Climate change deniers belittle science and ignore public opinion, but there might be ways the media can help.
In a study of videos showing the effects of climate change, Mina Tsay-Vogel, codirector of the Boston University College of Communication (COM) Communication Research Center, found that factors such as the location of an ecological event and the complexity of scientific language used in reporting can sway viewers’ opinions. The research could help organizations battle skepticism of human-made climate change—and inspire more people to go green.
Working with Suchi Gopal, a BU College of Arts & Sciences professor of Earth and environment, and Rohan Kundargi (GRS’13,’16), Tsay-Vogel found that videos focusing on far-flung or global changes—a NASA study of carbon dioxide in the planet’s atmosphere, for example—were less effective than those that showed something happening down the street, such as the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.
According to the researchers, proximity was tied to certainty. The farther away a climate-related event was perceived to be, the less certain viewers were that humans were causing it.
That made them feel less responsible for doing something about it and “lowered their own perceived ability to influence global climate change outcomes,” says Tsay-Vogel, a COM assistant professor of communication.
Seeing climate impacts at a world level reduced viewers’ motivation to take action and “lowered their own perceived ability to influence global climate change outcomes.” —Mina Tsay-Vogel
That didn’t surprise her, but the boundary between local and global did. Tsay-Vogel and her team had commissioned scientists and professors to categorize the videos by complexity and location.
In a dry run of the study, they noticed participants perceived the proximity of a threat differently from the professionals.
Experts classified events in the southern United States as far away from the Northeast, but viewers in Boston considered them close to home.
How to Talk to a Climate Skeptic: Responses to the most common skeptical arguments on global warming
Below is a complete listing of the articles in “How to Talk to a Climate Skeptic,” a series by Coby Beck containing responses to the most common skeptical arguments on global warming. There are four separate taxonomies; arguments are divided by:
Individual articles will appear under multiple headings and may even appear in multiple subcategories in the same heading.
(Part of the How to Talk to a Climate Skeptic guide) Objection: Despite what the computer models tell us, there is actually no evidence of significant global warming. Answer: Global warming is not an output of computer models; it is …
(Part of the How to Talk to a Global Warming Skeptic guide) Objection: CO2 levels are recorded on top of Mauna Loa … a volcano! No wonder the levels are so high. (image courtesty of Global Warming Art)
(Part of the How to Talk to a Global Warming Skeptic guide) Objection: The apparent rise of global average temperatures is actually an illusion due to the urbanization of land around weather stations, the Urban Heat Island effect.
(Part of the How to Talk to a Global Warming Skeptic guide) Objection: One hundred and some years of global surface temperatures is not long enough to draw any conclusions from or worry about anyway. Answer: The reliable instrumental record …
(Part of the How to Talk to a Global Warming Skeptic guide) Objection: Even the scientists don't know that the climate is changing more than normal and if it's our fault or not. If you read what they write it …
(Part of the How to Talk to a Global Warming Skeptic guide) Objection: So 2005 was a record year. Records are set all the time. One really warm year is not global warming. Answer: This is actually not an unreasonable …
(Part of the How to Talk to a Global Warming Skeptic guide) Objection: A few glaciers receding today is not proof of global warming. Glaciers have grown and receded differently in many times and places.
(Part of the How to Talk to a Global Warming Skeptic guide) Objection: The surface temperature record is full of assumptions, corrections, differing equipment and station settings, changing technology, varying altitudes, and more. It is not possible to claim we …
(Part of the How to Talk to a Global Warming Skeptic guide) Objection: It was way colder than normal today in Wagga Wagga, proof that there is no global warming. Does this even deserve an answer? If we must …
(Part of the How to Talk to a Global Warming Skeptic guide) Objection: Satellite readings, which are much more accurate, show that the earth is in fact cooling. I wonder how long before this one stops coming up?
(Part of the How to Talk to a Global Warming Skeptic guide) Objection: There was global cooling in the '40s, '50s, and '60s, even while human greenhouse-gas emissions were rising. Clearly, temperature is not being driven by CO2.
(Part of the How to Talk to a Global Warming Skeptic guide) Objection: The Antarctic ice sheets are actually growing, which wouldn't be happening if global warming were real. Answer: There are two distinct problems with this argument. First, any …
(Part of the How to Talk to a Global Warming Skeptic guide) Objection: Global temperatures have been trending down since 1998. Global warming is over. Answer: At the time, 1998 was a record high year in both the CRU and …
(Part of the How to Talk to a Global Warming Skeptic guide) Objection: Sure, some glaciers are melting. But if you look at the studies, most of those for which we have data are growing. Answer: This is simply not …
So You Want to Convince a Climate Change Skeptic
Continue reading the main story
This article is part of the Debatable newsletter. You can sign up here to receive it Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Happy New Year! It’s 2020, and the forecast for this next decade is cloudy with an apprehension of doom.
