Essay by Eric Worrall
According to climate research, Democrats are more likely to accept assurances from people who claim to be experts. Republicans don’t trust claims of expertise, they want to see the evidence.
How to talk about climate change: Highlight harms — not benefits — to alter behaviour
Eugene Y. Chan, Toronto Metropolitan University
Published: July 11, 2022 11.31am EDT
In a recent paper I co-authored with Jack Lin, a student at the California State University Northridge, we found that stressing the “seriousness” or “importance” of climate change could lead to counterintuitive results.
We recruited randomly selected 762 Americans and had them read a passage outlining the effects of climate change. But, in the passage given to half of the participants, we added words such as “serious” and “grave” to stress the importance of the harmful effects of climate change.
We then asked the participants how likely they were to engage in various sustainable behaviours such as eating locally grown foods, taking public transportation and using less water.
You would think that saying that climate change is serious would promote more sustainable behavioural intentions. Instead, we found that using “serious” and other similar adjectives lowered behavioural intentions to make sustainable efforts. This effect was especially pronounced among participants who identified supporting the Republican Party.
Word choice can trigger your sense of free will
How could these results be explained? Well, Republican supporters generally are higher on “psychological reactance.” Meaning they are typically more averse to restrictions on their individual freedoms and sense of free will. Therefore, to say that climate change effects are “serious” are seen by these individuals as an attempt to influence their perceived views of climate change. Conservatives in other parts of the world also tend to score higher on psychological reactance.
Whether one is conservative or liberal, research has found that highlighting losses is better at promoting behaviours than highlighting gains. For example, indicating the harms to humans, animals and the environment from not acting is more effective than indicating the benefits from acting. Other research has also found that using pie charts to communicate statistics and figures is better at promoting comprehension than writing those figures down in text form.
…Read more: https://theconversation.com/amp/how-to-talk-about-climate-change-highlight-harms-not-benefits-to-alter-behaviour-185356
The abstract of the study;
Political ideology and psychological reactance: how serious should climate change be?
The divide in how people with different political views act upon climate change is evident, with conservatives generally less likely to take action to limit the effects of climate change. Typical communications aimed at conveying the importance of climate change and its effects on both the environment and human well-being typically stress the “seriousness” of such effects. In the current examination, we posit that using such adjectives can actually exacerbate the left–right divide. This is likely because, we propose, conservatives are higher on psychological reactance, and so they see communications conveying the “gravity” of climate change to be a limitation of their free will, thus producing the opposite behaviors of what such communications intend. We find support for our hypothesis in two studies with Americans with both dispositional as well as situational psychological reactance measures. Our results offer novel policy implications regarding by suggesting how a typical communication tactic could actually hamper the very aims of such communications.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.Read more: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10584-022-03372-5
Of course, the problem with having to present evidence of harm is that other people can present counter evidence.
For example, claims of climate harm look very shaky in the context of NASA’s evidence the world is greening. To date, adding CO2 to the atmosphere has been beneficial, and has increased plant growth rates across the entire planet.
What about possible future global warming?
The evidence from much warmer periods in the past demonstrates that primates and other mammals thrive in very warm conditions. Our primate ancestors thrived and spread across the planet during the Eocene Thermal Maximum, one of the warmest periods in the paleo record – a period which may have been as much as 14F (8C) warmer than today. Primates thrived during past periods of extreme global warming. If our small brained monkey ancestors figured out how to thrive during past periods of extreme global warming, I’m pretty confident big brained Humans could figure it out.
The evidence of current global greening, and the evidence of past abundance during warm periods, is quite a mountain to climb, for those who wish to persuade evidence based decision makers that a mere 1.5-2C of warming is a climate crisis.