How to Change Minds in the Climate Change Debate

“Climate change is just a hoax...a liberal conspiracy targeting fossil fuel companies.” Scientists are still debating whether climate change is real.” “It's all going to burn in the apocalypse.” If you have ever discussed climate change with those who do not believe that climate change is human-caused, you have probably heard quotes like these.

So why do climate change deniers strongly reject a 97% consensus reached by climate scientists worldwide? They may have even seen the evidence of climate change in the devastation of Superstorm Sandy, rising water levels in the streets of Miami, or the rapid disappearance of glaciers in Glacier National Park and yet, still refuse to believe that humankind is responsible for the rapidity of climate change that threatens our planet.

 

Understanding the Psychology of Denial

The answer lies in their worldview, the lens through which they perceive the events around them. Someone entrenched in a conservative worldview may claim that human-caused climate change is a liberal conspiracy to undermine the fossil fuel industry. People of faith may have adopted the position of the late Jerry Falwell, who declared that climate change was a tool of Satan designed to distract the faithful from spreading the message of Christ.

It would be natural to assume that, when presented with the facts and evidence of climate change, deniers would feel compelled to change their minds. In fact, their reaction is typically quite the opposite—they actually feel more confident in their beliefs—a dynamic that is known as the backfire effect. The science behind this is centered in the amygdala region of the brain, which causes us to respond to both physical and information threats by shoring up defenses.

Say No to “Just the Facts, Ma’am”

So if facts won’t change minds, what will? The answer lies in how we frame our talking points, the nature of our relationship with the denier, and the use of what is called “sticky science.”

Rather than reiterating the threats of climate change, reframe the conversation to focus on the positive benefits of caring for the planet such as reduced health risks, job creation, and energy independence. For example, you could mention that an offshore wind farm off the coast of Rhode Island has shut down a CO2-spewing diesel plant and created 300 jobs. Reframing climate change as ‘creation care’ tends to resonate with evangelical Christians.

Appealing to emotions can be a powerful influencer and is a prime example of sticky science—Florida residents may be more convinced when you point out that rising sea levels may threaten their residence or business. Using metaphors and telling stories bypasses the logical processes of the brain by stimulating the amygdala and sensory cortex of the brain respectively.

Linking climate change to personal health (another appeal to emotion) is likely to resonate with deniers on some level. Heat waves, hurricanes, famine, and flooding all threaten human life; increased flooding also increases the risk of disease carried by mosquitos and standing water. Psychologists report that climate change can lead to pre-traumatic stress and anxiety.

Trust also plays an important factor and is another trait of sticky science—the more credible and trustworthy you are perceived, the greater the chance that you will be able to influence deniers. Discussions with family, friends, and local community groups are more likely to engender a shift in beliefs than an impersonal news article or presentation by strangers. But regardless of who you are addressing, keep in mind that you are more likely to reach the undecided majority than hardcore deniers.

But It’s Cold Outside!

Deniers often cite common myths as a defense against facts regarding human-caused climate change. You may have heard the story of Jim Inhofe tossing a snowball in the U.S. Senate chamber, declaring that the cold, snowy weather outside disproved climate change. While this anecdote may seem darkly humorous, Inhofe’s statements perpetuate a common climate change myth. In reality, as the Arctic grows warmer, the polar jet stream pushes south and east across North America and Europe, leading to intense winter storms.

John Cook, the founder of Skeptical Science, explains how to use “inoculation theory” to debunk common climate change myths.

“In inoculation theory, you expose people to a weak version of the misconception,” Cook explains. “What I mean by this is you introduce the myth, and then identify the fallacy that the myth uses to distort science.”

Cook explains that most myths fall prey to one or more of five logical fallacies summed up as the acronym FLICC: fake experts (magnified minority), logical fallacies, impossible expectations, cherry picking, and conspiracy theories. Inhofe’s myth would be example of impossible expectations.

Working Together for Change

As climate change increasingly encroaches on our everyday lives, knowing how to engage and win over deniers is essential. If nothing else works, appeal to the better angels of their nature—in the current environment of national polarization, working together to care for our planet will foster a kinder, more responsible society.

