In some cases, the answer is obvious: they deny the science because it poses a threat to their existing business operations. As the Smithsonian reported, almost $1 billion a year is funnelled into anti-climate science propaganda by donors including big industrial companies like Exxon and Koch Industries.
But it’s not just industrial companies: a host of far-right donors unconnected with the fossil fuel industry are also active: as The Guardian recently reported in the UK, the extreme right-wing think tank, The Institute of Economic Affairs has published at least four books, as well as many articles and papers, over two decades, casting doubt on the idea of manmade climate.
So why else would they be so keen to deny the science, when the risks are clearly so high?
Because for them, climate change is not a risk, it is an opportunity.
Let me explain: any predictable change can be a source of profit; the best sources of profit are those which allow rent-seeking (benefiting from someone else’s work rather than working yourself); and climate change would offer some of the greatest opportunities in history for rent-seeking.
Any Predictable Change can be a Source of Profit
From the point of view of investors, any predictable change can be profitable. If I can predict that the stock-market will rise, I can profit by buying today. If I can predict that it will fall, I can profit by selling it short. A rise is generally good news for society; a fall is generally bad news – but they are both good news for me, if I position myself correctly.
In this way some people are positioned to do well out of a hard Brexit.
The ‘Best’ Sources of Profit are those which Allow Rent-seeking
‘Rent-seeking’ is a term economists use to describe the way some businesses and individuals obtain financial gains and benefits by manipulating of the distribution of economic resources, rather than by producing anything of value themselves. The first recognised form of rent-seeking was being a land-owner (hence the term). If a tenant farmer works hard and does well with your land, you can simply increase the rent and appropriate a large share of his or her hard work for yourself.
Rent-seeking never encourages productivity in the economy. On the other hand, it is an easier way to get rich than having to produce something of value to society yourself.
Climate Change Offers Great Opportunities for Rent-Seeking
If climate change proceeds unabated, we could be looking at temperature rises of up to 4⁰C. And this will radically change the usefulness of most of the world’s land.
Most of the currently valuable land in the world will become less valuable. But some of the least valuable today will become very valuable indeed. Canada, Greenland, The Nordic region, and much of Russia in the Northern Hemisphere; and New Zealand, Tasmania and parts of Antarctica in the Southern Hemisphere will all become newly desirable.
Owning large tracts of such land today will offer huge returns in coming decades as people seek to migrate away from uninhabitable and inhospitable regions such as the USA, most of Middle and South America, Southern Europe, Africa and Asia.
Of course, the cost in human, animal and plant life will be incalculable, but the profit opportunity will be enormous.
Maybe Donald Trump does not doubt the science; he just likes what he sees. And that is why he was so interested in Greenland.