Why do so Many People seek to Deny Climate Change Science- Because to accept it will challenge their entire world View- Naomi Klein

Naomi Klein -interviewed/Democracy Now


Naomi Klein speaks in an interview about her book "The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism" on Democracy Now on why climate change is seen as such a threat. She says really wrestling with the implications of climate change is actually really threatening to many things- free trade, inequality, regulation of corporations, a strong United Nations. Denying it is easier than having your whole world view fall apart, she argues.

NAOMI kLEIN NAOMI KLEIN: We’ve just ended the hottest decade on record. There’s overwhelming evidence that climate change is real now. It’s not just about reading the science. It’s about people’s daily experience. And yet, we’ve seen this remarkable drop, where, in 2007, 71—this is a Harris poll—71 percent of Americans believed climate change was real, and two years later, 51 percent of Americans believed it. So, a 20 percent drop. And we’ve seen a similar dramatic just the floor falling out in the same period in Australia, in the U.K. It’s not happening everywhere. It’s happening in countries that have very polarized political debates, where they have very strong culture wars.

And there are some people who have been doing some really interesting analysis of these numbers, where you see—like there’s a political scientist named Clive Hamilton in Australia who’s done some really terrific writing on this, where what he shows is that climate change didn’t used to be a partisan political issue. You couldn’t—you wouldn’t know whether somebody believed in climate change or not just by asking if they were Republican or Democrat. That’s completely changed. Democrats overwhelmingly believe in climate change. That hasn’t—their position hasn’t changed. Republicans now don’t—overwhelmingly do not believe in climate change. So that drop has been split along partisan lines. Now, it seems kind of obvious that that would be the case, but still it’s remarkable, because what it means is that it no longer really has anything to do with the science. And the environmental movement has just been shocked by how it would be possible to lose so much ground so quickly when there is so much more scientific evidence, so that, you know, there’s all kinds of attempts to respond to this, to get climate scientists out there explaining things better, to popularize the science, and none of it seems to be working. And the reason is that climate change is now seen as an identity issue on the right. It’s—people are defining themselves, like they’re against abortion, they don’t believe in climate change. It’s part of who they are.

AMY GOODMAN: And what does it say, you don’t believe in climate change?

climate disaster NAOMI KLEIN: Well, some people believe in climate change, but the main thing is they don’t believe that humans have anything to do with climate change. And it isn’t about the science, because when you delve deeper into it and ask why people don’t believe in it, they say that it’s because they think it’s a socialist plot to redistribute wealth. And a lot of—it’s easy to make fun of, you know, and there’s all this language, like "watermelons," that they say, you know, the green groups are watermelons: they’re green on the outside, but they’re red on the inside. Or George Will once said it’s a green tree with red roots. And the idea is that it’s some sort of a communist plot. And this is, as I was saying earlier, actually not at all true. And in fact, most of the big green groups are loath to talk about economics and often don’t want to see themselves as being part of a left at all, see climate change as an issue that transcends politics entirely.

But something very different is going on on the right, and I think we need to understand what that is. Why is climate change seen as such a threat? I don’t believe it’s an unreasonable fear. I think it is—it’s unreasonable to believe that scientists are making up the science. They’re not. It’s not a hoax. But actually, climate change really is a profound threat to a great many things that right-wing ideologues believe in. So, in fact, if you really wrestle with the implications of the science and what real climate action would mean, here’s just a few examples what it would mean.

Well, it would mean upending the whole free trade agenda, because it would mean that we would have to localize our economies, because we have the most energy-inefficient trade system that you could imagine. And this is the legacy of the free trade era. So, this has been a signature policy of the right, pushing globalization and free trade. That would have to be reversed.

You would have to deal with inequality. You would have to redistribute wealth, because this is a crisis that was created in the North, and the effects are being felt in the South. So, on the most basic, basic, "you broke it, you bought it," polluter pays, you would have to redistribute wealth, which is also against their ideology.

You would have to regulate corporations. You simply would have to. I mean, any serious climate action has to intervene in the economy. You would have to subsidize renewable energy, which also breaks their worldview.

You would have to have a really strong United Nations, because individual countries can’t do this alone. You absolutely have to have a strong international architecture.

So when you go through this, you see, it challenges everything that they believe in. So they’re choosing to disbelieve it, because it’s easier to deny the science than to say, "OK, I accept that my whole worldview is going to fall apart," that we have to have massive investments in public infrastructure, that we have to reverse free trade deals, that we have to have huge transfers of wealth from the North to the South. Imagine actually contending with that. It’s a lot easier to deny it.