According to the United Nations, the world has only until 2030 to cut carbon dioxide emissions down to roughly half those of 2010 levels to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, the more ambitious target of the Paris Agreement.
(The world has already warmed by about 1 degree Celsius since the 19th century.) The outlook, in the words of a United Nations report released in November, is “bleak.”
Daunting as the problem may be, millions of people still don’t accept the premise of its existence: Depending on how you ask, only about half to two-thirds of Americans believe that climate change is caused by humans, according to the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center.
The question: How do you convince someone that climate change is real? Should you even try?
If you want to convince someone about climate change, don’t lead with data, writes Katharine Hayhoe in The Times. Dr.
Hayhoe is a climate scientist at Texas Tech University, and she’s also an evangelical Christian, two identities she realized after moving from Canada were “supposed to be entirely incompatible” in the United States.
Understanding why that’s the case is crucial when attempting to convert climate change skeptics, she writes, explaining:
Opinion: How do we convince climate change deniers? That’s the wrong question
November 20, 2019 — “How do you convince people that climate change is real?” is a question I’m invariably asked after I give a talk on climate change and health.
Even as wildfires incinerate communities in California; hurricanes decimate islands, taking thousands of lives; and Qatar starts to air condition its outdoors from scorching heat, some continue to “not believe” in climate change.
I have struggled to come up with a convincing answer. Should I show them the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report? Share gut-wrenching facts on the mass extinction of species? Offer statements from trusted medical organizations?
But I know none of this would work. Research shows us that presenting scientific facts, the “information deficit model” of communication, is often not effective in changing deeply held beliefs about climate change.
So instead of asking myself how I should convince someone of climate change, I started asking why instead. The answer is simple, isn’t it? If they “believe” in climate change, they will want to take action. They will cut down their carbon footprint, vote …
I lost confidence in what I was saying halfway through that sentence. As a physician, I know how difficult behavior change is. Smokers, who are well aware of the harms of cigarettes, take a long time to move from the stage of “pre-contemplation,” where they are not considering quitting smoking, to the “action” phase of quitting smoking.
When we look at climate-behavior change, an analysis by Yale Climate Communications in 2018 might give us an insight into the tedious nature of the task. The study estimated that 70% of respondents believe in climate change.
But only 57% believe humans cause it. So, first, we need to convince people it’s real. Then we need to convince them it’s man-made.
Then we need to motivate them to take action — action that essentially requires changing every aspect of their lives.
Well, if we don’t convince everyone that climate change is real, how do we fix it? A common misconception is that to create change, everyone needs to act. However, the data show otherwise. According to the Washington Post, a Gallup Poll in 1961 showed only 28% of respondents in a U.S.
survey approved of the lunch counter sit-ins and freedom buses during the Civil Rights movement. Only 57% supported same-sex marriage when the U.S. Supreme Court decided in its favor in 2015. Erica Chenoweth from Harvard University analyzed hundreds of nonviolent campaigns over the course of a century. She found that it takes only around 3.
5% of the population actively participating in civil protests to cause real political change.
In other words, the efficient move now is to take the time and energy we want to expend on convincing deniers and use it instead to assemble the critical mass to turn the tide.
With a few exceptions — speaking truth to leaders in power and helping loved ones recognize the magnitude of the threat — we need to shift our way of approaching climate communication from changing minds to giving people already on board concrete tasks on which to take action.
The five corrupt pillars of climate change denial
The fossil fuel industry, political lobbyists, media moguls and individuals have spent the past 30 years sowing doubt about the reality of climate change – where none exists. The latest estimate is that the world’s five largest publicly-owned oil and gas companies spend about US$200 million a year on lobbying to control, delay or block binding climate policy.
Their hold on the public seems to be waning. Two recent polls suggested over 75% of Americans think humans are causing climate change.
School climate strikes, Extinction Rebellion protests, national governments declaring a climate emergency, improved media coverage of climate change and an increasing number of extreme weather events have all contributed to this shift. There also seems to be a renewed optimism that we can deal with the crisis.
But this means lobbying has changed, now employing more subtle and more vicious approaches – what has been termed as “climate sadism”. It is used to mock young people going on climate protests and to ridicule Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old young woman with Asperger’s, who is simply telling the scientific truth.
