Paging Dr. Darwin: Climate Deniers More Likely to Ignore Corona Virus

May 8, 2020

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Morning Consult:

Adults who say they are not concerned about climate change are less likely than the general public to be taking personal actions to mitigate the effects of the coronavirus, new Morning Consult data shows. And in contrast, climate-concerned U.S. adults are more likely to be taking these actions, which include wearing masks in public, social distancing and disinfecting the home and personal electronics.

In a poll conducted April 14-16, 54 percent of climate-concerned respondents said that they have “always” worn a mask in public spaces such as grocery stores or parks over the last month, whereas just 30 percent of the climate-unconcerned said the same — a 24-point gap. Across all adults, 44 percent said they always followed those measures. 

This trend was replicated across questions on social distancing and disinfecting, though with somewhat smaller margins. Social distancing at all times had the most adherents — 78 percent of adults, 86 percent of the climate-concerned and 72 percent of the climate-unconcerned — which could be due to clearer messaging and earlier guidance on distancing precautions, compared with using masks or disinfecting. 

The “climate-concerned” group was defined as those who said that they are concerned about climate change and agree with the scientific consensus that climate change is caused by human activity. The climate-unconcerned group was defined as those who said they were either “not too concerned” or “not concerned at all” about climate change. 

The poll surveyed 2,200 U.S. adults and has a margin of error of 2 percentage points. The climate-concerned and climate-unconcerned cohorts have 3- and 4-point margins of error, respectively.

Experts say the discrepancy can be traced either to science skepticism or to personal autonomy concerns, the combination of which has fueled climate change dismissal and denial for decades.

Emma Frances Bloomfield, an assistant professor in communication studies at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said there are several potential narratives for why a person unconcerned with climate change might be less inclined to take action to mitigate the effects of the coronavirus. These include a general skepticism of authority — specifically authority associated with science, health and medicine — as well as an outlook concerned more with individual than community-level well-being.

“Everything that science asks us to do is really sacrificing personal convenience for community convenience and well-being,” Bloomfield said. “And for a lot of people, the coronavirus is invisible, just like climate change is invisible. A lot of people don’t know people who have been directly affected, and in the case of climate change, a lot of the more severe effects are still years away.”

Renée Lertzman, a psychologist and organizational strategist who focuses on climate change, echoed that this is a question of psychological orientation.

“If you’re aware of climate change and you’re concerned about it, you are already aware that there are myriad things that we do as humans that have profound impacts that we may or may not see,” she said. 

The coronavirus pandemic, however, is forcing everyone to take stock of their choices and connect the dots to their communities and the world at large in a way that might not be entirely comfortable to those who aren’t used to it. Lertzman said the ability to draw those connections is a “very psychologically charged” activity.

6 Responses to “Paging Dr. Darwin: Climate Deniers More Likely to Ignore Corona Virus”

  1. Brent Jensen-Schmidt Says:

    Found another project! Shall agitate to have Critical Thinking and Logic taught in schools.

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      Before critical thinking, logic and logical fallacies, I think we ought to teach everyone how human brains work, including their own. People have to learn just how malleable human memory is, and how the primary job of the cerebral cortex is to rationalize what the limbic system wants (i.e., that decision-making happens in the inner part of the brain, yet when asked why they made a decision, they activate the “reasoning” part of the brain).


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