Simply explaining the science behind man-made climate change will probably not help convert skeptics, says an Australian study. But what may tilt the balance is convincing climate skeptics that their actions are unlikely to prevent action on climate change, researchers say.
The study, published in Nature Climate Change Monday, also emphasizes that it is important to reduce the growing polarization between the skeptics and the believers.
Researchers conducted an online survey of 120 climate change skeptics and more than 300 believers living in the U.S. for this study.
“When talking to skeptics it is probably important to focus on aspects that both skeptics and believers have in common rather than the differences between them,” said Ana-Maria Bliuc, a behavioural social scientist at Australia’s Monash University and one of the authors of the study.
As an example, the focus could be on “things like cleaner air, low power consumption, improved public transport, better waste management, efficient agriculture, reforestation ... (they) are all in public interest, regardless of position on climate change,” she said.
Improving communication between the two sides of this big divide could be an effective pathway to reaching consensus, said Bliuc.
This study comes at a time when more and more people believe that climate change is real but there is a sharp division in beliefs about its causes, with many skeptical that human being are responsible for the change. Ninety-seven per cent of scientific papers agree that climate change is caused by humans — but less than half the U.S. population shares this belief.
What’s Bliuc’s study did was to also delve into the identities of the two groups. It discovered that contrasting opinions of the skeptics and the believers about the causes of climate change provide the basis of social identities that define who they are, what they stand for and who they stand with, and against.
Researchers equated holding a particular position on climate change as the basis of a particular identity — just as being pro-life or pro-choice in the abortion debate does.
Researchers found that the views of skeptics go much deeper; they also feel constantly under attack.
When people deny facts, it is frustrating, said Tom Pedersen, executive director of the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions in Victoria.
“ ... (What) we’re up against here is a set of values that has surrounded itself with fact-repelling armour.”
(Pedersen differentiates between the term “skeptic” and “denier.” A skeptic will look at evidence and weigh it, while a denier refuses to consider evidence, he said.)
“I tend to run more into deniers — people who put their hands over their ears,” he said. “They are so convinced that climate change, as induced by human activity, is not occurring that nothing you say to them will make a difference.
So how do you deal with those who deny facts?
For Pedersen, “one approach is to say: it doesn’t matter whether or not you accept the science of climate change. But what have you got against cleaner air, less asthma in our kids and more money in your pockets,” he said.
“You change the nature of their argument and encourage them to look at it from a different perspective. Put aside their concern about action on climate change being another tax grab.”