• laurenwintraub

The Denial Demographic: White Conservative Males and Climate Change

Updated: May 31, 2020

In the past two decades, the existence of climate change, and humans’ direct contribution to its development, have been strongly established through scientific facts. Yet, despite many well-respected scientists and research journals releasing more and more information supporting the facts, climate change denial has been on the rise. In past studies, it has been found that amongst the elite in the United States, white conservative males have been found to disproportionately deny climate change. A 2011 study done by Michigan and Oklahoma State University set out to examine if this demographic in the general public also disproportionately denied climate change (1).

To conduct this experiment, the scientists at these Universities used the results of 10 annual environmental questionnaires that were presented to nationally symbolic groups of 1000-1060 Americans each year. To assess opinions on climate change, all participants had to give their opinion on the below questions:

1) When will global warming happen?

2) What is the primary cause of global warming?

3) Is there scientific agreement on global warming?

4) How seriously do you perceive global warming to be?

5) How worried about global warming are you?

The results showed that the data collected on the elite in the US translated to the general public (1). Specifically, 26.9% of white conservative males were found to think that global warming would never happen whereas only 7.4% of the rest of the general public held the same opinion. As well, 58.5% of white conservative males did not believe that humans were a major contributing factor to climate change while only 31.5% of the rest of the adults surveyed held the same beliefs. Moreover, 58.8% of the same demographic in question denied that there was scientific agreement on climate change whereas only 35.5% of the rest of the population also thought so. Additionally, double the percentage of white conservative males compared to the rest of the study believed that the seriousness of climate change is exaggerated. Lastly, 31% of white conservative males compared to 14.4% of the remaining adults worry about climate change. What was quite interesting in the study was that a disproportionate number of white conservative males compared to the rest of the population (30.4% vs. 18%) believed they had a good understanding of climate change. Further, the study showed that the denial in climate change is stronger among white conservatives who believe they have a good understanding of climate change compared to white conservative males who did not believe they had a good understanding (1).

In addition to obtaining these results, the paper mentioned multiple reasons as to why this trend exists. One reason the paper suggests is that belief in climate change challenges a social perspective that has benefited that demographic for so long. White conservative males try to minimize the risk of climate change in order to maintain a way of life that continues to benefit them. Another explanation suggests that white conservative males might hold their opinions through simply taking on and buying into the general persona and opinions of the specific social group they identify with. Lastly, the article also suggests that their beliefs may exist because they are protecting large fossil fuel and oil companies that have historically served them well in the past (1).

Although this article examines a specific subgroup of individuals living in the United States, it can be used to help us more clearly think about the opinions of others and ourselves when it comes to topics surrounding climate change. We know all too well that these trends are not foreign to Canada, in particular with the influence of the oil industry in the West and conservative government think-tanks directed to distribute misinformation about climate change. Indeed, recent research has shown though a higher percentage of Canadians than Americans believe in climate change, a large number of us still deny that humans are the cause. The majority of skepticism is concentrated in Saskatchewan and Alberta, heavily conservative and oil rich provinces (2).

What the American study tells us is that it is always important to always ask oneself why we hold certain beliefs, who or what might have influenced those thoughts, and how we can look outside ourselves to understand why others act and think the way they do. The voices present in the media today regarding climate change are vast and varying and a critical lens will always be helpful while informing yourself and developing your own understandings.


1. McCright AM & Dunlap RE. Cool dudes: The denial of climate change among conservative white males in the United States. Global Environmental Change. 2011, 21(4): 1163-1172. DOI: 10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2011.06.003

2. Mildenberger M, Howe P, Lachapelle E, Stokes L, Marlon J, Gravelle T. The Distribution of Climate Change Public Opinion in Canada. Plos One 2016;11. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0159774.

73 views0 comments

Who We Are

Shake Up The Establishment is a youth-led, registered (#1190975-4) national non-partisan non-profit organization that operates within the geographical confines of what is currently known as "Canada", but what is referred to by its First Peoples, as Turtle Island. Indigenous peoples have inhabited Turtle Island for over 10,000 years, and were the sole inhabitants less than 500 years ago. We acknowledge that our address resides on Treaty 3 land, and is the traditional territory of the Erie, Neutral, Huron-Wendat, Haudenosaunee and Mississaugas Peoples. Turtle Island is still home to many Indigenous peoples and we at SUTE are thankful to be able to live, learn and work on this territory, whilst continuing to create meaningful change for the climate justice movement. We are aware that our actions as an organization and the work we put out have an impact on our land, and on all that inhabit it. We are humbled to be able to follow the lead of centuries long Indigenous-led efforts towards the protection and stewardship of this land and the people that inhabit it. We are committed to continually evaluating & decolonizing our practices, and we do our best to incorporate the lived experiences of the land defenders and protectors within our work. We also want to honour the voices of Black, and non-Black people of colour within our work, and continually recognize their resiliency in the face of years of systemic oppression as imposed by the Canadian state.


Our enterprise is inclusive of all folx who call the geographical confines of what is currently known as Canada, home, and we celebrate the horizontal learning that comes from our diverse identities. As an organization, we will try our utmost best to ensure that only individuals with lived experiences are speaking on behalf of their communities, while still recognizing that Black, Indigenous and communities of colour as well as the LGBTQ2S+ community, are not a monolith. We firmly believe in accountability, and commit to being as transparent as possible in our activism space; to research our topics well, support and centre community care, and minimize any harm, no matter the intent. We have strict policies and procedures to uphold these tenets, and update these on a yearly (or as-needed) basis.

1898 Rymal Road East, Hamilton Ontario, Canada L0R 1P0

© 2020 Shake Up The Establishment

Stay Caught Up!

Sign up to receive our monthly newsletter for major political updates, our latest educational resources, events and more!