Study Reveals Why People Deny Climate Change

By: Lauren Fokas | Published: Feb 11, 2024

When it comes to climate change, the vast majority of the planet, including the general populations, politicians, and scientists, understand that the planet is in real trouble.

However, there are some who don’t believe in climate change, and researchers from the University of Bonn wanted to find out why they deny this “glaringly obvious truth.”

What Is a Climate Change Denier?

It’s first important to understand there are people around the world who believe that climate change is simply untrue.

Hand holding a cardboard sign that reads “Is climate change a hoax?”

Source: Shutterstock

Within this small collection of people, there are essentially two theories: One is that the climate is not actually changing and the entire fight to save the planet is an elaborate hoax. The other is that while the planet’s climate is changing, it’s not because of anything humans are doing.

A Survey Shows What the Majority of Climate Change Deniers Believe

According to a survey conducted by YouGov, 19% of the Americans they poled reported they do not believe in climate change.

Graph from YouGov/Statista labeled “Where Climate Change Deniers Live”

Source: Statista

Of that 19%, 5% said they don’t think the climate is changing at all, whereas the other 14% said it is changing, but humans aren’t responsible. They also noted that 24% of Americans agreed the planet will not experience any residual effects from the changing climate, such as rising sea levels or extreme weather, in their lifetime.

Science Says Otherwise

That means almost a quarter of Americans are either denying climate change or at least saying they don’t see the effects of this reality now.

A man watches an animated projection, showing the different acidity of the ocean, inside the U.S. Center 09 during the second day of the United Nations Climate Change Conference

Source: Miguel Villgran/Getty Images

However, that’s certainly not what the science says. From NASA to university research, there is an undeniable amount of scientific evidence that shows climate change is not only real, but it’s happening right now. Sea levels are already rising, icebergs are melting, and extreme weather is almost constant.

It’s Hard to Deny that Fossil Fuels Are at Least Playing a Part

Hundreds of millions of people wholeheartedly believe that humans are causing climate change and that everyone on earth needs to make some serious changed in order to save the planet.

Steam and exhaust rise from different companies on a cold winter day on January 6, 2017 in Oberhausen, Germany

Source: Lukas Schulze/Getty Images

The vast majority of these people agree that one of the major culprits of climate change is fossil fuel emissions. And the general consensus is that eliminating, or at least significantly cutting back on fossil fuel use, is absolutely necessary.

President Biden Has Been Actively Fighting against Climate Change

Since President Joe Biden was elected more than three years ago, he has spent much of his time in the Oval Office fighting against the ever-changing climate.

US President Joe Biden delivers remarks during a climate event at the White House complex

Source: Win McNamee/Getty Images

He signed the Inflation Reduction Act in 2022, which states that the United States will invest hundreds of billions of dollars into clean energy, environmental justice, and electric vehicles. As well as funded solar and wind farms all over the country and much more.


Former President Donald Trump Has Taken a Different Approach

While Biden has made sustainability and environmental justice a cornerstone of his presidency and campaign for 2024, his Republican rival, Donald Trump, has taken a different approach.

Republican presidential candidate, former President Donald Trump arrives at a campaign event at the Whittemore Center Arena

Source: Scott Eisen/Getty Images

According to Independent, former president and candidate for the 2024 election Donald Trump has said that climate change is a “make-believe problem,” “nonexistent,” and “a very, very expensive form of tax.”


Trump Is the Most Famous Climate Change Denier

While Trump’s denial of climate change has been making headlines for several years, it’s important to remember that he is not alone. In fact, 19% of Americans polled don’t believe in climate change.

Climate change denier protest with sign that reads “The sun not c02 governs our climate. The U.N. not science governs our propaganda”

Source: Shutterstock

And while Trump has claimed that the crisis is simply a hoax, a research team at the University of Bonn wanted to find out what the rest of the population thinks.


The Uni Bonn Study

Researchers at the University of Bonn and the Institute of Labor Economics set up an online experiment with 4,000 Americans to find out why some people don’t believe in climate change.

Hand holding a US $20 bill against a white backdrop

Source: Freepik

Within the experiment, they offered two random groups of participants $20. The first group could donate the money to an organization fighting against climate change of their choice; the other group had the option to donate the money to one of those charities or keep it for themselves.


“Anyone Keeping Hold of the Donation Needs to Justify Themselves”

One of the researchers explained, “Anyone keeping hold of the donation needs to justify it to themselves,” as he and the rest of the team were hoping their reasoning would help them understand why those people don’t believe in climate change.

Climate activists participate in a rally outside of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), NYC

Source: Michael M. Santigago/Getty Images

Zimmerman reported that half of the people in the second group chose to keep the money instead of donating it. And one interesting thing they reported was that many people said they “specifically [are] denying the existence of human-made global heating forms [as] part of the political identity of certain groups of people.”


What Do the Results from the Study Mean?

To put it simply, the Uni Bonn experiment reported that while they expected many people to report they simply don’t believe the science, or even believe there is no point in donating because they cannot make a difference, that’s not what they found.

Person going over data collected on a tablet

Source: Freepik

Instead, the most common motivated reasoning among participants was essentially that they “define themselves by the very fact that they do not believe in climate change.”


This Is Actually Good News for Climate Change Activists

Because the study noted it wasn’t the participants’ lack of care for the planet or disbelief in the idea they could make a difference that made them deny, it’s actually great news for the fight against climate change.

Ice from Svinafellsjokull glacier floats in a lake of meltwater as the glacier looms behind on August 13, 2021 near Svinafell, Iceland

Source: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Essentially, if people simply believe what they’re told by the politicians and people in their lives they trust, they can be swayed in the future. For example, if former president Donald Trump were to suddenly change his tune, America may have far less climate change deniers than it does now.