There’s a website, talkingclimate.org, which focuses on how to be persuasive when talking to people about climate change. Here’s a taste of their approach, which I think is well worth watching:
The video is probably worth a view, but I think a few caveats are in order:
— A basic assumption made in the video is that the climate denialist you are dealing with is a personal acquaintance and the interaction is happening off-line
— the video suggests using the term “dissenter” rather than “denialist.” It is an interesting suggestion. It fits with the general tone of the video of building common ground and avoiding divisiveness, but ultimately, I dissent from it because the term “denialist” nicely dovetails with the whole stages of grief thing, which I think is fundamental.
— the video is essentially pragmatic, addressing the question of how do you go about “moving” dissenters from their position. It suggests using any strategy that works: personal relationship, personal experience, shared social norms, and so on. This is all very well and good. I wouldn’t argue that such strategies shouldn’t be used, but, and this is a very big but, I do worry about the decline of the status of science. I am retrograde enough to believe that the judgement of science on a subject ought to be enough to command acceptance and I worry that such a pragmatic approach to a simple question of science undermines an institution that is fundamental to our civilization.
Ralph, my suspicion is that the approach recommended is not really new, and that much persuasion on multiple issues in the past has relied upon just such tactics, even when it shouldn’t have been necessary. So I doubt that there’s any ‘undermining’ of science going on–the ‘undermining’ has already been done by the merchants of doubt. This work would be more analogous to underpinning, perhaps. Regrettable extra-structural propping up–but maybe necessary.
Robert Snyder wrote:
A basic assumption made in the video is that the climate denialist you are dealing with is a personal acquaintance and the interaction is happening off-line.
The speaker is specifically addressing to question of what you can say to Uncle Bob, so yes, it is an assumption, but he seems pretty up front about it. There is the expression, “If all you have is a hammer every problem looks like a nail.” We should have different tools in our tool bag, including screw drivers and saws, no doubt.
According to research often cited by Skeptical Science, arguments from science will tend to move people who are not committed to climate science denial in the right direction, but in the case of those who are invested in climate science denial they are likely to become even more entrenched. Fortunately for us, most people are not especially invested in climate science denial. They aren’t hard right.
Now those at Skeptical Science may recommend not focusing too strongly on changing the minds of those who are deeply invested in climate change. You can’t save everybody. But you can try to expose people to science who aren’t that committed to either doing something about climate change or maintaining the status quo, and you can try to inoculate them against climate denier arguments and fallacies. You can also try and develop enough political organization and momentum among those who accept the science to change the system.
However, within the context of this video at least, the presenter tells us not to underestimate the importance of personal relationships and social networks. It should also be acknowledged that those who are more in between may be more easy to convince, but on a person by person level are less likely to engage in action that significantly shifts things. A large part of the problem with climate change deniers is that their effects are out-of-proportion to their numbers. But this also means that reducing their numbers will have an out-of-proportion effect.
Being a psychologist is very difficult. Looking at talkingclimate.org, I think that they are not engineers.
Its biggest failure is the idea that deniers want to change or are willing to change in any way shape or form (until they are directly affected without any chance of misinterpretation, and even then they may consider it the Rapture and be looking forward to it). If they aren’t, then these methods are not only going to fail, they are pointless and counterproductive since it accords the denier point of “view” some legitimacy that can be built into a mountain of “evidence” by those with poor vision.
These are definitely options in engaging in the debate, but it is just as valid to go “balls to the wall” and attack them with all the vitriol, anger and ad hominems that they dole out at whim with no feeling of remorse or worry. The point isn’t so much to lambast them or to chang them (they aren’t going to change), but
a) make definite your passion for the case
b) make their insane ravings even more insane as they try their only trick: be more nutbar and dangerous than anyone else (see Trump) to scare everyone out of stating their case
c) and by making them even more insane widen the gap between them and everyone else.
Not for everyone, and everyone must come to their own conclusions. But the vid above isn’t the only proper way, and heaping the well and long held back DESERVED abuse of these morons is just as valid an option you are free to take or leave as you wish.
I think you can have passion without “vitriol, anger and ad hominems”. In fact, sometimes calm is the best goad to “make their insane ravings even more insane.”
My own personal take is that there’s probably no point trying to change the mind of a denier: the best one can hope for in this department is to prevent their false memes from gaining more general traction and hence putting off action to an even worse time in the future.
The big stumbing block in the whole response to human-caused global warming has been the failure to catch the minds of the passive masses of the Western public who simply glance at the issue and shrug. It’s their numbers that are encouraging the lack of concerted national/corporate response, and it’s only* their numbers that could possibly turn the ship from its current course. And given the tepid response to the Pope’s (admirable) encyclical, I am convinced that too much of humanity is irretrievably embedded in its self-indulgent malaise.
If there’s a way to break them out of it, it certainly hasn’t yet spread through the system. Heck, if the Pope can’t do it…
[*Dictatorial international response is the other pro-active force that could possibly pre-empt the worst of it, but the governments most inclined to that approach are the one’s least bothered by the problem. And whilst there are encouraging hints of grassroots changes, they’re only whispers in the wind, at present offering nothing more than too little, too late…]
The only way I’ve ever budged a denier is by illuminating the preposterous size of the conspiracy that would be required to support a global warming hoax. This worked only because he was already beset by an anti-vaxxer relative who evinced similar conspiracy ideation about medical science.
It didn’t budge him far, though. He soon discovered Lomborg and settled into the lukewarmers’ flock, where he can baa comfortably about helping the word’s poor by burning more coal.
