As Goldy mentioned in yesterday's morning news, a study largely funded by the coal billionaire and climate-change skeptic Charles Koch—and led by physicist and climate-change skeptic Richard Muller—has found that climate change is real and "humans are almost entirely the cause."
So we can finally stop dithering about whether the human species is drastically changing the climate, right? We're all on board—right?
Sadly, the answer might be no. Why? Because lots of people aren't rational. (Paleoclimatologist Michael Mann wryly damned Muller's study with faint praise, saying it "demonstrated once again what scientists have known with some degree of certainty for nearly two decades.")
The whole climate-change debate has kicked off a corollary line of study—the cultural reasons for irrational climate-change denial. It's never really been about the science, researchers like Irina Feygina at NYU have found. It's been about mass psychology. (Others, like Dr. Luis Villarreal, think irrational group thinking, especially in terms of group identity, has biological-evolutionary roots.) Here's the abstract for Feygina's 2009 article titled "System Justification, the Denial of Global Warming, and the Possibility of 'System-Sanctioned Change.'"
Despite extensive evidence of climate change and environmental destruction, polls continue to reveal widespread denial and resistance to helping the environment. It is posited here that these responses are linked to the motivational tendency to defend and justify the societal status quo in the face of the threat posed by environmental problems. The present research finds that system justification tendencies are associated with greater denial of environmental realities and less commitment to pro-environmental action. Moreover, the effects of political conservatism, national identification, and gender on denial of environmental problems are explained by variability in system justification tendencies. However, this research finds that it is possible to eliminate the negative effect of system justification on environmentalism by encouraging people to regard pro-environmental change as patriotic and consistent with protecting the status quo (i.e., as a case of “system-sanctioned change”). Theoretical and practical implications of these findings are discussed.
In other words, the deniers won't believe the rational science. To get them on board, we'll have to appeal to their emotions: their patriotic pride and their fear of change.