How the Religious Right Is Fueling Climate Change Denial
Photo Credit: AFP
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Now that Sandy has exacted a steep toll in lives and property, the question is unavoidable: why do so many people in America refuse to take climate science seriously?
I am not assuming that Sandy was the direct consequence of human-caused climate change. But with this fresh evidence of the impact of climate issues on real people, how is it possible for anyone to think that thousands of scientists around the world are engaged in an elaborate hoax?
The standard reply is that some powerful organizations – above all, in the fossil fuel industry – think that they can benefit from misleading the public, and have funded a successful disinformation campaign. There is a lot of truth to this answer, but it isn't the whole truth.
For the average climate science denier in the street (and there are a lot of them on some streets), there is often little correlation between the vehemence of their denials and the so-called "facts" at their disposal. The average Chuck is like Chuck Norris, who has claimed that climate science is a "trick". Not an innocent mistake, not a systemic bias, but a premeditated fraud.
Climate science denial needs disinformation to survive, but it has its feet firmly planted in a part of American culture. That culture draws on lots of different sources. But if you want to understand it, you need to understand something about America's religious landscape.
Take a look at some of the most recent initiatives in the climate science denial wars. In Louisiana, Tennessee, New Hampshire and other states, legislatures have either passed or put forward bills intended to disinform secondary-school students about climate science. Sure, they paper over the assault on education with claims that they only want to teach "both sides" of the issue and encourage "critical thinking". But, as leaked documents made clear in at least one instance, the ultimate purpose is to produce a young generation of "skeptics" whose views on climate science will happily coincide with those of the fossil fuel industry.
Who is behind these programs of de-education?
The group writing much of the legislation is the American Legislative Exchange Council (Alec), a "nonpartisan" consortium of state legislators and business interests that gets plenty of money from the usual suspects. But the legislation has also received vital support from groups associated with the religious right. For example, the perversely named Louisiana Science Education Act, which opens the door to climate science denial in the classroom, was co-authored by the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based creationist thinktank. That act also received crucial support from the Alliance Defending Freedom, the well-funded Christian legal advocacy group that has described itself as "a servant organization that provides the resources that will keep the door open for the spread of the Gospel", and which promotes a radical religious agenda in public schools.
What does religion have to do with climate science? Radical religious activists promote the anti-science bills, in part, because they also seek to undermine the teaching of evolution – another issue that supposedly has "two sides", so schools should "teach the controversy". Now, you don't have to believe that Earth was created in six hectic days in order to be skeptical about climate science, but a large number of climate science deniers also happen to be evolution deniers.
What exactly is the theology of climate science denial? The Cornwall Alliance – a coalition whose list of signatories could double as a directory of major players in the religious right – has a produced a declaration asserting, as a matter of theology, that "there is no convincing scientific evidence that human contribution to greenhouse gases is causing dangerous global warming."