Will talking change anyone's mind about climate change?
A new guide gives advice for talking with people who don't accept climate change, in hopes of getting them to change their minds.
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That partly explains the apparent decline in belief about global warming, as measured by the Pew poll: Since the economic implosion of 2008, the economy has taken center stage, leaving little room for other concerns.Skip to next paragraph
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So how to get climate back into the spotlight? The manual doesn't say exactly, advising, only that would-be communicators should be aware of what else is floating around the worry pool.
But it does mention another risk – piling on too much anxiety-inducing information at once: "emotional numbing." That's when an exposure to a multitude of problems overwhelms, and makes one less likely to care about much about any of them.
People don't like uncertainties. Unfortunately, climate science — and science in general — tries to be upfront about uncertainties. That's why scientists use language riddled with caveats, and why they often seem to speak in the conditional tense.
The authors argue that, although people prefer certainty, it's important to communicate uncertainties when they exist.
Indeed, that was the thinking behind sentences like "Most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic GHG [greenhouse gas] concentrations," which appears in the Summary for Policymakers from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
The problem, say the authors, is that an honest attempt to express real uncertainties may come across as vagueness to laypeople, who then conclude that the scientists aren't really certain about much, so it's best to ignore them entirely.
To avoid this, the authors recommend nipping far-out interpretations in the bud by including absolute numbers next to probabilistic verbiage. "Very likely" in the sentence above, for example, could have a "90 percent or greater likelihood" parenthetical next to it, which is what the IPCC scientists mean.
Of course, the authors offer no advice on how to better explain the statistical analyses that produced the 90 percent figure, which surely lies at the root of much doubt.
This chapter details "default effects" — "the human tendency to stick with the option that is selected automatically instead of choosing an alternate option" — and suggests that people seeking to make human behavior more enviro-friendly take advantage of it.
A case study: Rutgers University saved many trees simply by changing the default setting on printers in school computer labs from "single-sided" to "double-sided." After the switch, students had to manually select "single-sided" if they wanted it. Most didn't care and, ultimately, this small alteration saves nearly 7.4 million sheets of paper, or 1,280 trees, during the academic year.
The manual concludes on a hopeful note:
"Social science research provides compelling evidence for an optimist’s view that climate change communicators can reach both policymakers and the public, informing and inspiring them to address climate change."
Editor’s note: For more articles about the environment, see the Monitor’s main environment page, which offers information on many environment topics. Also, check out our Bright Green blog archive and our RSS feed.