Delve in Deeper

You can learn more about how to effectively communicate with climate change deniers or non-scientists in general through these two excellent online classes:

Making Sense of Climate Change Denial - University of Queensland

Stand Up for Science: Practical Approaches to Discussing Science that Matters - University of Michigan


 

References:

http://www.ethicsdaily.com/falwell-says-global-warming-tool-of-satan-cms-8596

http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/2017/04/explaining_science_won_t_fix_information_illiteracy.html

http://www.cnn.com/2017/05/10/us/montana-glaciers-shrinking/index.html

http://dwwind.com/project/block-island-wind-farm/

http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2014/05/inquiring-minds-katharine-hayhoe-faith-climate

http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20170403-miamis-fight-against-sea-level-rise

http://lifehacker.com/5965703/the-science-of-storytelling-why-telling-a-story-is-the-most-powerful-way-to-activate-our-brains

Making Sense of Climate Change Denial - online class, University of Queensland

Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive While Others Die by Chip and Dan Heath

 

About the  Author: This weeks blog was written by Seattle Marcher and volunteer, Debbie King.

 

Debbie King is a science content writer with over 15-years' experience writing science, healthcare, and technical publications; she also has a background in web design and development. Debbie loves writing about all things science, but the mind-body interaction (now known as behavioral neuroscience) has always held a special fascination, leading her to earn her B.S. in Biology and Psychology. Debbie is committed to raising public awareness of scientific advances and energizing her readership with regard to climate change. A Virginian transplant, Debbie fell in love with the Northwest beauty and culture on her honeymoon and is happy to call Seattle her home. You can learn more about Debbie at debbierking.com.

Do We Really Care If We Take the, 'Health' Out of, 'Healthcare?'

Last week Congress pushed through a bill to replace and repeal the Affordable Care Act. One of the major concerns with the new bill is that while insurers cannot outright deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions, they can dramatically increase the insurance rates including putting folks with pre-existing conditions into high risk pools. A recent report from AARP finds that rates could reach as high as $25,700 per year for folks in high-risk pools. This effectively renders folks qualifying for the high-risk pool unable to attain health insurance. 

 With health care access looming large in the mind of the public, issues of public health, policy, and equity must be evaluated. March for Science – Seattle advocates for robustly funded publically communicated science and evidence based policy. We believe this mission should be applied to all aspects of human governance, including health care.  

Robust funding of medical research has created an abundance of data about health. After reviewing the body of literature, data, and evidence, this is what we have found:

To further illustrate the case, we submit two case studies that exemplify these facts.

 

Case Study 1: Nearly Universal Health Care and Mortality Rates

In 2006 the state of Massachusetts passed health care reform which provided access to health insurance for nearly every single Massachusetts resident. In the year following the measure, the uninsured rate dropped by half. The health insurance reform continued to serve the citizens state until the Affordable Care Act was adopted in 2016. In 2014 a study from the Annals of Internal Medicine investigated the mortality rates before and after the health care reform. The authors found that the health care reform was responsible for a substantial drop in mortality rates in all age groups in comparison to control. While all demographics benefited, the largest benefit was found in counties with high rates of poverty.  

Case Study 2: Cystic Fibrosis Survival Times in America vs. in Canada.

Cystic fibrosis is a life threatening genetic condition. While we have made major advancements in the treatment and care for CF patients, they still experience shorter than average life expectancies. A study published last month compared average survival times between American CF patients and Canadian CF patients. What they found was shocking! Canadian CF patients live, on average, 10 years longer than American CF patients. While Canadian transplant regulations are different than the American system, the authors felt that the Canadian universal health care system was one major contributor to the dramatic difference in life expectancies.

As Americans, we hold these truths to be self-self-evident: that all people are created equal; that we are endowed with certain unalienable rights among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  If we cast aside our tired, poor, and huddled masses aside to a high-risk pool, to a system where they can no longer access health care services, are we really all equal? Are we able to pursue life, liberty, and happiness?

We have evidence that access to health care and preventative care increases the survival rates of all demographics. Our policies should reflect and enact the recommendations coming from the data that our tax-payer dollars have procured. If you are concerned about the fate of America’s health care system, this is what you can do:

Now is the time to get enraged and become engaged.  Civic engagement is the highest form of patriotism. Join March for Science – Seattle as we lead the way to an equitable, affordable, evidence based public health system.

 

Weekly blog  posts are authored by a rotating cast of MFSS Organizers, Marchers, Scientists, Science Enthusiasts and Journalists. 

About the Author: Liz Warfield

Liz Warfield is a Mother, Biologist, Educator, and Organizer with March for Science Seattle. Liz is passionate about evidence based science education and advocates for equity in science classrooms. 

100 Days of Resistance: March for Science – Seattle Past, Present, and Future.

April 29th marked the first major evaluation point of Trump’s presidency: the 100 day mark. We’ve realized that March for Science – Seattle (MFSS) is also approaching our 100th day as an organization as well. Today, May 2nd 2017, marks our 99th day. This realization has given us cause for celebration but also reflection. In honor of our upcoming 100 days together, we are making the first ever blog post to celebrate our past accomplishments and outline our future.

