3.3 Can We Change People's Minds on Climate?

Tuesday, 9 January 2018: 2:30 PM
Ballroom B (ACC) (Austin, Texas)
Katharine Hayhoe, Texas Tech Univ., Lubbock, TX

Over the past decade, climate change has become one of the most politically polarized topics in the United States. Today, the most important predictor of what we think about a changing climate isn’t our level of education or scientific literacy: it is simply where we fall on the political spectrum, and what the thought-leaders we trust are saying about it.

When politicians, pundits, media personalities and our Uncle Joe dismiss what the science says about human-induced climate change, they often use seemingly scientific arguments. “The data is wrong,” they argue, or “we don’t know enough yet, we need to study it longer.” In trying to combat these arguments, we usually take them at face value, responding with data, facts, peer-reviewed studies and assessment reports. Yet by doing so, we can end up tilting at windmills—because these arguments are more than often nothing more than a convincing smokescreen. The main problem is not science aversion, as it so often appears to be. It’s solution aversion, particularly to solutions that require government legislation.

That’s why, when it comes to changing people’s minds on climate, the facts are not enough enough. In fact, the social science shows that if rejecting climate science is part of what our “tribe” requires, then arguing over data and facts can even be counter-productive.

So if facts don't fix the problem, is it really possible to change minds? A detailed experiment we conducted with students at an evangelical college suggests that yes, it is possible. And the first step is, don’t start with the science. Start by connecting over a value that we genuinely truly share with whoever we are talking with. Second, connect the dots between what you both already care about and the issue of climate change. Only then, explain: climate is changing, humans are responsible, the impacts are serious, and we have answers to all the “but what about …?” questions we so frequently hear in the media. And finally, end with solutions: practical, viable solutions that people can get on board with no matter what part of the political spectrum they’re from and with exactly the values they already have.

How can we change people’s minds about climate change? Not by bombarding them with more data, facts, and science; but by bonding over a value we truly share, by connecting that to climate, and by inspiring each other to act together to fix this problem. We all live on the same planet, we all want the same things – and only by acting together can we ensure a safe and secure future.

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