Nelson Series: Historian and Earth Scientist Naomi Oreskes

April 17, 2023 Add to Calendar

5:45–7 p.m.


Shanahan Center, Auditorium
320 E. Foothill Blvd.
Claremont, CA 91711


"The Race, Class and Gender of Climate Change Denial"

In 2022, a group of children and teenagers brought a climate lawsuit against the state of Montana. By failing to act on climate change—the plaintiffs hold--the state has denied them “the right to a clean and healthful environment” guaranteed by the Montana State Constitution. In its response, the state denied the scientific consensus on climate change and refused to accept that Montana (like California, and the rest of the United States) is experiencing severe weather caused by global warming.

The opposition of the state leadership to acting on climate is closely linked to Montana’s position as a leading producer of coal and oil; in 2011, Republican state leaders changed the state’s energy policy to prevent considering climate change when evaluating new permits for fossil fuel projects. The politics of climate change denial—driven by fossil fuel interests, libertarian ideology, and market fundamentalist politics—has been the topic of considerable scholarly research, including my own. Polls have repeatedly shown that climate change denial is strongly correlated with conservative politics. But less discussed are the race, class, and gender of climate change denial. In this talk, I will discuss the evidence that climate change denial is primarily promoted by wealthy white men, why that is the case, and what we can do about it.


Naomi Oreskes is Henry Charles Lea Professor of the History of Science and Affiliated Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Harvard University. She is a leading voice on the role of science in society and the reality of anthropogenic climate change.

Oreskes wrote the Introduction to the Melville House edition of the Papal Encyclical on Climate Change and Inequality, Laudato Si, and her essays and opinion pieces on climate change have appeared in leading newspapers around the globe, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, the Times (London), and Frankfurter Allegemeine. She is author or co-author of seven books, and over 150 articles, essays and opinion pieces, including The Collapse of Western Civilization (Columbia University Press, 2014), Discerning Experts (University Chicago Press, 2019), Why Trust Science? (Princeton University Press, 2019) and Science on a Mission: American Oceanography from the Cold War to Climate Change, (University of Chicago Press, 2021). Merchants of Doubt (Bloomsbury, 2010), co-authored with Erik Conway, was the subject of a documentary film of the same name produced by participant Media and distributed by SONY Pictures Classics, and has been translated into nine languages.

Her numerous awards and prizes include the 2019 Geological Society of American Mary C. Rabbitt Award, the British Academy Medal 2019, the 2016 Stephen Schneider Award for outstanding Climate Science Communication, the 2015 Public Service Award of the Geological Society of America, the 2015 Herbert Feis Prize of the American Historical Association for her contributions to public history, and the 2014 American Geophysical Union Presidential Citation for Science and Society. She is a fellow of the American Geophysical Union, the Geological Society of America, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society.

In 2018 she was named a Guggenheim Fellow for a new book project with Erik Conway, The Big Myth: How American Business Taught Us to Loath Government and Love the Free Market, which will be published by Bloomsbury Press in February 2023.

Dr. Bruce J. Nelson ’74 Distinguished Speaker Series

The 2022–2023 Nelson series, “Climate Storytellers,” will explore the power of storytelling to promote conversations about climate change and to inspire climate action. We know that the impacts of climate change are already bringing great harm to the most vulnerable in our societies. We are all beginning to experience the effects of a warming planet in heat waves, fires, droughts, and extreme weather events. We know that the scientific consensus is clear: emissions from industrial activity are to blame. And yet political action to reduce emissions and to prepare for our future feels frustratingly slow. Publishing increasingly comprehensive scientific reports isn’t working. Neither is language and imagery designed to induce fear and panic.

The speakers in this series are doing something different. Drawing on a range of experiences and expertise in the sciences, arts and the humanities, each of our speakers will share how they use storytelling as a powerful tool of climate communication. We will learn how different kinds of stories can reach different audiences, with the goal of inspiring climate justice and climate action.