Yes, You Can Change Minds About Climate

October 30, 2014

Of course you can change minds about climate.  I know because I’ve produced a series of videos debunking climate denial, and continue to get feedback that they turn people around. There is however, a school of thought that maintains the workings of the brain are such that, once people are settled in their views, they are all but incapable of anything but robotic motivated reasoning, based on whatever their genetic programming might be.
Chris Mooney’s book “The Republican Brain” is sometimes cited as evidence for this view.

That’s why it’s interesting he has written this in his new Wash Post blog.

Chris Mooney in the Washington Post Wonkblog:

It’s no secret that certain political worldviews prevent people from accepting the science of global warming.

And it’s not just that conservative and pro-free market beliefs are strongly correlated with dismissal of climate science. Get this: Conservatives who are more scientifically literate, or better at math, are even less likely than their ideological compatriots to accept global warming. That’s how powerful ideology can be — and such findings have often been used to call into question whether educational initiatives can really make any difference when it comes to hot-button scientific issues like climate.

A new study just out in the journal Climatic Change, however, suggests education may work after all.

Kathryn Stevenson and her colleagues at North Carolina State University studied a sample of 378 sixth, seventh, and eighth grade students in North Carolina, administering questionnaires that assessed their level of scientific knowledge about climate change, their degree of acceptance of mainstream climate science (the idea that humans are causing global warming),  and also how ideologically “individualistic” — a worldview that emphasizes freedom and free markets, and that is very skeptical of government regulation — they were.

And they produced a result that reversed prior findings: In middle school “individualists,” as their level of scientific knowledge about global warming increased, so did their acceptance of the idea that it is caused by humans. In fact, the knowledge-acceptance relationship was stronger in these young individualists than it was among kids who had a disposition toward communitarianism — an ideological view that is best captured in Hillary Clinton’s famous phrase “it takes a village,” and that emphasizes our co-dependency in society, rather than the importance of individual freedom and initiative.

This is not the only study suggesting such a result. Another recent paper, also in Climatic Change,evaluated the effectiveness of a popular climate science education program, the Alliance for Climate Education‘s entertaining hour-long climate literacy session for high schoolers — and also seemed to suggest that this educational program can counteract the effects of political ideology.

In this case, the researchers involved — affiliated with Yale, Stanford, George Mason, Saphir Research Consulting, and the Alliance for Climate Education — used a different measure of students’ ideology or views on global warming: The well-known “Six Americas” paradigm, in which Americans are classified into the following groups with respect to climate change: “alarmed,” “concerned,” “cautious,” “disengaged,” “doubtful,” and “dismissive.” The latter two groups, and especially the “dismissives,” tend to be more ideologically individualistic.

Alliance for Climate Education:

In February 2009, the first ever ACE Assembly was delivered to a handful of students at Mission High School in San Francisco.

Over five years and 1.8 million students later, ACE is honored to be the subject of a new study published in the academic journal, Climatic Change.

Experts at Yale, George Mason University, and Stanford carried out the research project, and surveyed 2,847 students in 49 high schools nationwide before and after viewing the ACE Assembly. Researchers found that students became more knowledgeable about climate science, felt more confident in their ability to take climate action, and changed their communication and conservation behavior in a number of important ways.

Want to learn more? Download the paper here.

Major findings include:

– Students demonstrated a 27% increase in climate science knowledge.
– More than one-third of students (38%) became more engaged on the issue of climate change.
– The number of students who talked to parents or peers about climate change more than doubled.

The paper concludes that “The net impact of scaled, multi-sensory, captivating programs for youth could be a population shift in science-informed engagement in the issue of climate change. In addition, such programs can inspire youth for deeper engagement in school programs, personal action, and political and consumer advocacy.”




6 Responses to “Yes, You Can Change Minds About Climate”

  1. redskylite Says:

    That gives a lot of hope in our future, e have a movement here called the “Generation Zero” not sure if it’s international.

    Generation Zero “was founded with the central purpose of providing solutions for New Zealand to cut carbon pollution through smarter transport, liveable cities & independence from fossil fuels.” The group believes that young people must be at the forefront of tackling climate change, and that “young people are the inheritors of humanity’s response”.

    Seems the same sentiments are echoed in the U.S according to a poll released Tuesday by the University of Texas at Austin. The poll surveyed 2,105 U.S. residents between Sept. 4 and Sept. 16

  2. Thank you, Peter, and redskylite! Here in the US, next week’s election will have long term impact. Simply, if the Republicans win the majority in the US Senate, notorious global-warming-denier AND fossil fuel funded toadie James Inhofe will become the powerful chairman of the Senate’s Environment and Public Works subcommittee. ref:

    Rep. Inhofe’s own state of Oklahoma continues to be rocked by fracking wastewater-injection-caused earthquakes, as confirmed by USGS.

    Florida’s own Marco Rubio’s probably the worst of the congressional climate deniers? His own southern Florida district is already witnessing constant flooding from the rising seas:
    “,,Marco Rubio hasn’t been a friend to the environment.

    We know this.

    You know this.

    But is he the worst climate denier in Congress?

    That might be up for debate, but we’re going out on a limb and say, pretty much yes.

    Mainly because he’s the senator from Florida, and all indications are that Florida is sinking into the ocean…”

    That little political cartoon that I tweeted to you earlier this week, Peter, kinda says it all, I think?

    Thanks for all you do and share, Peter!

    Walking with you,

    Amy / aka Bleuz00m (with two zeroes)

  3. indy222 Says:

    The first thing I teach all my students in all my college classes, is the psychological necessity to free yourself from tying your self-worth to some idea whose truth you have no control over. Instead, tie your self-respect to one thing ONLY – the idea “I just want to know what the truth is” – and you’ll never ever be proven “wrong” in some soul-destroying way. I ask them to just try it on – it’s amazingly freeing to adopt this attitude. To the extent I’m successful, I can change minds in my Climate class.

  4. […] Of course you can change minds about climate. I know because I've produced a series of videos debunking climate denial, and continue to get feedback that they turn people around. There is however,…  […]

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