There is simply no converting a free market conservative/libertarian to the views of consensus climate science, any more than a creationist can be persuaded to accept evolution as a fact. If one’s opponent is threatened at the core of his beliefs by the facts, he is a lost cause, no matter what tactics are employed to sway him.
Don’t give up on your denier/lukewarmer yet Adam. Your comment reminds me of Michael Shermer’s position a few years ago (also a free market conservative/libertarian though social liberal). He also fell under Lomborg’s spell, but now it seems after much push back, he accept’s AGW fully, and even was featured prominently in the film “Merchant’s of Doubt”, as a self described convert who finally changed his mind by actually taking a look at the science. That, of course, takes a certain amount of humility, and intellectual honesty. People who lack those qualities, are probably a lost cause, unless they can be swayed by sheer peer pressure.
I think Mr. Marshall makes a very good point in saying that it’s not going to be an ‘instant win’, ever. Changing one’s mind is usually a process of some duration. The one good example I’ve seen of a denialist coming ’round was illustrative; there were at least a couple of years of debate–respectful, because those of us participating were in a community together, and were friends and acquaintances–followed by a time of silence on the issue.
Then some Facebook comments supportive of the mainstream view. “W, you seem to have changed your mind,” I ventured. “Yes, I have.”
So, yes, the ‘plant a seed’ thing can indeed work.
Yep. The biggest issue here is not to expect someone to admit, here and now, that they were mistaken and that you are right. It’s also important, following on from that, not to be disheartened if you see no sign of retreat or doubt at that time or soon after.
People always have “face” to save. Let them do so. It may take them hours, days, months to admit to themselves even the least notion that they were ever wrong about anything. As often as not, they’ll quietly shift into a different position and – eventually – possibly years later, privately admit that once upon a time they thought and said something else. The ones who can’t bear to be wrong, ever, about anything, will find someone else to blame for misinforming them.
Just think how many people claim not to have voted for a person or a party that’s turned out to be a dud, when you know full well that they were proudly committed to that party/person only a couple of years earlier. They let themselves ‘forget’ or fog over exactly what they did during that election.
“The ones who can’t bear to be wrong, ever, about anything, will find someone else to blame for misinforming them.”
I’ve been seeing this for years now. The most common tact is something like:
“Well if the Libs hadn’t chosen fat, rich, exaggerating hypocrite Al Gore as their messenger of doom, and hadn’t proposed solutions that would destroy the world economy and create a tyrannical one-world-government that takes our guns and transfers all our tax money to foreign aid, and kills all the poor in developing nations by depriving them of coal, THEN and only THEN, would I have gladly accepted AGW evidence…even though it really will probably be a good thing anyway”.
Many of the commenters here are missing the point, I think: This is not to change the minds of the James Inhofes and the Matt Ridleys of the world, but acquaintances who may not be so heavily invested, and aren’t just random deniers on the ‘net. In those cases, this advice is useful.
My advice: Don’t.
Talk to the genuinely skeptical, those who are mildly confused, the people who don’t know how science works, the unsure, and those who haven’t built a castle of belief around themselves.
It will be much better for your mental health, and a far better use of your energy and time.
It’s a very good talk, though I believe it would have been much more effective if he could have said it all in about half the amount of time.
I think he’s exactly right about people identifying with their peers. Too often climate realists are non-confrontational and will tend to avoid the conversation. Listening to this talk makes me want to go out and get t-shirts printed up saying, “Talk to me about climate change.”
I agree with Rob—way too slow, way too long. Problem is, he keeps making good points. LOL The psychological aspect of CC is interesting. Broaching the subject with a stranger can yield surprising revelations.
Another fruitful avenue of approach to CC is surveys. For instance, most Americans are in favor of governmental action. Even among Republican voters, it is a near majority. And yet, little is being done. Especially in relation to what needs to be done. Congressional approval is approaching zero. The 2-party/bought government system is killing the planet.
I’m happy you want to include my revisions in gfsurv.R
Please drop me an e-mail at
and redact the address from this comment.
A compromise with physics
Is simply not an option
For Nature does its business
Without a law adoption
See Physics Doesn’t Negotiate
Notes on the dangerous difference between science and political science
“Despite a law adoption”
Or Mount Denial
Now on trial
In my experience, I’ve run across two kinds of deniers…the casual denier and the committed denier.
The casual denier doesn’t really know anything about the science. Their arguments are simplistic. “If those people REALLY believe in Global Warming, why are they driving cars to work? Why is Al Gore jetting around the globe and using electricity to hear his home??” They think GW proponents are hypocrites. To which I’d like to respond “If you think child molestation is a terrible thing, why are you working here?? Why aren’t you on the police force investigating it and tracking the molesters down?” But…they’re in management and I’d like to keep my job.
The committed denier has studied the science as spoon fed to them by denialist blogs and no matter how I go point by point countering their every argument, doing a very deep dive into the nuances of their arguments and pointing out the fallacies…they resort to “Earth’s climate has always changed and that’s what’s happening now” or “This whole issue will go away once fusion reactors come online”. That’s their default response when they’ve been backed into a corner. They won’t admit their wrong and I’ve learned that, no matter what I do, I will never change their mind.
So…should I still “respect” that they have an opinion? Should I respect that they’ve given some time, no matter how little, to understand that this issue exists and they care enough to take a position.
It’s hard for me to do that. I thought maybe I could afford some respect for the committed denier because he actually puts some work into googling a retort to my counters…but then I realize he is blinded by his ideology and not being objective like a true skeptic should be. So…no. I don’t have that respect. And I won’t use accommodationist words like “dissenter”. He’s a denier though and through because that’s his political party’s position.