Want to Inspire Climate Action? Talk About Solutions, Not Science

blog-earth-2.27.15Would a better understanding of climate science help convince people that climate change is real? According to a new Yale study, maybe not. The study found (not surprisingly) that subjects were split along partisan lines about their belief in human-caused climate change. However, this divide stayed the same even when the respondents’ climate literacy increased. In fact, the more literate they were, the more polarized their beliefs were.
“Republicans and Democrats alike already understand that climate scientists have shown we face huge risks from global warming,” said Professor Dan Kahan, the lead researcher in the study. “Just telling people that over and over misses the point.”
So what does that mean for climate communicators? Rather than merely emphasizing the scientific data, we should focus on solutions and local impacts. People may disagree about the existence of climate change, but they can agree that steps should be taken to address the threat of rising seas and extreme weather. They can agree on the benefits of energy independence and job creation. It’s all a matter of finding common ground.

Climate Science Literacy Unrelated to Public Acceptance of Human-Caused Global Warming

Yale Law School
Deep public divisions over climate change are unrelated to differences in how well ordinary citizens understand scientific evidence on global warming, according to a new study published by Professor Dan Kahan.
In fact, members of the public who score the highest on a climate-science literacy test are the most politically polarized on whether human activity is causing global temperatures to rise.
These were the principal findings of a Yale-led study published recently in the journal Advances in Political Psychology.
In the study, a nationally representative sample of 2,000 U.S. adults completed a test measuring their knowledge of prevailing scientific consensus on the causes and consequences of climate change. They also indicated whether they believed that human activity is responsible for global temperature increases in recent decades.
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One Response to “Want to Inspire Climate Action? Talk About Solutions, Not Science”

  1. Katharine Davis Reich March 2, 2015 at 9:06 pm

    I don’t know that I would draw a “don’t talk about science” conclusion from this work. (Talking about the scientific consensus on climate change, which Kahan has questioned the effectiveness of, is not the same thing as helping people understand how the climate system works and why we know what we know about climate change and its impacts.)

    One finding of Kahan’s study is that climate science literacy, and science literacy in general, is very low. At the end of the day, making smart decisions about climate solutions does require some science and climate science literacy. I don’t know how to improve science literacy if we don’t talk about science. To this point, from the press release:

    ‘Kahan dismissed as “ridiculous” the suggestion that the study implies there is no value in climate education. “We need even more research on how to communicate climate science effectively, so people can make informed individual and collective decisions,” he said.’

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