Scientists Can Connect with Skeptics over Shared Risks of Climate Change

It is a scientist’s worst nightmare — that the facts are not enough to be convincing.

But climate change skeptics are not “blank slates” who can be swayed to accept the facts of climate change with more education or different religious leanings, said Katharine Hayhoe, an atmospheric scientist from Texas Tech University, in a plenary address on Feb. 15 at the 2018 AAAS Annual Meeting.

Instead, political conservatism is the biggest predictor of whether a person will be a climate change skeptic, she said citing studies, and distrust of the government “telling them what to do” often underlies their skepticism.

Politicians are not immune to this line of thinking, Hayhoe suggested. She shared a quote from Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe, who said in 2012 he was convinced of scientists’ evidence for climate change and “I was on your side until I found out how much it would cost.”

Calling that statement “a moment of stunning honesty,” Hayhoe said “we are in this situation now where the fear of [climate] solutions is greater than the fear of impacts. Until we can turn this situation around … we are not going to make the difference we want to.”

Finding genuine ways to connect with others — bonding over a shared love of gardening or a shared concern for national security, for example — can help scientists talk about climate change in a way that destroys “the myth that we have to be a certain kind of person to care about a changing climate,” she said.

Increasing political polarization fuels this myth, said Hayhoe, “but climate change will take the risks we already face today and exacerbate them … whoever we are and wherever we live.”

Read the rest of this AAAS article, .