Climate Change is a Moral Panic



Climate Change and Moral Panic

John Reid

I am often asked how I can possibly doubt the reality of human induced climate change when so many highly qualified people support it; it would have to be a conspiracy on a grand scale.

As I see it, rather than a conspiracy, it is a moral panic similar to the witch hunts of earlier times. It is worth Googling “moral panic” to get a feel for this topic.

Moral panics have several distinct features. According to Goode and Ben-Yehuda, moral panic consists of the following characteristics:

  1. Concern – There must be belief that the behaviour of the group or category in question is likely to have a negative effect on society.
  2. Hostility – Hostility towards the group in question increases, and they become ‘folk devils’. A clear division forms between ‘them’ and ‘us’.
  3. Consensus – Though concern does not have to be nationwide, there must be widespread acceptance that the group in question poses a very real threat to society. It is important at this stage that the ‘moral entrepreneurs’ are vocal and the ‘folk devils’ appear weak and disorganised.
  4. Disproportionality – The action taken is disproportionate to the actual threat posed by the accused group.
  5. Volatility – Moral panics are highly volatile and tend to disappear as quickly as they appeared due to a wane in public interest or news reports changing to another topic.

Human induced climate change fits the first four points quite well with climate deniers as the folk devils. Note the emphasis on “consensus” in #3. I have discussed #4, disproportionality, in other posts:  the evidence for human induced climate change is weak and there is strong evidence against it.

It is hard to understand how climate “deniers” pose a threat to society but evidently the President of the USA thinks they do according to his recent Call Out a Denier campaign

Climate Change has been rolling for nearly three decades now and can scarcely be termed “volatile”. Maybe it is because it has become an institution; thousands of people’s livelihoods have come to depend on keeping the panic level high.

It is an institutionalised moral panic.



2 Replies to “Climate Change is a Moral Panic”

  1. History’s great moral panics lasted for many decades if not centuries. Witch-burning hysteria, anti-semitism, priest-hunting, Reds under the beds, nuclear hysteria, etc. As communication speeds increase you would expect the time period the panic lasts to decrease. For comparison look at the current panics about GMOs in crops, vaccination risks and the new one – the anti-Halal ‘tax’ movement.

  2. Is there a definite pattern to a moral panic? A slow build to a crescendo, then it fades away?

    Ben makes a good point including anti-vaccers in this category. A neighbour gave me some literature on it twenty years ago, when my son was born. I thought it a bit crazy then. Who would voluntarily expose their child to whooping cough or polio? Now, with the help of the internet, it seems to be reaching some sort of peak.

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