TCD researcher tries to find out why climate denial persists

‘Third of people in US deny man-made climate change’

 No matter how much scientific evidence is provided many people still hold doubts about whether man-made climate change is real. Photograph: John Giles/PA Wire

No matter how much scientific evidence is provided many people still hold doubts about whether man-made climate change is real. Photograph: John Giles/PA Wire

 

A researcher in Dublin used text mining to plough through 250,000 blogosphere texts and 16,000 documents to understand why climate change denial just will not go away.

No matter how much scientific evidence is provided many people still hold doubts about whether man-made climate change is real.

This is particularly true in the US were about a third of people do not accept human-induced climate change is happening, says Constantine Boussalis an assistant professor of political science at Trinity College Dublin.

He was a guest speaker on Thursday at the Institute of International and European Affairs in Dublin and he discussed efforts by him and others to understand the persistence of climate change denial.

Climate science denial is not over. Why is this important? If there is not even an agreement that there is a problem then there can be no convergence between the two sides.”

A number of influential conservative think tanks in the US vigorously promote the denial position on global warming and these in turn are very well funded by conservative groups, foundations, industry and other sources, he says.

“How the science is communicated is a major issue,” he says. Increasingly think tanks such as the Heartland Institute attempt to use their own scientific sources to attack the mainstream view that human activity is driving climate change.

This in turn confuses the public who must then decide what is real and what is not. Confusion over the issues tends to undermine the possibility of informed debate about climate change, he says.

The lack of meaningful debate is particularly missed given the forthcoming US presidential election this November, with a political response on climate needed soon.

He described using text mining and computer analysis to study 16,000 documents – 24 million words – released by 19 conservative think tanks in the US between 2000 and 2013.

The goal was to understand the messages from the documents that were meant to influence public opinion. He collaborated with Travis Coan of the University of Exeter on this project.

The documents were reduced to 47 messages, but the main focus was on just two, the science behind climate change and policy issues related to climate change, he says.

Developing a political consensus is challenging given about a third of the US congress including 38 of 100 senators and 144 of 435 representatives are climate deniers.

Recent figures show that 85 per cent of Democrat voters and 68 per cent of those backing independent candidates accept that human-induced climate change is real. Only 38 per cent of Republican voters accept this, he says.