Aaron M. McCright is Professor and Chairperson in the Department of Sociology at Michigan State University. His sociological research investigates how interrelationships among scientific developments, political processes, and social dynamics influence society’s capacity for recognizing and dealing with environmental degradation and technological risks. Dr. McCright is most well-known for his work analyzing the political dynamics and public understanding of climate science and policy in the United States—especially organized climate change denial and political polarization on climate change. In addition, his recent work helps to improve our sociological understanding of societal risk and increase the effectiveness of our risk governance for promoting a more sustainable society. Dr. McCright also investigates the roles of public opinion for social movements, especially how we can use public opinion surveys to investigate how citizens identify with different social movements over their life course. Further, he conducts research on the effectiveness of inquiry-based learning projects for improving students’ scientific and statistical knowledge, skills, and attitudes. He has published two books, has authored over a dozen chapters in edited volumes, and has written a few commissioned reports. He also has published over 60 peer-reviewed articles in such scholarly journals as Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences; Nature Climate Change; Global Environmental Change; Climatic Change; Public Opinion Quarterly; Social Problems; Social Science Quarterly; Theory, Culture, and Society; The Sociological Quarterly; Journal of Risk Research; Organization and Environment; Environment and Behavior; Population and Environment; and Environmental Politics. He was named a 2007 Kavli Frontiers Fellow in the National Academy of Sciences, he served as a 2008-2009 Lilly Teaching Fellow at MSU, and he received the 2009 Teacher-Scholar Award and the 2009 Curricular Service-Learning and Civic Engagement Award at MSU.
Industry Expertise (2)
Areas of Expertise (7)
Values and Sciences
Climate Change Politics
Climate Change Denial
Trust in Science
Social Movement Identity
2007 Kavli Frontiers Fellow (professional)
Given by the National Academy of Sciences
2009 Teacher-Scholar Award (professional)
An award given by MSU
The 2009 Curricular Service-Learning and Civic Engagement Award (professional)
An award given by MSU
Larry T. Reynolds Award for Outstanding Teaching of Sociology (professional)
An award given by the Michigan Sociological Association
Washington State University: Ph.D., Sociology
Washington State University: M.A., Sociology
Putting science into practice: Why we need to play our part
Union of Concerned Scientists
In his op-ed, Young claimed that Al Gore is responsible for “politicizing” the science of climate change in the United States through his production of An Inconvenient Truth in 2006. However, sociologists Aaron McCright and Riley Dunlap document that the politicization of climate change in the U.S. happened much earlier than 2006 and that it was not because of well-intentioned documentaries; rather, it was due to the strategic work of the George W. Bush administration on behalf of private interests...
How Is Climate Change Denial Still a Thing?
“We’re really in uncharted territory,” says Aaron McCright, a sociologist at Michigan State University, tells Inverse. “I can’t think of any time in the last couple hundred years where there has been a society in which a large group of people are somewhat impervious to empirical reality.”
You need to get inside the mind of a climate change denier if you want to change it
Trump and Ebell are not outliers. According to a study by sociologists Aaron M. McCright and Riley Dunlap, based on an analysis of Gallup surveys of public opinion between 2000 and 2010, 32% of adults in America deny that there is a scientific consensus on climate change. There’s a clear political divide on the issue in the US: According to a 2016 survey by Pew Research, only 15% of conservative Republican Americans agreed with the statement “the Earth is warming mostly due to human activity,”compared with 79% of liberal Democrats...
MSU Study: Climate change denial messaging works
Michigan Radio online
MSU associate professor and sociologist Aaron McCright led the study of 1600 US adults. McCright says messages that frame climate change as a public health or national security threat, or even through a “positive” frame like economic opportunity or religious obligation, seem to fall flat.
Climate-change foes winning public opinion war
MSU Today online
“This is the first experiment of its kind to examine the influence of the denial messages on American adults,” said Aaron M. McCright, a sociologist and lead investigator on the study. “Until now, most people just assumed climate change deniers were having an influence on public opinion. Our experiment confirms this.”
Journal Articles (9)
Ideology, capitalism, and climate: Explaining public views about climate change in the United StatesEnergy Research & Social Science
2016 Over the last three decades, climate change has become publicly defined as an important social problem deserving action. A substantial body of social science research examines the patterns of climate change views in the general publics of countries around the world. In this review essay, we identify the strongest and most consistent predictors of key dimensions of climate change views within many countries, and we also discuss the prevailing theoretical explanations of these specific effects.
The politicization of climate change and polarization in the American public's views of global warming, 2001–2010The Sociological Quarterly
2011 We examine political polarization over climate change within the American public by analyzing data from 10 nationally representative Gallup Polls between 2001 and 2010. We find that liberals and Democrats are more likely to report beliefs consistent with the scientific consensus and express personal concern about global warming than are conservatives and Republicans.
Cool dudes: The denial of climate change among conservative white males in the United StatesGlobal environmental change
2011 We examine whether conservative white males are more likely than are other adults in the US general public to endorse climate change denial. We draw theoretical and analytical guidance from the identity-protective cognition thesis explaining the white male effect and from recent political psychology scholarship documenting the heightened system-justification tendencies of political conservatives.
The effects of gender on climate change knowledge and concern in the American publicPopulation and Environment
2010 This study tests theoretical arguments about gender differences in scientific knowledge and environmental concern using 8 years of Gallup data on climate change knowledge and concern in the US general public. Contrary to expectations from scientific literacy research, women convey greater assessed scientific knowledge of climate change than do men. Consistent with much existing sociology of science research, women underestimate their climate change knowledge more than do men.
Anti-reflexivityTheory, Culture & Society
2010 The American conservative movement is a force of anti-reflexivity insofar as it attacks two key elements of reflexive modernization: the environmental movement and environmental impact science. Learning from its mistakes in overtly attacking environmental regulations in the early 1980s, this counter-movement has subsequently exercised a more subtle form of power characterized by non-decision-making. We examine the conservative movement’s efforts to undermine climate science and policy in the USA over the last two decades by using this second dimension of power.
A widening gap: Republican and Democratic views on climate changeEnvironment: Science and Policy for Sustainable Development
Defeating Kyoto: The conservative movement's impact on US climate change policySocial Problems
2003 In this article, we argue that a major reason the United States failed to ratify the Kyoto Protocol to ameliorate global warming is the opposition of the American conservative movement, a key segment of the anti-environmental counter-movement. We examine how the conservative movement mobilized between 1990 and 1997 to construct the" non-problematicity" of global warming.
Challenging global warming as a social problem: An analysis of the conservative movement's counter-claimsSocial Problems
2000 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 circulated 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 movement 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.
Perceived scientific agreement and support for government action on climate change in the USAClimatic Change
2013 Given the well-documented campaign in the USA to deny the reality and seriousness of anthropogenic climate change (a major goal of which is to “manufacture uncertainty” in the minds of policy-makers and the general public), we examine the influence that perception of the scientific agreement on global warming has on the public’s beliefs about global warming and support for government action to reduce emissions.