous talk show hosts who are all climate change deniers, but we also have plenty of more balanced media too (and even a few more towards the left…I’m thinking of the likes of Phillip Adams, although I don’t think they have quite the same audience reach). Also, I don’t think that industry is solidly lined up agains action on climate change. While there are certainly some, particularly in the resources sector, who oppose action, there are plenty of senior industry figures and indeed banks calling for a price on carbon.

    Pointing to right wing talk show hosts does raise another interesting question though. Given that this particular slice of the right wing seems to have drifted well away from the traditional right and is almost as hostile to big industry and finance “elites” as the left has been, why is that that these shock jocks do not believe in climate change? Presumably it has something to do with seeing scientists as leftists “elites”.

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