Guest essay by Eric Worrall
The Conversation author Ryan Weber is worried that efforts to insert a mention of climate change into every remotely weather connected news story might not be as persuasive as he hoped – though he suggests being more sneaky about inserting climate messages might yield better results.
Extreme weather news may not change climate change skeptics’ minds
Ryan Weber Associate Professor of English, University of Alabama in Huntsville
March 27, 2019 9.33pm AEDT
The year 2018 brought particularly devastating natural disasters, including hurricanes, droughts, floods and fires – just the kinds of extreme weather events scientists predict will be exacerbated by climate change.
Amid this destruction, some people see an opportunity to finally quash climate change skepticism. After all, it seems hard to deny the realities of climate change – and object to policies fighting it – while its effects visibly wreck communities, maybe even your own.
But a recent study from Ohio State University communications scholars found that news stories connecting climate change to natural disasters actually backfire among skeptics. As someone who also studies scientific communication, I find these results fascinating. It’s easy to assume that presenting factual information will automatically change people’s minds, but messages can have complex, frustrating persuasive effects.
It turned out that climate change skeptics – whether politically conservative or liberal – showed more resistance to the stories that mentioned climate change. Climate change themes also made skeptics more likely to downplay the severity of the disasters. At the same time, the same articles made people who accept climate change perceive the hazards as more severe.
Given this resistance to news, other approaches, such as avoiding fear-inducing and guilt-based messaging, creating targeted messages about free-market solutions, or deploying a kind of “jiu jitsu” persuasion that aligns with pre-existing attitudes, may prove more effective at influencing skeptics. In the meantime, social scientists will continue to investigate ways to combat the stubborn boomerang effect, even as the consequences of climate change intensify all around us.Read more: https://theconversation.com/extreme-weather-news-may-not-change-climate-change-skeptics-minds-112650
My old English teachers would have understood the problem immediately.
But modern English professors like Ryan Weber appear to be genuinely puzzled when skeptics react negatively to reporters interleaving shaky climate claims with their allegedly objective descriptions of weather disasters.
Because we can always trust the objectivity of weather reporters, right?