Anti-climate change lobbying spend by the five largest publicly-owned fossil fuel companies. Statista, CC BY-SA
At such a crossroads, it is important to be able to identify the different types of denial. The below taxonomy will help you spot the different ways that are being used to convince you to delay action on climate change.
1. Science denial
This is the type of denial we are all familiar with: that the science of climate change is not settled. Deniers suggest climate change is just part of the natural cycle. Or that climate models are unreliable and too sensitive to carbon dioxide.
Some even suggest that CO₂ is such a small part of the atmosphere it cannot have a large heating affect. Or that climate scientists are fixing the data to show the climate is changing (a global conspiracy that would take thousands of scientists in more than a 100 countries to pull off).
All these arguments are false and there is a clear consensus among scientists about the causes of climate change. The climate models that predict global temperature rises have remained very similar over the last 30 years despite the huge increase in complexity, showing it is a robust outcome of the science.
Read more: Five climate change science misconceptions – debunked
Model reconstruction of global temperature since 1970. Average of the models in black with model range in grey compared to observational temperature records from NASA, NOAA, HadCRUT, Cowtan and Way, and Berkeley Earth. Carbon Brief, CC BY
The shift in public opinion means that undermining the science will increasingly have little or no effect. So climate change deniers are switching to new tactics. One of Britain’s leading deniers, Nigel Lawson, the former UK chancellor, now agrees that humans are causing climate change, despite having founded the sceptic Global Warming Policy Foundation in 2009.
It says it is “open-minded on the contested science of global warming, [but] is deeply concerned about the costs and other implications of many of the policies currently being advocated”. In other words, climate change is now about the cost not the science.
2. Economic denial
The idea that climate change is too expensive to fix is a more subtle form of climate denial. Economists, however, suggest we could fix climate change now by spending 1% of world GDP. Perhaps even less if the cost savings from improved human health and expansion of the global green economy are taken into account. But if we don’t act now, by 2050 it could cost over 20% of world GDP.
We should also remember that in 2018 the world generated US$86,000,000,000,000 and every year this World GDP grows by 3.5%. So setting aside just 1% to deal with climate change would make little overall difference and would save the world a huge amount of money.
What the climate change deniers also forget to tell you is that they are protecting a fossil fuel industry that receives US$5.2 trillion in annual subsidies – which includes subsidised supply costs, tax breaks and environmental costs. This amounts to 6% of world GDP.
The International Monetary Fund estimates that efficient fossil fuel pricing would lower global carbon emissions by 28%, fossil fuel air pollution deaths by 46%, and increase government revenue by 3.8% of the country’s GDP.
3. Humanitarian denial
Climate change deniers also argue that climate change is good for us. They suggest longer, warmer summers in the temperate zone will make farming more productive.
These gains, however, are often offset by the drier summers and increased frequency of heatwaves in those same areas.
For example, the 2010 “Moscow” heatwave killed 11,000 people, devastated the Russian wheat harvest and increased global food prices.
Geographical zones of the world. The tropical zones span from the Tropic of Cancer in the North to the Tropic of Capricorn in the South (red shaded region) and contains 40% of the World population. Maulucioni/Wikipedia, CC BY-SA
More than 40% of the world’s population also lives in the Tropics – where from both a human health prospective and an increase in desertification no one wants summer temperatures to rise.
There are three types of climate change denier—and most of us are at least one
Amid the cacophony of reactions to Greta Thunberg’s appearance before the United Nations Climate Action Summit, a group of self-proclaimed “prominent scientists” sent a registered letter to UN Secretary-General António Guterres. The letter, headed “There is no climate emergency,” urged Guterres to follow:
…a climate policy based on sound science, realistic economics, and genuine concern for those harmed by costly but unnecessary attempts at mitigation.
The group, supported by 75 Australian business and industry figures, along with others around the world, obviously rejects the scientific consensus on climate change. But this missive displays remarkably different tactics to those previously used to stymie climate action.
The language of climate change denial and inaction has transformed. Outright science denial has been replaced by efforts to reframe climate change as natural, and climate action as unwarranted.
However, this is just another way of rejecting the facts, and their implications for us. Denial can take many forms.
Shades of denial
The twin phenomena of denial and inaction are related to one another, at least in the context of climate change. They are also complex, both in the general sense of “complicated and intricate,” and in the technical psychological sense of “a group of repressed feelings and anxieties which together result in abnormal behaviour.”
