Dealing with Denial
‘How to Speak to a Climate Change Denier’
George Marshall offers some advice
A 20 minute video at:
In this 20 minute video I suggest six strategies for talking to people who do not accept climate science. I argue strongly that one should avoid a fractious debate about the data and content of the science, and concentrate instead on addressing the values and emotions from which people construct their beliefs. The strategies are: finding common ground; expressing respect; clearly holding your views; explaining the personal journey that led to your own understanding; speaking to people’s worldview and values, and finally offering rewards that speak to those values.
These recommendations are based on the current social research and four years experience of leading workshops on peer to peer communications. My colleague Dr Adam Corner has prepared a paper at www.talkingclimate.org with links to the original research. The text of this is below.
I want to apologise for using the phrase Climate Change Denier which is tricky I know. I use it because it is the best title for people looking for this material and I want the video seen by as many people as possible. Half way through the video I recommend using the term Climate Dissenters as an alternative.
GUIDE TO THE SOURCES – Dr Adam Corner
Many of the ideas that George discusses are covered by different Guides or featured Resources on Talking Climate.
For example, George talks about the critical influence of family and friends in determining people’s attitudes about climate change. Read more about the impact and importance of social norms and social networks on pro-environmental attitudes and behaviours here.
George emphasises that argument, conflict, and disrespectful language will make it more difficult to achieve the goals you are aiming for – that is, to encourage somebody who is sceptical about climate change to engage with the problem and possible solutions to it. Finding ‘common ground’ and being able to understand why people are sceptical about climate change in the first place is critical. It isn’t all that much to do with a lack of understanding of ‘the science’, but has a lot to do with the ‘personal journey’ that people go through when forming their beliefs about climate change and whether to engage in sustainable behaviour.
Something that is a central part of George’s argument is that people’s ‘ worldviews‘ – their social beliefs and cultural expectations – shape the way they feel about climate change. People who are sceptical about climate change tend to hold certain clusters of values and political beliefs. Understanding this is essential for effective communication about climate change.
As well as understanding that certain clusters of values tend to be associated with climate change scepticism, it is important to be aware that different ways of ‘framing’ the problem – as primarily an environmental or a human concern, for example – will also have a big impact.
Finally, George talks about the importance of showing that there are psychological ‘rewards’ in beginning to take action on climate change, whereby the process of taking initial steps towards more sustainable behaviours generates a kind of momentum for further attitude and behavioural change. However, this is only likely to be effective if people are changing their behaviours for ‘intrinsic’ reasons (that is, the change in behaviour is rewarding in itself, not because they receive some financial reward etc). This summary of emerging research shows how developing a sense of environmental ‘identity’ or ‘citizenship’ is a much more powerful way of engaging people in the medium-to-long term, and provides more detail to accompany George’s points on catalysing behavioural and attitude change.
Dr. Adam Corner
Director of Projects,
Climate Outreach Information Network
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