Organized Climate Change Denial “Played a Crucial Role in Blocking Domestic Legislation,” Top Scholars Conclude

The Denier Industrial Complex (Click to Enlarge)

Two leading scholars have written an excellent analysis of what I’ve been calling the Denier Industrial Complex.

Riley E. Dunlap, a sociology professor at Oklahoma State, and Aaron M. McCright of Michigan State call it the “climate change denial machine” in their book chapter, “Organized Climate Change Denial,” for the new Oxford Handbook of Climate Change and Society.

In a note, the authors explain:

The actions of those who consistently seek to deny the seriousness of climate change make the terms “denial” and “denier” more accurate than “skepticism” and “skeptic,” particularly since all scientists tend to be skeptics.

Some try to downplay the central role of the denial machine in U.S. politics, but the fact is that what the deniers have accomplished in this country is unique in the world, going far beyond the spread of disinformation.  They have allowed fossil fuel interests to “capture” almost an entire political party — at least these in national office (see National Journal:  “The GOP is stampeding toward an absolutist rejection of climate science that appears unmatched among major political parties around the globe, even conservative ones”).

In this country, the power of the Denier Industrial Complex is magnified by the absurd extra-constitutional, super majority “requirement” for 60 votes in the Senate.  As long as the machine operates and Republicans in office lack the guts to challenge it, the chances of serious climate action remain severely limited.

Here is the conclusion of this important article:

Many factors influence both national and international policy-making on environmental (and other) issues (Dryzek et al. 2002).  We are definitely not suggesting that organized climate change denial has been the sole factor in undermining efforts to develop domestic climate policies in nations such as the U.S., Australia and Canada where it has been particularly prominent, nor at the international level where diverging national interests are obviously a major obstacle (Parks and Roberts 2010).  Nonetheless, it is reasonable to conclude that climate change denial campaigns in the U.S. have played a crucial role in blocking domestic legislation and contributing to the U.S. becoming an impediment to international policy-making (McCright and Dunlap 2003; Pooley 2010).  The financial and organizational resources and political and public relations expertise available to and embodied in the major components of this machine, and the various actors’ ability to coordinate efforts and reinforce one another’s impacts, have certainly had a profound effect on the way in which climate change is perceived, discussed and increasingly debated—particularly within the U.S.

We have argued that because of the perceived threat posed by climate change to their interests, actors in the denial machine have strived to undermine scientific evidence documenting its reality and seriousness.  Over the past two decades they have engaged in an escalating assault on climate science and scientists, and in recent years on core scientific practices, institutions and knowledge.  Their success in these efforts not only threatens our capacity to understand and monitor human-induced ecological disruptions from the local to global levels (Hanson 2010), but it also weakens an essential component of societal reflexivity when the need for the latter is greater than ever.


The only thing more undeniable than the “crucial role” of the climate change denial machine is the warming of the climate system itself.

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27 Responses to Organized Climate Change Denial “Played a Crucial Role in Blocking Domestic Legislation,” Top Scholars Conclude

  1. Mike Roddy says:

    Agreed. They are evil, and have purchased immunity from the courts, the Congress, and the mainstream public dialogue.

    That leaves straightforward scientists like Romm and Hansen to fight them, along with a few volunteers like McKibben and Krugman.

    All we really have left is the ability to humiliate people like Koch, Limbaugh, and Tillerson, and show our countrymen the kind of people who have seized control of our country- and not just the gas pumps. We are not big underdogs here, either. The truth has a funny way of coming out, and our opponents broadcast their diarrhea auras on television.

    That’s why the GOP is getting desperate to find a denier presidential candidate, and have been reduced to hillbillies, religious nuts, and power mad phonies. Even Obama may be able to handle them.

    My preferred method is humor and dismissal, since the deniers have no right whatsoever to be taken seriously. I wish more people who are funnier than I could join me here- Colbert and Sinclair are doing well, but we need more, and a lot more outlets, too.

    As for the sociologists- yeah, but you don’t speak in the people’s vernacular. As Truman said, Trust The People. They will get it, given honest and gripping communication.

  2. Doug Bostrom says:

    “Supermajority” is a euphemism for minority rule.

  3. Ernest says:

    Nice diagram. Clarity is good. Transparency is good. Ever since the “Citizens United” case, I’ve felt the deck so heavily stacked against the citizenry in favor of moneyed interests. It’s good to name names, shed the light behind these influences. I hope the “Occupy Wall Street” crowd can bring even more attention to these entities.

  4. Clear lines of vile action. Thanks for spelling that out. We should not forget the stockholders of these carbon companies – they are not innocent.

    It was simple – much like tobacco – companies should have halted advertising, encouraged people to find alternatives.

    Now we face the long predicted challenge that will be far more difficult than it needed to be.

    Keep pointing them out Joe, thanks for all you do. Also within the legal filing of Kivalina v. Exxon – there is an explanation of media complicity.

  5. Pythagoras says:

    I just completed a brief read through of the chapter. The chapter does a fair job of identifying the significant players behind the denial machine to global warming. It is insufficient though in two regards.

