How to Talk to Climate Change Deniers

How do you talk about climate change with someone who doesn’t think humans are causing it, or who doesn’t even think it’s real at all? That was the question explored at one of the sessions of the Intermountain Sustainability Summit 2017 that I had the opportunity to attend. The session was given by Dr. John Cook, a cognitive psychologist with a physics background who studies climate change denial.

Dr. Cook runs a website called Skeptical Science, which is aimed at debunking climate change myths. Here are some of the tips he had for countering these myths:

  • Keep the information brief. People don’t want to read a few paragraphs about why they’re wrong, so condense the information into a sentence or two. These short sentences can also be used in everyday conversation.
  • Don’t emphasize the myth. In writing, if the myth is the largest or most visually appealing section of the page, that can reinforce its truthfulness in the minds of those who are already skeptical.
  • Learn to have civil and productive conversations with people across the political spectrum. Climate change denial is strongly correlated with ideology. The more conservative a person is, the less likely they are to think that climate change is affected by human activity and the less likely they are to think that there is scientific consensus about it.
  • Use inoculation theory. When people are presented with smaller bits of information about how misinformation is spread, the less likely they are to believe misinformation when they see it.
  • Replace the myth with a fact that is just as memorable. We know that the best way to get rid of a bad habit is to replace it with a new habit. The same holds true for information.

When debunking a myth, the best order to present information is: fact, myth, debunking. By following Dr. Cook’s tip, we can have better conversations about climate change with our friends and colleagues who might be skeptical.

 

To view the whole presentation, click on this link.

 

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