Thursday, February 05, 2015

Social and Political Identity Key to Combatting Climate Change

A paper on how climate change skeptics think, presents perhaps the last best hope to prevent catastrophic global warming.

After listening to many reports from my colleagues at the ANU Climate Change Institute and elsewhere on the science of climate change, I became increasingly concerned that such reports were not helping convince non-scientists and might be harmful. The solution from most climate scientists seemed to be to do more research and hope eventually people would be convinced by the evidence. But it seemed to me that more such reports made the situation worse.

Those who thought climate change was not real (and that there was some sort of conspiracy) would just have their views confirmed by more reports which argued there was a broad scientific consensus. In my own work teaching ICT Sustainability I don't spend a lot of time arguing the case for human caused global warming (as I am not a climate scientist anyway), just strategies to deal with it.

I have suggested that as there is more than enough research on the physical science of climate change and if we want to influence public opinion what was needed was social and political research. What is needed is research on why people believe something and how to change their views. A first step towards that has been taken with "Public division about climate change rooted in conflicting socio-political identities" (Bliuc et al., Nature Climate Change, They propose that "believers and septics have distinct social identities, beliefs and emotional reactions". As a result simply resenting more information will not change individual views and just entrench positions. What is needed is to "transform intergroup relations".

Unfortunately, in this short paper the authors do not propose how to do this, but it is a promising start. Perhaps the solution is not in changing people's views of climate change, but concentrating on solutions. As an example, while those for an against politically contentious issues, have not been able to agree on the moral basis of them, they have agree on practical measures to counter the public harm caused (such as with recreational drug use). A similar approach might be taken with climate change. Saying it is the greatest more issue of our time is not effective when the opposing party does not believe it is real, but they might agree measures which curb the problem.

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