This article compares the political strategies used by conservative governments in Australia (John Howard) and Canada (Stephen Harper) to manage public impressions of climate change and climate change policy. These cases are significant in part because both governments acted against the weight of domestic public opinion. While many studies of political resistance to climate change mitigation focus on the role of denial, skepticism, and counter-claims, our comparison finds a significant role for what we call “affirmation techniques,” namely the rhetorical acceptance of the consensus position on climate change followed by concerted attempts to control precisely what acceptance means. We draw on recent theoretical work on anti-reflexivity and the sociology of ignorance to explain the political effectiveness of these strategies.

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Author notes

* Research for this article was supported with funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Thanks to Catherine O'Keefe for providing materials on the Australian case. We appreciate the helpful comments from three anonymous referees and the journal editors.