 But what I see is that the green groups, a lot of the big green groups, are also in a kind of denial, because they want to pretend that this isn’t about politics and economics, and say, "Well, you can just change your light bulb. And no, it won’t really disrupt. You can have green capitalism." And they’re not really wrestling with the fact that this is about economic growth. This is about an economic model that needs constant and infinite growth on a finite planet. So we really are talking about some deep transformations of our economy if we’re going to deal with climate change. And we need to talk about it.

AMY GOODMAN: And the reason that we have to go through those deep transformations? What is the threat of climate change? What is happening today?

NAOMI KLEIN: Well, it’s—we’re already seeing it on so many levels. I was just at the World Social Forum in Dakar.

AMY GOODMAN: In Senegal.

NAOMI KLEIN: In Senegal. And it’s—you know, climate change is still spoken of here as something, you know, that if you care about your grandchildren, you care about climate change. That is not the way climate change is being spoken of in Africa. This is a now issue. This is the desertification—rivers are drying up—water shortages, food shortages.

senegal desertification And then, layered on top of that is the fact that many of the "solutions" to climate change—and I put "solutions" in quote—that have been championed by an agenda that accepts the premise that we can’t really ask North Americans, Europeans, to really sacrifice, really change their way of life, our way of life. We can’t be talking about really drastically cutting our emissions here and now. So we have to play shell games, right? We have to have carbon offsets there. We have to—we can keep polluting, but we’ll plant—you know, we’ll protect a forest in the Congo, or we will have huge agrifuel crops in Africa. And so, all of these solutions are actually deepening the climate crisis in Africa, because people are being displaced from their land, not just because of climate, but because of the solutions to climate change, because they’re losing access to forests, which are used for subsistence agriculture, they’re losing access to land that had been farmed for food and is now being farmed for fuel. And so, the theme of—the sort of unofficial theme of the World Social Forum, it came up in many of the seminars—

AMY GOODMAN: And this is a gathering of thousands of people—

NAOMI KLEIN: Yeah, 40,000 people.

AMY GOODMAN:—that sort of moves each year, and this year it was in Senegal.

NAOMI KLEIN: Yeah, this year it was in Senegal. And it was global, it was international, but most of the people were from across Africa. And the theme that came up again and again was "the new scramble for Africa, the new scramble for Africa." And this, a lot of it, had to do with these so-called "solutions" to climate change—the agrifuels, the REDD—I mean, not to get too technical, but you’ve talked about this on the show, which is the forest protection plan, the U.N. forest protection plan, which is very controversial in Africa, because people—like I said, people are losing access to forests, which they are using for subsistence, and also because it’s not—forests are being protected instead of cutting emissions in the North. And that’s not seen as a solution to climate change in Africa, because it doesn’t get at the core of the issue.

For other great stories check out Celsias :

One Third of Republicans Vote Against Continued Invasion of Libya

Feeding the War - One Floor At a Time 

Follow Us on Twitter


If you see any unhelpful comments, please let us know immediately.

therealclimber (anonymous)

Don't forget over-population. Another world view that needs to be discarded is the belief that people should be allowed to have as many children as they want. Climate change is one of the side effects of the burgeoning swarms of humanity.

Written in June 2011

A Spiritual Man (anonymous)

And then there's the ideological orientation that is so strong in the USA, that unbridled economic growth is the ideal. What is lost on so many people is that there's value in pursuit of a higher quality of life, the growth of spiritual richness if you will, and this does not depend on the quantity of things owned or consumed.

Written in June 2011

Doglets (anonymous)

I have argued climate change with conservatives and it is a strange experience. The problem of climate change will require from the top down, government action which conservatives loathe. The private sector is going to build a seawall around Manhattan so that they can advertise on it. Climate change calls for limitations on resource use which is next on the conservative loathing list. The problem is huge and without precedent in human history. Much easier to deny it exists and to go through some silly logical contortions if necessary

Written in August 2012

Add a comment
  • to get your picture next to your comment (not a member yet?).
  • Posted on June 13, 2011. Listed in:


    Pledge to do these related actions

    Give Coal The Boot, 61°

    Greenpeace are asking people to help give coal the boot once and for all: "Burning ...

    Be Bee Friendly, 198°

    There really is no substitute for honeybees. Whether it's the gazillion tonnes of pesticides we ...

    Write to a politician .... every week from now on., 21°

    If you truly care about our collective futures, with regard to things like climate change, ...

    Featured Companies & Orgs