47 Soc. Probs. 499 (2000)
Challenging Global Warming as a Social Problem: An Analysis of the Conservative Movement's Counter-Claims

handle is hein.journals/socprob47 and id is 509 raw text is: Challenging Global Warming as a Social
Problem: An Analysis of the Conservative
Movement's Counter-Claims
AARON M. McCRIGHT, Washington State University
RILEY E. DUNLAP, Washington State University
The sociological literature on global environmental change emphasizes the processes by which the problem
of global warming is socially constructed. However, the opposing efforts to construct the non-problematicity of
global warming advanced by the conservative movement are largely ignored. Utilizing recent work on framing
processes in the social movements literature and claims-making from the social problems literature, this paper
analyzes the counter-claims promoted by the conservative movement between 1990 and 1997 as it mobilized to
challenge the legitimacy of global warming as a social problem. A thematic content analysis of publications cir-
culated on the web sites of prominent conservative think tanks reveals three major counter-claims. First, the
movement criticized the evidentiary basis of global warming as weak, if not entirely wrong. Second, the move-
ment argued that global warming will have substantial benefits if it occurs. Third, the movement warned
that proposed action to ameliorate global warming would do more harm than good. In short, the conservative
movement asserted that, while the science of global warming appears to be growing more and more uncertain,
the harmful effects of global warming policy are becoming increasingly certain. In order to better understand
the controversy over global warming, future research should pay attention to the influence of the conservative
movement by identifying the crucial roles of conservative foundations, conservative think tanks, and sympathetic
.skeptic scientists in undermining the growing scientific consensus over the reality of global warming.
In the past decade, global climate change became a widely accepted social problem. Also
referred to as global warming or the anthropogenic greenhouse effect, global climate change is
the discernible increase in mean global temperature resulting from the release of greenhouse
gases produced by human activities. Awareness of this global threat reinforced public concern
about environmental problems and thereby provided environmental activists, scientists, and
policy-makers with new momentum in their efforts to promote environmental protection.
Not surprisingly, opponents of these efforts mobilized in recent years to mount intense opposi-
tion to calls for major international action to prevent global warming such as treaties designed
to reduce carbon dioxide emissions (Brown 1997; Gelbspan 1997). The purpose of this paper
is to examine this growing opposition, which has heretofore been relatively ignored.
In particular, we will explore the role played by the American conservative movement in
challenging the legitimacy of the climate change problem. It will be shown that core organiza-
tions in the conservative movement mobilized in recent years as a countermovement opposing
the efforts of the environmental movement and its allies to establish the seriousness of global
environmental problems. Specifically, we report the results of a content analysis of publica-
We have benefited from comments and suggestions from Michael Allen, Robert Brulle, Greg Hooks, J. Tlmmons
Roberts, David A. Smith, the members of the Social Problem Seminar, and several anonymous reviewers. An earlier ver-
sion of the paper was presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association in Chicago, Illinois,
August 1999. Direct correspondence to: Aaron M. McCright, Department of Sociology, Washington State University,
Pullman, WA 99164-4020. E-mail: cosmo-kramer@wsu.edu.

SOCIAL PROBLEMS, Vol. 47, No. 4, pages 499-522. ISSN: 0037-7791
© 2000 by Society for the Study of Social Problems, Inc. All rights reserved.
Send requests for permission to reprint to: Rights and Permissions, University of California Press,
Journals Division, 2000 Center St., Ste. 303, Berkeley, CA 94704-1223.

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