A growing body of research over a range of issues shows that evidence that threatens someone’s worldview can actually backfire and strengthen people’s beliefs. (Dr. John Cook
As if it isn’t difficult enough already to communicate the urgency behind addressing Climate Change, our brains may be hard-wired to resist such information. Good grief.
According to Dr. Cook, we would be wise to understand what is driving climate denial and the importance of the world views of those we are trying to reach with climate science. We are trying to communicate with the large undecided majority; we are not trying to change the minds of hardened climate deniers (which just makes them double-down their denial, anyway). We need to explain two things: the science of Climate Change, and how that science can be distorted. And how, during these tumultuous times, do we get beyond the ‘fake news’ meme going on in the US and leverage the right of the public to be informed? Check out this short video:
While I agree that we who communicate the urgency of addressing Climate Change should be mindful of the ‘backfire effect’, this human failing of sorts, we should not be ruled by it. You can only bend over backwards so far trying to convey the urgency of addressing Climate Change while still talking about Climate Change.
However valid studies might be on the psychological state of the backfire effect, when it comes to denying Climate Change, it is a luxury. It is a luxury for people in first world countries who have caused but are not noticing the consequences of Climate Change, to double-down on their denial because, for various reasons, it’s very convenient.
In the real world, the one we evolved within, we take action when there is immediate danger, or we perish. For example: If several people, waving their hands, shouting, and trembling with fear, told you that a hungry tiger had just entered your house, you would probably take evasive actions regardless of how remote you thought the chances of a man-eater coming into your house might be. You wouldn’t think you had the luxury of ignoring this message; you would at least check out the possibility, however improbable, that a tiger’s eyes are nearby and burning bright for you.
We should be mindful of the backfire effect, but it should not be paraded as another excuse to avoid addressing Climate Change on a scale and time frame that will matter.
Instead, we should counter the most dramatic form of Climate Change backfire, Trump’s attempt to pull out of the Paris Accord and the continual rollback of environmental regulations, by pressing on. Do that here on September 8th. https://riseforclimate.org/