Now that Sandy has exacted a steep toll in lives and property, the question is unavoidable: why do so many people in America refuse to take climate science seriously?

I am not assuming that Sandy was the direct consequence of human-caused climate change. But with this fresh evidence of the impact of climate issues on real people, how is it possible for anyone to think that thousands of scientists around the world are engaged in an elaborate hoax?

The standard reply is that some powerful organizations – above all, in the fossil fuel industry – think that they can benefit from misleading the public, and have funded a successful disinformation campaign. There is a lot of truth to this answer, but it isn't the whole truth.

For the average climate science denier in the street (and there are a lot of them on some streets), there is often little correlation between the vehemence of their denials and the so-called "facts" at their disposal. The average Chuck is like Chuck Norris, who has claimed that climate science is a "trick". Not an innocent mistake, not a systemic bias, but a premeditated fraud.

Climate science denial needs disinformation to survive, but it has its feet firmly planted in a part of American culture. That culture draws on lots of different sources. But if you want to understand it, you need to understand something about America's religious landscape.

Take a look at some of the most recent initiatives in the climate science denial wars. In Louisiana, Tennessee, New Hampshire and other states, legislatures have either passed or put forward bills intended to disinform secondary-school students about climate science. Sure, they paper over the assault on education with claims that they only want to teach "both sides" of the issue and encourage "critical thinking". But, as leaked documents made clear in at least one instance, the ultimate purpose is to produce a young generation of "skeptics" whose views on climate science will happily coincide with those of the fossil fuel industry.