Confrontation or common ground? How to react to climate change deniers

It is best to seek common ground when dealing with climate change deniers - confrontation or disagreement may not be the best way to change their minds, writes Alex Benady in PRWeek UK's monthly Climate Change Update.

Confrontation or common ground? How to react to climate change deniers

Real, happening and caused by people

As governments meet in Paris for the COP 21 talks, which began on 30 Nov­ember, one of the most intractable comms problems was how to persuade the last remaining deniers that global warming is real, happening and caused by people.

According to research by the Yale Project on Climate Change, the best approach may be to not mention global warming.

The study found one in five Americans still believe that global warming is not happening. And using a universal insight about human nature, the YPCC suggests a way to win over even these last refuseniks.

Although the YPCC found different reasons for people not believing in global warming, it found that nearly all of them said trying to change their minds through argument was likely to make them defend their views even more strongly.

The Yale research found that even though they deny climate change, many still think it is mankind’s duty to protect the earth. They worry about pollution, the state of the oceans, the extinction of animal species and a whole array of lesser environmental issues.

So taking a lead from sales and diplomacy, the YPCC concludes that establishing common ground and talking about how to solve those issues is going to be a lot more productive than confrontation.

Papal interventions changes minds

This column has reported before on the Pope’s encyclical on climate change, published in June this year. What no one expected at the time was just how effective it would be.

According to the YPCC surveya fifth of American Catholics said the Pope had influenced their views on global warming. The report calls it "the Francis effect". A remarkable feature of the Francis effect is that it has broadened perceptions of climate change from a technical issue about the production of carbon, into a series of ethical issues.

Following Pope Francis’ intervention, American Catholics are now more likely to see global warming as a moral question (46 per cent, up 10 per cent from the spring), a social justice (fairness) issue (33 per cent, up 10 per cent from the spring) and as a poverty issue (29 per cent, up seven per cent from the spring.)

It seems that it is not only climate change deniers whose concerns about global warming can be deepened by broadening the issue.

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