Wednesday, 28 March 2012

How to talk to a climate change denier

While the CCC group has so far focussed on media communication, there is also a lot that can be said about effective individual-level communication. Susan Lancaster from Helson has just sent me an excellent video of George Marshall (from explaining how he recommends approaching conversations with climate change sceptics (or, as he prefers, "dissenters"). Some of the ideas he has could well be applied to media-based communication as well as individual-level conversations. You can see the full video here, which I highly recommend:

However, if you can't spare 20 minutes to watch this, here's a very brief summary of what he says:

1) Common Ground
People's views are more likely to be changed by their peers - people that they share something in common with. Show them that you have something in common - family, politics, faith, passions. Psychologists know this as the theory of social norms.

2) Respect
Treat them with respect. Don't criticise the sources of their information, or try to make them feel guilty. This will just lead to unproductive arguments.

3) Hold your views
Quite okay to say what views you have, and why you have them. Say that you've found the overwhelming scientific opinions convincing. No-one can argue with what your own views are.

4) Personal journey
Talk about how you came to these views. Was there a time when you didn't think about energy consumption or CO2 emissions? How did you come to feel differently? Perhaps having children has made you think more about the kind of world that future generations will inhabit? Things that your audience might identify with will be helpful.

5) Fits worldview
Everyone has their worldview. They frame their world based on their life experiences (parents, location, family situation, faith, etc). As a generalisation, climate dissenters tend to be male, older, and with conservative politics. These people often have certain values - they feel that people that work hard at building a career and a family are entitled to certain rewards for their efforts. They can see climate change as an attack on them, changing the rules that they are used to, limiting the level of consumption that they have spent their whole lives working up to, and are just starting to realise.

6) Offer rewards
Talk about positive experiences that you have had as a result of changing your behaviour. Try and link these to values that fit their worldview - often those based on community, family and social life. You could talk about holidays where you have had a more enjoyable time without flying - or the health benefits of active transport.

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