Thursday, 8 March 2012

Clearing the air?

Does scientific evidence demonstrating the reality of anthropogenic climate change make a difference to public understandings of the issue?

In a forthcoming PUS article (available online), Kersty Hobson of the University of Oxford and Simon Niemeyer of the Australian National University focus on the effects of information and deliberation on climate change scepticism. Their analysis shows the prevalence of five discourses spanning a range of scepticism about climate change. Crucially, their findings demonstrate that deeply held beliefs against anthropogenic climate change are hard to shake.

The research carried out by the two scholars shows that the use of scenarios and deliberation in the research does allow many sceptics to shift their position to a milder position along the continuum of sceptic beliefs. But those who begin with hardened positions of climate denial not only do not move but instead become “more dogmatic and belligerent, suggesting that public climate change communication strategies or interventions can unintentionally alienate such individuals further.”

Despite the weight of scientific evidence, climate sceptics and deniers are unlikely to go away any time soon. Hobson and Niemeyer’s piece begins with a quote from Richard Black, environment correspondent of the BBC, who said in a 2007 article:  “What sceptics believe is an important question, because their voices are heard in governments, editors’ offices, boardrooms, and – most importantly—the street.” It is important, therefore, that we continue to think about how best to respond to climate scepticism.

One reason why voices of denial continue to be heard above the general acceptance of climate change research is the continued high level funding by industry—and wealthy individuals—for outfits paid to oppose the science. For example, a U.S think tank “backed by fossil fuel interests” has been reported to have funded a group of climate change sceptics in New Zealand (see report).

In contrast to the vocal presence of climate change deniers in the developed world, Bruno Takahashi and Mark Miesner of the State University of New York, in another forthcoming article in PUS (also available online), find that there is a notable absence of sceptical voices in the media coverage of climate change in Peru despite an otherwise heavy reliance on international newswires.

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