The Washington Times-Herald

December 14, 2011

These dudes are anything but cool

Stephen Dick

Anderson — Steve McQueen and James Dean, two of the coolest cats to ever grace the silver screen, would probably roll over in their graves at the title of a new psychological study on climate-change deniers.

The title, "Cool dudes: the denial of climate change among conservative white males in the United States," had to be written tongue-in-cheek about the least cool human subset in existence. But the study is interesting.

Authors Aaron M. McCright and Riley E. Dunlap show the CWMs are adamant on climate-change denial because the changes needed to fight it would inevitably eat into the disproportionate power in business, politics and the economy that white males enjoy.

Since CWMs have this power, they can influence others to believe their way through propaganda outlets such as talk radio and Fox News and also an uncritical mainstream media.

The authors call it the white-male effect. Thirty percent of these white males had high-risk acceptance, which gives them an affinity for hierarchy, greater trust in authorities and opposition to the democratization of risk management.

McCright quotes a previous study: "Perhaps white males see less risk in the world because they create, manage, control and benefit from so much of it. Perhaps women and nonwhite men see the world as more dangerous ... because they have less power and control."

Through identity-protective cognition, CWMs can spread their denial because other white males tend to believe those who are in their in-group. In other words, CWMs can easily spread their denial virus to others who don’t actually think about things but believe what their leaders say.

It’s like Rush Limbaugh telling his listeners that they don’t have to think, he will do that for them.

Of course, the foundation of the denial is economics. White males don’t want to give up the power, riches and prestige they have amassed for anything as chimerical as the end of the planet. It doesn’t matter that their denial is not based in fact.

For over 20 years, McCright notes, the CWMs have been beating a consistent drum

about climate-change denial, and it’s all to save their social status.

It’s easy to see the many environmental changes in the world due to man: polluted water and air, mountains of waste, land-destroying mining and the list goes on. Are we really to think, as the denialists claim, that the climate is so vast and mysterious that man cannot possibly have an effect on it? This is an absurd claim, but it fits the conservative white male self-preservation fantasy.

The authors also note that there has been a significant rise in climate-change denial in the last two years, about the time the economy went into the dumper and jobs became more important than science. CWMs rushed in to take advantage of this weakness of will.

Conservatives bash the liberal agenda behind climate change, claiming that liberals want to destroy capitalism and impose Marxian economics on the world. Maybe they’re forgetting that communist countries were among the world’s most polluted.

The only liberal agenda I see is a cleaner planet with an economic system shifted from fossil fuels, which would be no less prosperous in the long run. But why would CWMs risk their dominance when their fantasy keeps others behind them?

What’s the difference between a liberal and conservative? Liberals actually think about things while conservatives trust the hierarchy to think for them. In other words, liberals roll up their sleeves, go out and collect the eggs and color them. Conservatives, used to others bowing to their power, wait for the Easter bunny.


Stephen Dick is an editor for The Herald Bulletin in Anderson, Ind. Contact him at