531.2 The emergence of climate contrarianism as a ‘wise (use)' social movement

Friday, August 3, 2012: 12:45 PM
Faculty of Economics, TBA
Maxwell BOYKOFF , Center for Science & Technology Policy Research, Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, Environmental Studies & Geography, University of Colorado-Boulder, Boulder, CO
Climate contrarianism as a social movement coalesced in the late 1980s, and has gone through many stages of expansion and prosperity, particularly in Anglophone countries. These ‘contrarians’ have laudably been deemed ‘skeptics’ as well as denigratingly been called ‘deniers’ over the years, as their stances have found common ground with many right-of-center ideological movements such as libertarianism and the US Tea Party. In addition, over time these groups have possessed varying degrees of power and influence on decision-making on climate change. This paper interrogates the growth pathways of this social movement, through interviews and participant observations at the 2011 Heartland Institute’s Sixth International Conference on Climate Change. The project also draws on the tools of political ecology, sociology and psychology to help understand how these contrarians ‘speak for the climate’ in particular (and oft-amplified) ways.

This work seeks to better understand motivations that prop up these stances, such as possible ideological or evidentiary disagreement to the orthodox views of science (a.k.a. scientific consensus), motivation to fulfill the perceived desires of special interests (e.g. carbon-based industry), and/or exhilaration from self-perceived academic martyrdom and more general desires for notoriety. For instance, questions involve: to what extent have their varied interventions been effective in terms of sparking a new and wise Copernican revolution, or do their amplified voices instead service entrenched carbon-based industry interests while they blend debates over ‘climate change’ with other culture wars such as gun control, and abortion?

This paper is also motivated by the interest to better understand  effects of this emergent social movement – sharing ideological kinship with the ‘Wise Use movement’ of the 1980s and 1990s – in terms of how it has contributed to (mis) perceptions and (mis) understandings that shape the spectrum of possibility for responses to contemporary climate challenges.