    First, it fails to identify the motivation behind the participants and why they are so adamant in the denial of global warming. In my view, one needs to consider that the participants–in particular the conservative philanthropists–are adherents to the economic theory/philosophy expounded upon by Frederick Hayek and Ludwig von Mises. Both of these economists drew analogies between the mixed market economies of the post-World War II Europe and the pre-War fascist states of Germany and Italy. Hayek preached on the slippery slope to socialism that occurs when governments choose to enter the private marketplace with the goal of furthering societal goals. In turn, von Mises was concerned about the power that governments have to print money in order to appease powerful constituents. Those who adhere to these philosophies fear that action on global warming provides the excuse for government intervention in the market, which in turn will lead to loss of individual freedom and government usurping individual wealth.

    Second, it fails to link how global warming is perceived in the context of other environmental issues which were brought to the forefront in the 1960s and 1970s. The deniers reject the analysis behind The Club of Rome’s “Limits to Growth” and Paul Ehrlich’s “Population Bomb” in the same vitriolic manner as they do anthropogenic global warming. They correctly perceive that should society accept any of the three that it would be a fundamental threat to the American capitalist economic system.

    Both of the reasons listed above explain why facts seem to be inconsequential to the deniers. And this is because to acknowledge the legitimacy of the facts would mean that one would need to reject–at least in part–the philosophical worldview that is at the core of these individuals being.

  6. I think that there is also another source of opposition to government regulation, which would translate into opposition to any kind of acceptance of global warming. It has to do with conservative religious beliefs and how they can lead to opposition to regulation by the government. It was the subject of this ( poll reported in the Christian Science Monitor. People believing in conservative religions tend to also believe that the free market is an example of God’s plan for the world playing out; therefore any attempt to regulate the market amounts to opposition to the will of God and is therefore a type of evil to be opposed. Also, a riskier world promotes faith in God whereas government programs reduce risk and tend to separate people from God, at least in this view. Of course, this is not to deny the type of economic interests that we usually identify with the denial industry and which Dunlap and McCright discuss. But the religious beliefs are very deep-seated in many people, and they probably are providing the denial industry with many willing foot soldiers. These beliefs might also bolster the ideological element in the think tanks that Dunlap and McCright mention. This is probably something to be aware of when trying to persuade people to accept regulation of carbon and other environmental threats.

  7. Some European says:

    I’m glad you used the phrase ‘organized climate change denial’. This has to become a household term ASAP.

  8. Lionel A says:

    Looks like an very interesting book, shame about the price tag which suggests that it is aimed at academics rather than the general populace.

    Given the fact that public libraries are being closed over here in the UK at an increasing rate, as are independent book shops, along with my recent experiences where borrowers are discouraged from requesting many specialist books such as this on the grounds of cost then I probably won’t be reading this book real soon now (apologies to Jerry Pournelle).

    My view is that those in charge have recognised the dangers of having a well informed proletariat are are doing their utmost to dismantle, or dumb down, those institutions which enable such.

    I despair when I see the type of pulp reading material that is pumped out to keep the populace entertained with tittle-tattle and cheap thrills. Such is an example of the anaesthetic used to inhibit any sense of the magnitude of the moral injustices which are being perpetrated on these same victims, also on millions of others around the world only more so.

    Having had that little moan this is an excellent article with a clear diagram that should be easily understood by those who need waking up.

    Could the publisher’s not quickly follow up with a cheaper paperback version. I don’t do Kindle etc. – books, if produced sensibly, are far more environmentally friendly, once produced they can be read by many without further use of power.

  9. Lionel A says:

    I do hope that these persons get a mention therein somewhere: List of scientists opposing the mainstream scientific assessment of global warming, was there no room for a box for them in that diagram? Maybe there are web diagrams similar to those that can be constructed at the Exxon Secrets site but with the additional ability to include such as the Kochs.

  10. BBHY says:

    “In this country, the power of the Denier Industrial Complex is magnified by the absurd extra-constitutional, super majority “requirement” for 60 votes in the Senate. ”

    When the T-Party takes control of the Senate the 60 vote rule will be gone forever. I was hoping the Democrats would realize that and be the first to get rid of it, but they don’t have the courage.

  11. Mike Roddy says:

    The worst part about religious beliefs is the notion that followers will go to heaven. This means that their future is assured, and their children will be joining them up there with the harps. Ecological Armageddon just gets them there that much faster. Without these fantasies, some of them might be looking at reality.

  12. Mike#22 says:

    David Robert’s Epistemic Closure in a well drawn diagram.

    I think the motivation behind the whole machine is quite clear: asset preservation. Today, all those fossil carbon assets are at all time highs in value. In a low carbon economy, their assets become obsolete. They lose. I suggest buying them out as the quickest way to get past this crisis.

  13. Berbalang says:

    Not just asset preservation, but asset acquisition. They want the right to drill and mine wherever they want and the easiest way to get that right is to let Global Warming destroy most life on the planet making it unsuitable for anything other than drilling and mining. In other words, Global Warming is a means to an end.

