Article | Published:

Relationships among conspiratorial beliefs, conservatism and climate scepticism across nations

Nature Climate Changevolume 8pages614620 (2018) | Download Citation


Studies showing that scepticism about anthropogenic climate change is shaped, in part, by conspiratorial and conservative ideologies are based on data primarily collected in the United States. Thus, it may be that the ideological nature of climate change beliefs reflects something distinctive about the United States rather than being an international phenomenon. Here we find that positive correlations between climate scepticism and indices of ideology were stronger and more consistent in the United States than in the other 24 nations tested. This suggests that there is a political culture in the United States that offers particularly strong encouragement for citizens to appraise climate science through the lens of their worldviews. Furthermore, the weak relationships between ideology and climate scepticism in the majority of nations suggest that there is little inherent to conspiratorial ideation or conservative ideologies that predisposes people to reject climate science, a finding that has encouraging implications for climate mitigation efforts globally.

Access optionsAccess options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.

Additional information

Publisher’s note: Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.


  1. 1.

    Lewandowsky, S., Gignac, G., & Oberauer, K. The role of conspiracist ideation and worldviews in predicting rejection of science. PloS One 8, e75637 (2013).

  2. 2.

    Lewandowsky, S., Oberauer, K. & Gignac, G. NASA faked the Moon landing – therefore (climate) science is a hoax: An anatomy of the motivated rejection of science. Psychol. Sci. 24, 622–633 (2013).

  3. 3.

    McCright, A. M. & Dunlap, R. E. The politicization of climate change and polarization in the American public’s views of global warming, 2001–2010. Sociol. Q. 52, 155–194 (2011).

  4. 4.

    Hornsey, M. J., Harris, E. A., Bain, P. G. & Fielding, K. S. Meta-analyses of the determinants and outcomes of belief in climate change. Nat. Clim. Change 6, 622–626 (2016).

  5. 5.

    Kahan, D. M. et al. The polarizing impact of science literacy and numeracy on perceived climate change risks. Nat. Clim. Change 2, 732–735 (2012).

  6. 6.

    Bain, P. G., Hornsey, M. J., Bongiorno, R. & Jeffries, C. Promoting pro-environmental action in climate change deniers. Nat. Clim. Change 2, 600–603 (2012).

  7. 7.

    Bliuc, A.-M. et al. Public division about climate change rooted in conflicting socio-political identities. Nat. Clim. Change 5, 226–229 (2015).

  8. 8.

    Hornsey, M. J. & Fielding, K. S. Attitude roots and jiu jitsu persuasion: Understanding and overcoming the motivated rejection of science. Am. Psychol. 72, 459–473 (2017).

  9. 9.

    Kahan, D. M., Jenkins-Smith, H. & Braman, D. Cultural cognition of scientific consensus. J. Risk Res. 14, 147–174 (2011).

  10. 10.

    Leiserowitz, A. Climate change risk perceptions and policy preferences: The role of affect, imagery, and values. Climatic Change 77, 45–72 (2006).

  11. 11.

    Kahan, D. M. Fixing the communications failure. Nature 463, 296–297 (2010).

  12. 12.

    Wood, M. J., Douglas, K. M. & Sutton, R. M. Dead and alive: Beliefs in contradictory conspiracy theories. Social. Psychol. Personal. Sci. 3, 767–773 (2012).

  13. 13.

    Uscinski, J., Douglas, K. & Lewandowsky, S. in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Climate Change Communication (ed. Nisbet, M.) (Oxford Univ. Press, Oxford, 2017).

  14. 14.

    Douglas, K. & Sutton, R. Climate change: Why the conspiracy theories are dangerous. Bull. Atom. Sci. 71, 98–106 (2015).

  15. 15.

    Goertzel, T. Conspiracy theories in science. EMBO Rep. 11, 493–499 (2010).

  16. 16.

    Goertzel, T. Belief in conspiracy theories. Political Psychol. 15, 731–742 (1994).

  17. 17.

    Lewandowsky, S., Cook, J. & Lloyd, E. The ‘Alice in Wonderland’ mechanics of the rejection of (climate) science: Simulating coherence by conspiracism. Synthese 195, 175–196 (2018).

  18. 18.

    Jolley, D. & Douglas, K. M. The social consequences of conspiracism: Exposure to conspiracy theories decreases intentions to engage in politics and to reduce one’s carbon footprint. Br. J. Psychol. 105, 35–56 (2014).

  19. 19.

    Van Der Linden, S. The conspiracy-effect: Exposure to conspiracy theories (about global warming) decreases pro-social behaviour and science acceptance. Pers. Indiv. Differ. 87, 171–173 (2015).

  20. 20.

    Committee on Impacts of Stratospheric Change Halocarbons: Environmental Effects of Chlorofluoromethane Release (National Academy of Sciences, Washington DC, 1976).

  21. 21.

    Morrisette, P. M. The evolution of policy responses to stratospheric ozone depletion. Nat. Resour. J. 29, 793–820 (1989).

