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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