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If they are heard, the Climate-change skeptics win the public opinion war

This study really reinforces how important it is for skeptics to be heard. Just get out there, write letters to the editor, email your MP, and speak up at public events. It does help.

There’s a new long detailed study out struggling with how to keep Climate Fear alive. Oh, the disappointment, exposing people to both sides of the story created more skeptics. The researchers tried all their best angles, like pretending that using expensive energy would “help the economy”, or “free the nation from a dependence on foreign oil”. They tried the religious frame “we’re protecting god’s creation” and they tried what they thought was a nationalist frame (but which was really just another gonzo economic claim dressed up with US-flattery) “Innovative technology will keep our nation’s economy strong”.

Not surprisingly these dud messages don’t work. McCright et al miss the point that if they are selling schemes to change the weather, the best salesman would list the direct benefits — like how much nicer a cooler world will be, with fewer storms and floods, less heatwaves, and more cold days in winter, stuff like that right. (I can’t think why they don’t?) Could it be that no matter what suit they put the skunk in, it still stinks? Lipstick on a pig… The bottom line is that people don’t really believe we can slow storms, and control the weather, and they don’t really like a cold climate much either. No one believes that solar panels will reduce floods, or that windmills will bring rain in a drought. The believers can’t sell the direct benefits because they are preposterous, which leaves them selling weak messages about fake schemes to boost the economy, or the fear of “looking like a pariah”, or being called a “denier”. Because they are hobbled by that gulf with reality, the sales team just can’t compete with even the basic skeptical messages. No wonder they try so desperately hard to silence skeptics. It is their best tactic.

The researchers McCright et al are hunting for the impossible, the magical phrase or angle that will convert the fence-sitters to believe the fantasy. As usual they’ve done exhaustive, dedicated and pointless work. (Is that government funded?) They start with namecalling — there are “deniers” everywhere, and not surprisingly they finish with nothing. As long as they assume the climate models are right they’ll be banging their heads against the wall.

 Climate-change foes winning public opinion war

As world leaders meet this week and next at a historic climate change summit in Paris, a new study by Michigan State University environmental scientists suggests opponents of climate change appear to be winning the war of words.

The research, funded by the National Science Foundation, finds that climate-change advocates are largely failing to influence public opinion. Climate-change foes, on the other hand, are successfully changing people’s minds — Republicans and Democrats alike — with messages denying the existence of global warming.

“This is the first experiment of its kind to examine the influence of the denial messages on American adults,” said Aaron M. McCright, a sociologist and lead investigator on the study. “Until now, most people just assumed climate change deniers were having an influence on public opinion. Our experiment confirms this.”

The findings come as leaders from 150 nations attempt to forge a treaty to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. During a speech Monday at the Paris summit, President Barack Obama said the “growing threat of climate change could define the contours of this century more dramatically than any other.”

Nearly 1,600 U.S. adults took part in the MSU study. Participants read fabricated news articles about climate change and then completed a survey gauging their beliefs on the issue. The articles contained either positive or negative real-world messages about climate change, or both.

The positive messages framed the topic of climate change around one of four major issues: economic opportunity, national security, Christian stewardship and public health. According to the article addressing public health, for example:

“Medical experts argue that dealing with climate change will improve our public health by reducing the likelihood of extreme weather events, reducing air quality and allergen problems, and limiting the spread of pests that carry infectious diseases.”

In half of the articles, participants were presented a negative message that read, in part: “However, most conservative leaders and Republican politicians believe that so-called climate change is vastly exaggerated by environmentalists, liberal scientists seeking government funding for their research and Democratic politicians who want to regulate business.”

Surprisingly, none of the four major positive messages changed participants’ core beliefs about climate change. Further, when the negative messages were presented, people were more apt to doubt the existence of climate change — and this was true of both conservatives and liberals.

“That’s the power of the denial message,” said McCright, associate professor in MSU’s Lyman Briggs College and Department of Sociology. “It’s extremely difficult to change people’s minds on climate change, in part because they are entrenched in their views.”

The skeptical messages they chose to use didn’t work so well on the Democrat voters as they did on the Conservative ones, but that’s only because they didn’t pick the right messages. I could help them, but I don’t think they want to know.


Aaron M. McCright, Meghan Charters, Katherine Dentzman, Thomas Dietz. Examining the Effectiveness of Climate Change Frames in the Face of a Climate Change Denial Counter-Frame. Topics in Cognitive Science, 2015; DOI: 10.1111/tops.12171


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