Guest article written by Scott Mandia.
Back in January, my wife engaged a climate science doubter on Facebook. Should you consider a similar engagement, consider this: nobody doubts scientists when it comes to gravity or that the Earth revolves around the sun. These theories/laws do not pose a threat so they are widely accepted. Climate change, on the other hand, is perceived as a threat to some because they fear the solutions might result in loss of individual rights or hurt the economy. It is because of these perceived threats that they subconsciously resist the settled science.
The three graphics below show how the climate system is warming due to human emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases and that the current rate of warming is unprecedented in the previous 11,000 years.
The IPCC (2013) AR5 technical reports show that humans are responsible for about 110% of the warming. It is larger than 100% of the warming because human activities are also emitting sun-blocking pollution which has countered some of the warming greenhouse gas emissions are causing.
Multiple lines of evidence prove that humans are dramatically altering our climate and our activities are increasing risks across many sectors of society and of nature. Unfortunately, many Americans are not concerned and some even believe global warming is not happening, or worse, that it is an elaborate hoax!
Public confusion is being driven by merchants of doubt who have very deep pockets and strong political connections. Status quo has proven to be quite lucrative to the fossil fuel industry (ExxonMobil clears a profit of about $3 BILLION per month) so it is easy to understand why these companies resist adding cleaner energy sources to the grid. Numerous conservative “think tanks” using the same “experts” results in a loud megaphone heard in the corridors of government and in various media sources.
Dunlap & Jacques (2013) reviewed 108 climate change denial books through the year 2010 and most show a strong link to conservative think tanks. A significant portion of these books were written by authors with no scientific training. They concluded, “90% do not undergo peer review, allowing authors or editors to recycle scientifically unfounded claims that are then amplified by the conservative movement, media, and political elites.” Add in “journalistic false balance” and the results appearing below are not surprising. Fox News and Wall Street Journal are particularly bad at reporting accurate science but even CNN broadcasted misleading news 30% of the time.
This misinformation feeds into the various cultural biases we all have when we collect and synthesize information. Too often, we fall victim to motivated reasoning (engaging in emotion-biased decision-making). An apple falls from a tree due to gravity and that should be understood by all regardless of political persuasion. Just like gravity, the cause of climate change (humans) is also considered settled science. However, unlike the apple, look what happens when people are asked about global warming? Their understanding falls along party lines with left-leaning people mostly agreeing with the science and right-leaning mostly disagreeing.
One might conclude that with a higher level of education more people would align their views with that of our scientific experts. This is not the case for those who identify themselves as Republicans or Independents. Increased education barely moved their acceptance of human-caused global warming.
The principle of free markets and small government is an important principle to many Republicans. For Democrats it is far less important. Republicans are motivated to deny climate change and other environmental problems because of their aversion to the perceived solutions which may infringe on their ideological values.
In a 2007 study, Braman et al. test subjects were provided one of two fake newspaper articles about a study by scientific experts. Both articles explained that the climate was warming, humans were responsible, and that there could be disastrous environmental economic consequences. In one article it claimed that the science report called for increased anti-pollution government regulation. In the other article, the call was for revitalization of the nation’s nuclear power industry. Those with a more politically conservative world-view were more likely to accept the science in the pro-nuclear version of the newspaper story but more likely to reject the science in the anti-pollution government regulation version. Braham et al concluded: “Individuals subconsciously resisted factual information that threatened their defining values.”
A similar result was reported by Campbell and Kay (2014). In that study, Republicans were exposed to two different versions of a speech whose speaker cited information about the expected global warming this century as specified by the 2013-2014 IPCC AR5 reports. In a free market-friendly version the speaker said that the US could help stop climate change and make a profit by leading the world in green technology. In a government regulation version the speaker said that the US could help stop climate change by leading the world in restrictive emissions policies. Democrats accepted the science regardless of the solution, but Republican acceptance of the science was strongly tied to the proposed solutions.
The figure below shows that there is a gap between what scientists accept versus what the public accepts. However, this gap increases considerably depending on one’s support for free markets and small government.
It is important that the public understands that it is not just our scientific experts who accept human-caused climate change and the associated risks. Military experts, health officials, and major insurance companies also agree. One would certainly not consider these groups as liberal. They are data-driven groups and the data is overwhelming.
Keep this in mind when you engage. Hitting the doubters over the head with more science is ineffective. Show them that delay works against their own self-interest because delay means it is more likely things will get bad enough that Big Brother will have to step in and impose increased taxes and regulations. If we act sooner than later then WE make the choices and the free market can provide the solutions.
Scott Mandia has been teaching introductory meteorology and climatology courses for over 23 years and is an instructor for the MOOC Making Sense of Climate Science Denial to be launched in April 2015. In addition to publishing numerous educational materials, Mandia co-authored a book titled Rising Sea Levels: An Introduction to Cause and Impact that highlights the impact of sea level rise on 25 major cities around the world. In 2010, Mandia co-founded the Climate Science Rapid Response Team, a team of 163 top climate experts who provide highly accurate science information to media and government representatives. In 2012, Mandia co-founded the Climate Science Legal Defense Fund whose mission is to protect the scientific endeavor.