Picking up from our first post where we outlined the five segments of climate change skepticism, we begin taking a deeper dive into each of the segments to understand their defining characteristics and motivations. Our first segment of individuals are what I call Skeptics of Occurrence. This segment is made up of individuals that don’t believe climate change is occurring at all. Given that there is so much information that supports the occurrence of climate change, one wonders how these individuals could possibly believe that climate change is not occurring. I believe there are a couple of different motivations fueling their disbelief. 

First, some of these individuals suffer from what I call chronic antagonism. Their disbelief doesn’t come from a position of objective disagreement with the claims being made by climate scientists. Rather, there is an aversion to the out comes of climate change policy (e.g. higher taxes to fund climate change programs, decreased autonomy of their local communities, expansion of central powers etc.) or there is an aversion to the people or institutions that tend to be advocates of climate change policy (e.g. federal or international governments, academic institutions, etc.). These aversions alone are the basis for their skepticism. In other words, there are no facts that would sway their position because it isn’t knowledge, but rather self-interest and personal aversions that fuel their disbelief. Ultimately, these individuals will only begin to believe when the impacts of climate change become real enough to them that they clearly see how it may threaten their self-interest.

The other individuals in this segment are driven less by emotion, but rather, are independent thinkers that have latched on to one or more aspects of the climate change argument that they disagree with. These individuals argue against a particular climate change claim and gather counter evidence to back their position. For example, some of these skeptics will focus on the unreliability of climate models, specifically noting that the inputs of these models use assumptions based on today’s climate and that there is no reason to believe these models are reliable enough to make the forecasts scientists generally use to demonstrate rising temperatures. Another example, some of these skeptics argue that the temperature measurements are unreliable, pointing to weather stations located near artificial heating sources, resulting in hotter measurements. While you may not agree with their points, I think it is important to acknowledge that these skeptics are drawing conclusions from their own reasoning.

Full disclosure, I have read arguments from both sides of the aisle and personally believe climate change is occurring. That’s not to say that there aren’t valid criticisms of the methods of forecasting and the underlying data. But in the aggregate I think that there is enough evidence that supports the reasonable conclusion that the earth’s temperature is rising. I would urge skeptics that exercise chronic antagonism to change their position. Denying climate change because it may require personal sacrifice or simply as a means to spite the people/institutions you distrust is non-productive and divisive. I also encourage the second group of skeptics, the independent thinkers, to continue to objectively evaluate the arguments being presented. An important part of the scientific process is challenging assertions, and I feel there is always value in having individuals that are willing to challenge the consensus. This is especially true in a world where it is becoming increasingly common to blindly accept the consensus of experts, pushing us deeper into an environment of information authoritarianism. That being said, I would also urge these independent thinkers to keep an open mind to climate change evidence. While it is not perfect, I believe it is strong.

In my next post in this series, we’ll review the next group of skeptics, skeptics of cause, and evaluate their point-of-view.