  14. dick smith says:

    Brilliant phrasing. I’ll be borrowing that one.

  15. Nescio says:

    Great article. Love the picture, I am borrowing for my blog ( here: )

    Hope you don’t mind. If so please let me know and I will remove it.

    Cheers, Nescio.

  16. dick smith says:

    I agree with one small quibble. The threat that these extremists perceive is not to the ACTUAL American capitalist system (which has always had some degree of gov’t reg/market intervention). The perceived threat is to an IDEALIZED American free market system (i.e., a completely “unregulated” market that they believe is the best cure for every problem) that has never really existed in the pure form they imagine. Their “faith” in the markets is quasi-religious in at least 2 ways; (1) it can’t be disproven by evidence; (2) it’s basis is grounded in the imagination–analogous to the imaginary friend with superpowers in religion.

  17. Chris Winter says:

    Berbalang wrote: “Not just asset preservation, but asset acquisition. They want the right to drill and mine wherever they want and the easiest way to get that right is to let Global Warming destroy most life on the planet making it unsuitable for anything other than drilling and mining. In other words, Global Warming is a means to an end.”

    Indeed, we might say it’s a means to The End — of civilization, at least.

    But I don’t believe they’re thinking that far ahead. If they were, they would realize the difficulty, whatever their wealth, of lasting through the long turmoil that climate change is likely to bring.

  18. Solar Jim says:

    RE: “Those who adhere to these philosophies fear that action on global warming provides the excuse for government intervention in the market, . . ”

    I see foolish statements such as this by Pythagoras from an opposing viewpoint. Just what is one to make of hundreds of billions of historic and ongoing federal fiscal and tax subsidies for atomic fission and far, far more for fossil fuels “in the market”?

    Are you trying to be intellectual or an intellectual with your head up your rear end?

  19. Berbalang says:

    Chris, the echo chamber doesn’t think that far ahead, but then they are not being paid to do so. The professional deniers know that the science is good and that Global Warming is going to hit the poor the hardest. But it is the poor who don’t have the money to afford their products, so they are regarded as expendable. Global Warming will either drive them from their lands or kill them. Either way it frees up the land for drilling and mining.
    We look at Global Warming in terms of survivability, but they look at it in terms of maximizing profit. Survivability is not a consideration.

  20. Michael Tucker says:

    The Denier Industrial Complex machine has been extraordinarily successful and they don’t need to change anything to continue with their success. If it was not for the super majority requirement the Senate might have allowed debate and a vote on the House climate bill. We might have a cap’n trade law in place Now if it were not for the Senate rules…do you really think Republicans, conservatives or death-tea party types want to change that? Really? And, when Republicans want to rewrite environmental law or eliminate funding for EPA, don’t you think Democrats might want to end that nonsense by using the blue screen of legislative death? I’m pretty sure some will want to keep that “extra-constitutional regulation” in place.

  21. Pythagoras says:

    I refuse to enter a dialogue with someone as rude as you, Solar Jim. Didn’t your mother teach you manners?

  22. Martin Palmer says:

    It’s good that the conservative “charitable” foundations are getting some press for their funding practices.

    We should realize, though, that the conservative foundations have a history. The Scaife foundations, for example, and Richard Mellon Scaife himself, had a big role in funding the propaganda campaign culminating in the Clinton impeachment effort.

    The stock that capitalizes the conservative foundations seems to have a lot of impact on their funding. The Scaife foundations are capitalized partially by a big block of Chevron/Texaco stock. The Bradley foundation is capitalized by Rockwell International stock, the weapons manufacturer. The Olin foundation is connected to Olin, the aluminum manufacturer, I think. The Claude R. Lambe foundation is funded by the Kochs.

    The conservative foundations also contributed the money that supports the think tanks that led us into our invasion of the Middle East.

    So, these conservative foundations are very powerful, and are abusing their tax free status, I think. Such foundations are supposed to be non-political, I think- a rule that is blatantly violated by these foundations.

    Anyway, it’s good that they are finally getting some press.

    A good place to research conservative foundation funding is Media Matters Conservative Transparency. Those that use this site should realize, though, that the money tracked by this site represents a minority of the operating budgets of the think tanks, with the remainder presumably provided by wealthy private donors and in-house fundraising activities.

  23. Lionel A says:

    Greg Palast points to how the next president has been chosen by the usual suspects, it is a name that has featured here recently:

    Über-Vultures: The Billionaires Who Would Pick Our President

  24. NEMBailey says:

    Lionel A, may I suggest you go to your nearest library (while it still is open) and request the book through interlibrary loan? For a small sum — under a pound, I think — you can get a book from any library in the UK delivered to your own local library. It’s a wonderful, although under-used, service. Get it while you can.

  25. Kevin says:

    EEI is listed as part of the fossil fuel industry that opposed legislation — in fact it was one of the few industries that came around to support passage of a climate bill beginning around 2007.