How do we convince climate change deniers? That’s the wrong question.

(Eco Business, 21 Nov 2019) Instead of wasting time trying to convert opponents, we should invest it in motivating passive allies to act.

“How do you convince people that climate change is real?” is a question I’m invariably asked after I give a talk on climate change and health. Even as wildfires incinerate communities in California; hurricanes decimate islands, taking thousands of lives; and Qatar starts to air condition its outdoors from scorching heat, some continue to “not believe” in climate change.

I have struggled to come up with a convincing answer. Should I show them the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report? Share gut-wrenching facts on the mass extinction of species? Offer statements from trusted medical organizations?

But I know none of this would work. Research shows us that presenting scientific facts, the “information deficit model” of communication, is often not effective in changing deeply held beliefs about climate change.

So instead of asking myself how I should convince someone of climate change, I started asking why instead. The answer is simple, isn’t it? If they “believe” in climate change, they will want to take action. They will cut down their carbon footprint, vote…

I lost confidence in what I was saying halfway through that sentence. As a physician, I know how difficult behavior change is. Smokers, who are well aware of the harms of cigarettes, take a long time to move from the stage of “pre-contemplation,” where they are not considering quitting smoking, to the “action” phase of quitting smoking.

When we look at climate-behavior change, an analysis by Yale Climate Communications in 2018 might give us an insight into the tedious nature of the task. The study estimated that 70 per cent of respondents believe in climate change. But only 57 per cent believe humans cause it.

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Eco Business, 21 Nov 2019: How do we convince climate change deniers? That’s the wrong question.