The Denial of Climate Change

Ever wonder why so many people adamantly deny the existence of climate change? With the mountain of evidence that scientists contribute to every day, why do so many continue to believe that it’s all a hoax? Well, I have a few ideas that I’ll share.

It may not just be the unwillingness of the climate change deniers to listen. It may also have to do with our inability to communicate and the spread of misinformation.

There are many reasons why people choose to deny the existence of global climate change. As more and more people continue to believe that everything is fine, our inability to enact real change will only get harder. The worst problem, of course, is that this denial has reached the top levels of the American government, and they have the power to enact monumental efforts to combat this.

In order to tackle this problem, it is important that we understand the root causes of climate change denial. Here, I’ll share some of my ideas and thoughts.

We’re making the problem too big

In public discourse, climate change is presented as a “global problem” in order to emphasize the severity of the problem. It highlights the need of everyone around the planet to contribute to solutions in order to prevent more harm from coming to natural ecosystems and human environments. Here’s the problem with that, though. When you make a problem too big, it’s going to be ignored.

When it is said that global temperatures are rising by one or two degrees, many people don’t understand the gravity of the problem and think it is insignificant. If any change is occurring, they say, it won’t happen for a long time. And it won’t affect me.

In order to communicate the problem, we need to scale it down. Focus less on big global changes and more on the impact on local communities. When people begin to learn how this problem will affect them on a smaller scale, they may be more inclined to pay attention.

Cognitive dissonance leads people to reject contrary evidence 

The theory of cognitive dissonance is defined as the mental discomfort one experiences when holding two or more contradictory beliefs. This state can be triggered when a person’s beliefs are challenged by new evidence that clashes with those beliefs. In order to relieve this state of mental discomfort, one can either accept the new evidence and discard their previous beliefs, or reject the evidence entirely.

It can be argued that some people who outright deny climate change have rejected evidence because it contradicts their system of beliefs. In their minds, the thought that everything on earth can and will change because of human activity is a scary thought. So instead of accepting this reality and working to make a difference, it’s easier for our minds to reject this possibility entirely.

The internet is a tool for information as well as misinformation

With an entire world of information available at our fingertips, you would think that it’s very easy to access quality information that can properly educate people on the topic of climate change. While this kind of information is easily accessible to us, misinformation and conspiracy theories are just as easy to find. One Google search of the phrase “is climate change real?” may pull up scholarly sources as well as conspiracy blogs.

There are entire blogs and websites dedicated to denying the existence of climate change and spreading that denial to others. A quick search of the phrase “climate change hoax” led me to a handful of sites that are visible on the fourth page. People will search and search on the internet until they find someone that agrees with them. Now, I will say that I was heartened to see the first three pages filled with great sources disputing the idea that climate change is a hoax. Sites like Facebook and YouTube are working to filter out sources that present false information or conspiracy theories, but the Internet is a big place, and it can be difficult to completely change this for the better.

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Cherry picking false facts and misinterpreted evidence

You have probably seen somewhere that there is a 97% consensus on the reality of climate change. But what does that number mean? Let’s take a look at what NASA has to say about that:

“Multiple studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals1 show that 97 percent or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree*: Climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities.”

Source: https://climate.nasa.gov/scientific-consensus/

So what about that other 2%? Well, a study was done in the journal Theoretical and Applied Climatology to find this out. What they found in these papers was a pattern of methodological flaws, missing contextual information, insufficient model evaluation, inappropriate statistical methods, and a handful of other problems. In general terms, that means that these studies were not using good scientific practices when conducting their studies and reaching their conclusions. But I have some experience reading scientific papers, and I’m familiar with the kinds of practices you want to use when doing research?

But what about people who have no idea what it means to conduct research? To them, any scientific-looking paper is completely valid in their eyes. They don’t understand what it means to have good scientific practices when conducting research. So when someone who accepts climate change as a hoax, these seemingly scientific papers only serve to validate their beliefs.

Education is severely lacking

Arguably, the source of the problem is a lack of education. A poll by NPR shows that less than half of teachers cover the topic of climate change in their curriculum, and only a smaller number of parents talk to their children about it.

For whatever reason, many children are not being educated about climate change and the impact it has on the world. In order to begin combatting the problem of climate change denial, education is an essential tool. Children who are not educated on the topic could likely grow up hearing misinformation that leads them to deny climate change altogether.

 

So what now?

Understanding the causes of a problem is only the first step. How can we work to convince people that global climate change is a real and dangerous reality?

Have any thoughts? Share them down in the comments below!

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