  22. 22.

    Farman, J. C., Gardiner, B. G. & Shanklin, J. D. Large losses of total ozone in Antarctica reveal seasonal CIOx/NOx interaction. Nature 315, 207–210 (1985).

  23. 23.

    Oreskes, N. & Conway, E. M. Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming (Bloomsbury, New York, 2010).

  24. 24.

    Dotto, L. & Schiff, H. The Ozone War (Doubleday, New York, 1978).

  25. 25.

    Carmichael, J. T. & Brulle, R. J. Elite cues, media coverage, and public concern: An integrated path analysis of public opinion on climate change, 2001-2013. Environ. Polit. 26, 232–252 (2017).

  26. 26.

    McCright, A. M. & Dunlap, R. E. Anti-reflexivity: The American conservative movement’s success in undermining climate science and policy. Theory Cult. Soc. 27, 100–133 (2010).

  27. 27.

    Lewandowsky, S., Oreskes, N., Risbey, J. S., Newell, B. R. & Smithson, M. Seepage: Climate change denial and its effect on the scientific community. Glob. Environ. Change 33, 1–13 (2015).

  28. 28.

    Jacques, P. J., Dunlap, R. E. & Freeman, M. The organisation of denial: Conservative think tanks and environmental scepticism. Environ. Polit. 17, 349–385 (2008).

  29. 29.

    Kaplan, R. & Uchimiya, E. Where the 2016 Republican candidates stand on climate change. CBS News (1 September 2015);

  30. 30.

    Viechtbauer, W. Conducting meta-analyses in R with the metafor package. J. Stat. Softw. 36, 1–48 (2010).

  31. 31.

    Bates, D., Mächler, M., Bolker, B. & Walker, S. Fitting linear mixed-effects models using lme4. J. Stat. Softw. 67, 1–48 (2015).

  32. 32.

    Cook, J. & Lewandowsky, S. Rational irrationality: Modeling climate change belief polarization using Bayesian networks. Top. Cogn. Sci. 8, 160–179 (2016).

  33. 33.

    Jylhä, K. M., Cantal, C., Akrami, N. & Milfont, T. L. Denial of anthropogenic climate change: Social dominance orientation helps explain the conservative male effect in Brazil and Sweden. Pers. Indiv. Differ. 98, 184–187 (2016).

  34. 34.

    Fielding, K. S., Head, B. W., Laffan, W., Western, W. & Hoegh-Guldberg, O. Australian politicians’ beliefs about climate change: Politicial partisanship and political ideology. Environ. Polit. 21, 712–733 (2012).

  35. 35.

    Young, N. & Coutinho, A. Government, anti-reflexivity, and the construction of public ignorance about climate change: Australia and Canada compared. Glob. Environ. Polit. 13, 89–108 (2013).

  36. 36.

    McKeown, E. Talking points ammo: The use of neoliberal think tank fantasy themes to deligitmise scientific knowledge of climate change in Australian newspapers. Journalism Stud. 13, 277–297 (2012).

  37. 37.

    Capstick, S. B. & Pidgeon, N. F. What is climate change scepticism? Examination of the concept using a mixed methods study of the UK public. Glob. Environ. Change 24, 389–401 (2014).

  38. 38.

    McCright, A. M., Dunlap, R. E. & Marquart-Pyatt, S. T. Political ideology and views about climate change in the European Union. Environ. Polit. 25, 338–358 (2016).

  39. 39.

    Poortinga, W., Spence, A., Whitmarsh, L., Capstick, S. & Pidgeon, N. F. Uncertain climate: An investigation into public scepticism about anthropogenic climate change. Glob. Environ. Change 21, 1015–1024 (2011).

  40. 40.

    Arnold, D. Why Princess Diana conspiracies refuse to die. The Conversation (30 August 2017);

  41. 41.

    Hornsey, M. J., Harris, E. A., & Fielding, K. S. The psychological roots of anti-vaccination attitudes: A 24-nation investigation. Health Psychol. 37, 307–315 (2018).

  42. 42.

    Kahan, D. M. in Handbook of Risk Theory (eds S. Roeser, S. et al.) 725–759 (Springer, Dordrecht, 2012).

Download references


The work reported in the current paper was supported by funding from the Australian Research Council (DP120100961).

Author information


  1. School of Psychology, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

    • Matthew J. Hornsey
    •  & Emily A. Harris
  2. School of Communication & Arts, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

    • Kelly S. Fielding


  1. Search for Matthew J. Hornsey in:

  2. Search for Emily A. Harris in:

  3. Search for Kelly S. Fielding in:


M.J.H. and K.S.F. developed the study concept and design. E.A.H. led the process of conducting translations and collecting the data. E.A.H. also led the analysing and writing up of the results. M.J.H. drafted the manuscript, and all authors contributed to revisions.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Matthew J. Hornsey.

Supplementary information

  1. Supplementary Information

    Supplementary Tables 1–6

About this article

Publication history