The Psychology of Global Warming Denial

People don't feel a sense of urgency, says report.

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Maybe what Jim Inhofe needs is a good therapist.

Inhofe, R-OK, is notoriously the Senate’s global warming denier-in-chief. But why? Maybe because he gets big campaign contributions from oil companies. Or maybe he has deep-seated control issues, and the prospect of global warming makes him feel helpless.

That’s one explanation suggested in a new report by the American Psychological Association (which of course doesn’t specifically discuss Inhofe) on why, in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence, many Americans are skeptical or deny the existence of global warming.

Reuters reports:

Despite warnings from scientists that humans need to make changes now if they want to avoid the worst effects of climate change, "people don’t feel a sense of urgency," the association said in a statement.

Numerous psychological barriers are to blame, the task force found, including: uncertainty over climate change, mistrust of the messages about risk from scientists or government officials, denial that climate change is occurring or that it is related to human activity.

Other factors include undervaluing the risk… Some people believe anything they do would make little difference and they therefore choose to do nothing.

“At the deepest level," the APA’s report says, "debate about the consequences of climate change gives rise to profound questions about the longterm sustainability of human life and the Earth’s environment. These questions may, in turn, promote a sense of hope or despair for future generations and impact a sense of individual and collective meaning and purpose for individuals in the present day."

Psychologists can help in the fight against global warming, the APA says, by helping policy-makers understand that any legislative or technological "fixes" cannnot succeed without an understanding of how people will react to them. For example, research shows that people are more likely to use energy-efficient appliances if they are provided with immediate energy-use feedback, rather than in an electric bill that comes a month later.

There’s lots more fascinating discussion of why humans think and behave as they do about global warming in the APA’s full report. But I’m sorry, our time is up now.