In his book States of Denial, the late psychoanalytic sociologist Stanley Cohen described three forms of denial. Although his framework was developed from analyzing genocide and other atrocities, it applies just as well to our individual and collective inaction in the face of the overwhelming scientific evidence of human-induced climate change.
The first form of denial is literal denial. It is the simple, conscious, outright rejection that something happened or is happening—that is, lying.
Australian senators Pauline Hanson and Malcolm Roberts, among others, have at one time or another maintained this position—outright denial that climate change is happening (though Senator Hanson now might accept climate change but denies any human contribution to it).
Interestingly, former Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull recently blamed “climate change deniers” in his own government for blocking any attempt to deal with climate change, resulting paradoxically in higher energy prices today.
It is tempting to attribute outright denial to individual malice or stupidity, and that may occasionally be the case. More worrying and more insidious, though, is the social organization of literal denial of climate change.
There is plenty of evidence of clandestine, orchestrated lying by vested interests in industry.
If anyone is looking for a conspiracy in climate change, this is it—not a collusion of thousands of scientists and major science organizations.
The second form of denial is interpretive denial. Here, people do not contest the facts, but interpret them in ways that distort their meaning or importance. For example, one might say climate change is just a natural fluctuation or greenhouse gas accumulation is a consequence, not a cause, of rising temperatures. This is what we saw in the letter to the UN.
The most insidious form of denial
The third and most insidious form is implicatory denial. The facts of climate change are not denied, nor are they interpreted to be something else. What is denied or minimized are the psychological, political, and moral implications of the facts for us. We fail to accept responsibility for responding; we fail to act when the information says we should.
Of course, some are unable to respond, financially or otherwise, but for many, implicatory denial is a kind of dissociation. Ignoring the moral imperative to act is as damning a form of denial as any other, and arguably is much worse.
The treatment of Thunberg, and the vigour with which people push away reminders of that which they would rather not deal with, illustrate implicatory denial.
We are almost all guilty, to some extent, of engaging in implicatory denial.
In the case of climate change, implicatory denial allows us to use a reusable coffee cup, recycle our plastic, or sometimes catch a bus, and thus to pretend to ourselves that we are doing our bit.
Almost none of us individually have acted as we ought on the science of climate change. But that does not mean we can’t change how we act in the future. Indeed, there are some recent indications that, as with literal denial, implicatory denial is becoming an increasingly untenable psychological position.
While it is tempting, and even cathartic, to mock the shrill responses to Thunberg from literal and interpretive deniers, we would do well to ponder our own inherent biases and irrational responses to climate change.
For instance, we tend to think we are doing more for the planet than those around us (and we can’t all be right). We also tend to think literal deniers are much more common in our society than they in fact are.
These are just two examples of common strategies we use to deny our own responsibility and culpability.
They make us feel better about what little we actually do, or congratulate us for accepting the science. But they are ultimately self-defeating delusions.
Instead of congratulating ourselves on agreeing with the basic scientific facts of climate change, we need to push ourselves to action.
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.
6 arguments to refute your climate-denying relatives this holiday
- We all seem to have that one relative who denies climate change (and loudly) at the dinner table — the one who points to snow on the ground in November to disprove global warming, calls climate change an international hoax or insists climate change is part of “the natural planetary cycles.”
- It may seem futile to argue with these family members — you could say anything to them, read them every landmark climate report backed by thousands of scientists, and they still won’t change their minds.
But engaging in this sort of respectful discourse with nay-saying climate deniers — even if your uncle blindly disputes every point you make — is a step in the right direction.
Our job as environmental activists (or even just someone who cares about our collective future) is to squelch anti-science rhetoric as we encounter it. Not to do so could mean backpedaling on so much of the progress that scientific research has advanced.
… Or maybe you’re just in the mood to argue. Whatever inspires you to myth-bust this holiday season, here are six ways to respond to your family’s climate-denying comments. In the most respectful, loving way, of course:
1. Uncle Frank says, “Climate change is natural and normal — we’ve seen fluctuations throughout history.”
You say:The Earth has been through a lot in the last 4.5 billion years. And yes, high levels of carbon dioxide have been released naturally in the Earth’s history. Scientists have attributed mass extinctions to atmospheric carbon dioxide from 580 million years ago, long before humans were around to burn ridiculous amounts of fossil fuels.
What we’re experiencing with climate change today, however, is far different than any warming or cooling humanity has seen — in rate and in scale. Our present climate change is occurring 20 to 50 times faster than the most rapid climate change events in Earth’s history.