The Psychological Reason Why Most Climate Change Sceptics Are Right-Wing

Is it not passing strange that, as furious argument continues – despite overwhelming scientific consensus – over whether climate change is real and/or caused by humans, the argument is basically split on traditional political lines? That is, right-wingers tend to deny or minimise the magnitude of climate change, whereas left-wingers tend to side with 97% of the scientific community and treat it as a serious threat.

Why should this be? The divide between right and left is one that was made eons ago, long before climate change was a major concern, and there is nothing in the socio-economic philosophies that define whether one is “right-wing” that necessitates pushing back against scientific findings in general, or of denying the reality of climate change in particular. Of course, left-wing ideology doesn’t necessarily automatically translate to pro-science views, either. Yet here we are: if you deny climate change, you’re almost certainly a rightie.

Well, there may be some explanation of this phenomenon. Researchers from the University of British Columbia set out to unlock the puzzle, and found that whether you’re conservative or progressive affects how you see and process data, in ways that could explain the climate change split.

In a nutshell, they found that pre-existing beliefs influence what a person sees when they look at, for example, a graph of global temperatures: someone already inclined to worry about climate change will focus more on the rising portions of the graph, while the flat parts will draw the focus of one who previously hasn’t been much concerned with it.

Further, political allegiances play their part in what people actually seek out. Conservatives, trusting right-wing politicians’ views, will look for evidence that supports their favoured politicians’ positions. Progressives will do the same – of course, scientific evidence for the progressive position on climate change tends to be easier to find anyway.

So it seems like it’ll take more than just presenting the evidence to break down the wall between left and right on this issue. It’ll take something that convinces people to stop looking just for what they want to see. And that’s a tough job, because right wing or left, as a rule we don’t even know we’re doing it.