Call to Action: Our Facebook group, and subsequently the MFSS movement, was formed on January 24th, just days after the inauguration. As organizers with MFSS, we each signed up for a leadership role and many hours of labor because we felt called to action. We are women, men, parents, immigrants, members of the LGBTQ community, people of color, members of the disabled community, educators, and we are scientists. Trump’s anti-science, xenophobic, and misogynistic rhetoric threatened our culture, our families, and our work. Worse yet, we felt hopeless to make a change. This is why we joined March for Science - Seattle.

March for Science – Seattle: Earth Day March

Our march far exceeded our goals. When we arrived at Cal Anderson Park just before 6:30 am the park was nearly empty. A few people stopped by to ask what we were doing – none of them had heard of March for Science. Just as we were starting to worry that no one would show up, the crowds started to arrive. The music started and shortly after that MFSS Organizers took the stage for “The Star-Spangled Banner”. As we stood on stage, we was awestruck by the amount of people that had joined us in taking a stand. In that moment, we had two life-affirming realizations: 1. We did it! 2. We couldn’t have done it without YOU. Although we had significant obstacles and very little time, with your help, we banded together and did something amazing!

Despite poor weather, southbound I-5 being closed, and a ferry route that was shut down, we gathered an estimated 25,000+ scientists and science enthusiasts. More importantly, our voices were heard!

In the days before the March, the current administration boasted of wide and deep cuts to science, health, and environmental agencies. Specifically, Trump’s initial budget proposed cutting the EPA by 1/3rd, resulting in the potential of one in five employees being laid off. Trump also boasted about major cuts to the NIH, threatening to slash NIH funding by as much as 20%. Yesterday, just days after our march, we received the exciting news that Congress has reached an agreement on a budget. This 2017 budget excludes the proposed crippling funding cuts to prominent science and health agencies. Although the EPA funding avoided a major funding cut, it did suffer from a 1% decrease in funding. NIH receive no budget cuts; instead, they received an additional 2 billion dollars in funding. Other big wins in this budget include: the National Parks, which are fully funded; NASA, which also received a modest funding increase; even the National Endowment for the Arts received an increased budget this year.

This is our proof of concept, our litmus test. We have evidence that our voices are being heard and our actions matter. In reflecting back on the work that MFSS has become, we see ourselves as a science service organization. We have worked to provide the scientific community a platform to share their concerns about funding and climate change. We have also served the science enthusiast community by hosting free events that connect scientists with the public. (Click here to learn about March for Science Outreach Events Leading up to the March). As we look toward our future, we are going to continue to use science to serve our community.

That said, we are at a critical point in our resistance against anti-science rhetoric. Now is the time for sustained action.

March for Science – Seattle will use science to support our community. This is how:

March for Science – Seattle: Will be the parent organization and will host 2 major events each year and will sponsor a series of smaller events. March for Science – Seattle, going forward, will consist of two groups – Education and Policy.

Citizens for Science: March for Science – Seattle’s education outreach, will strive to use science to serve the community while giving marginalized voices in science a platform to share their discipline. We will be hosting outreach events and helping to connect community members with scientists.

Upcoming Citizens for Science Events:

  • Food Science Cooking Class: A food scientist will teach a lesson about food and fermentation and teach the class how to make a fermented dish: kimchi. The event will be hosted in a soup kitchen and all proceeds will go to the hosting soup kitchen.  Details coming shortly.

  • Indigenous Voices on Climate Change: Talk with local tribes about climate science, risks to their reservations and ancestral lands, and solutions to the global climate crisis. Details TBD

WA Scientific Policy Group is an organization dedicated to fighting for robustly funded, publicly communicated science and evidence-based policy. The Policy Outreach Group is an organization with the goal of interacting with and educating legislators on:

  • The process of science beyond the simplistic classroom scientific method.
  • How science can inform evidence-based policies that are beneficial to their constituents in areas including, but not limited to: Global Climate Change, Medicine, Energy and the Environment.
  • Why funding STEM research and education now is a smart investment for their constituents’ future.

The WASP Group will also produce educational materials to help increase literacy of the legislative process among scientists and help facilitate interactions between scientists and legislators so that we can achieve evidence-based policies.

Moving forward, our immediate next step is to apply for status as a Non-Profit Organization.  As we define our organization’s structure and roles, we will need people to help us advance our cause. We will be hosting a volunteer picnic in June to update volunteers and discuss the organization. Details will be posted soon.

We are strong because of you. Thank you for being part of this adventure.

Let’s keep up the good work!

-Team Science