Economic Identities and The Historical Roots of Climate Change Denial in the U.S.

Almost half of U.S. citizens doubt the reality of human-made climate change, and this share has remained stable over the last three decades. This paper argues that the roots of this denial are, in part, to be found in the economic histories of communities. Using data on 3.6 million oil and gas wells drilled between 1859 and 2022, I show that long-term exposure to fossil fuel extraction negatively impacts present levels of climate change beliefs — independent of present production and employment. These effects are neither driven by ideological bundling of beliefs, nor by selective migration. Instead, building on archival and, in particular, historical local newspapers data, I document the development of persistent fossil fuel identities in communities linked to their extraction, and show how they interacted with the formation of beliefs.