How to talk about climate change

How to talk about climate change
Reid Schulz

The United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report last fall warning of a catastrophic effect on the world's people, environment and economy if temperatures rise by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius, which could happen as soon as 2040. But meaningful action to stop climate change is not possible without political will, and despite overwhelming scientific evidence of global warming, there are still many who don't believe in it or consider it a matter of grave concern.

Risa Palm, professor of geosciences and the university's provost for the past 10 years, is studying how attitudes toward are formed, and how they might change depending on the way the issue is framed.

"Most people do accept that the is changing as a result of human activity," says Palm. "But there is a skeptical and powerful minority who either do not believe that climate change is a serious problem or that our actions are making it worse."

In 2017, she and her colleagues in the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies analyzed data from a panel of 9,500 respondents who were asked the same question about climate change in 2010 and 2014. They found that direct experience with , drought and weather-related natural disasters had a very small impact on the respondents' acceptance of climate change. What did matter was whether they identified as a Democrat or a Republican. Between 2010 and 2014, Americans' opinions about climate change became more polarized by , increasingly aligning with those of others in the same .

"Once attitudes are politicized, they are difficult to change," says Palm. "Once a position has been taken, such as loyalty to a team, people reject new information as tainted or propaganda."

Political attitudes toward climate change may not be completely intractable, though. In the 1970s, after all, the United States took bipartisan action to limit aerosols and reduce air pollution, and founded the Environmental Protection Agency.

So what could convince climate change skeptics to change their minds? Palm believes that focusing on the economics of climate change—such as its effect on housing markets in areas of sea level rise, flooding and wildfires—could be key.

"In places like South Florida, we may see higher interest rates on home loans or additional mortgage insurance requirements," Palm says. "There is already research showing that coastal properties are being affected by lower prices, and lenders and insurers are being advised to take such factors into account."

The challenge, she says, is how to navigate the country's highly-partisan environment so that those in the skeptical minority can join with others to tackle the problem. In this way, the U.S. differs from nearly all other countries, where party identification matters less when it comes to attitudes about climate change. In 2018, Palm contributed to a study showing that globally, the biggest predictor of climate change concern is not party affiliation, but belief in democratic values.

"Climate change is a global problem that requires a global solution," says Palm. "By gaining a clearer understanding of who is most likely to oppose climate change actions and how to reach them, we can identify an effective way to overcome bias to get people to agree to take action. There is a lot more to do here."

Explore further

Commitment to democratic values predict climate change concern

Citation: How to talk about climate change (2019, April 12) retrieved 23 July 2019 from
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.

Feedback to editors

User comments

Apr 13, 2019
''On the one hand we are ethically bound to the scientific method, in effect promising to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but& which means that we must include all the doubts, caveats, ifs and buts. On the other hand, we are not just scientists, but human beings as well. And like most people, we'd like to see the world a better place, which in this context translates into our working to reduce the risk of potentially disastrous climate change. To do that we have to get some broad-based support, to capture the public's imagination. That, of course, entails getting loads of media coverage. So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have. This double ethical bind which we frequently find ourselves in cannot be solved by any formula. Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest. I hope that means being both.''

Apr 14, 2019
Just keep telling them about Vikings in Greenland 1000 years ago
and the switch from wine to beer in Northern Europe 850 years ago.

And how the planet is still colder than it was during the 400 or so years of the Medieval Climate Optimum.

Apr 14, 2019
When your septic tank overflows into your front yard due to climate change. the more likely response is to go find some climate deniers and hang them by their heels over the sewage tide and wait for nature to take its course.

And they got more guns than you do.

Gets what ya pays for. Enjoy.

I'll just take the sewage gang out to where I take pictures. Then they can rope up the deniers and hang them by their heels.

Apr 14, 2019
And this is how to talk about AGCC. Sewage rising from your septic tank.

Apr 14, 2019
How to talk about climate change

Blame every weather related event on AGW, blame the energy/industrial complex, demand higher taxes and force all conservative white men to compromise on their quality of living.

Apr 15, 2019
"In this way, the U.S. differs from nearly all other countries, where party identification matters less when it comes to attitudes about climate change. In 2018, Palm contributed to a study showing that globally, the biggest predictor of climate change concern is not party affiliation, but belief in democratic values."

The double whammy is that long compromised democracy US has voted in a populist as President.

On the other hand, if US citizens can withdraw their faces from their bums, they will not that they are exceptional - the world has accepted the science, and lambasted their populist buffoon-in-charge.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more