Climate Change Denial: How to Stand Up To Skeptics

Photo: CC0 Public Domain / Unsplash - NOAA

Climate change denial promoted by staunch skeptics of science poses a serious threat to environmental progress everywhere. Mass misinformation campaigns and rumored falsehoods help lay the groundwork for the spread of theories supporting climate change denial. Here’s what to do if you’re confronted by climate change skeptics.

Climate change denial (or global warming denial) seems to have steadily migrated from the fringes of political and social debate towards the mainstream. We now even see climate change skeptics within our own government. This begs the question, where else could they be? How should you react if confronted with climate change denial?

In this article, we will examine the unfortunate trend of climate change denial as well as the role so-called climate change skeptics play in its spread. We’ll also provide you with a plan on how to react to common arguments and how to attempt to persuade skeptics of the facts if you’re confronted (and when to concede).

Climate Change Denial: The Facts Are Not Always Enough

Climate change denial arguments: facts don
With some climate change skeptics, the facts surrounding global warming might not cut it. (Photo: CC0 Public Domain / Unsplash - Malcolm Lightbody)

In today’s increasingly digital age, we can now get information from a virtually endless variety of different sources. However, not all the information we consume is true. When it comes to the climate crisis, countless denial theories claim the so-called “climate hoax” was invented in order to impose expensive environmental protection measures on citizens and thereby advance political and economic interests.

These sentiments almost seem amusing until we consider the real-world consequences for the efforts of climate protection – especially when such theories find prominent supporters.

Take a closer look at the arguments of climate change skeptics and you’ll quickly notice a pattern: Climate change skeptics’ arguments often make use of rumors and pseudo-scientific misinformation which are constantly repeated and rehashed. As a consequence, many climate change denial talking points never really leave the debate for good.

Utopia’s tip: Take Action: 15 Everyday Ways to Combat Climate Change

Climate change denial: present cold hard facts
Cold hard facts might not always win out. Sometimes conviction is stronger than calculated consideration of alternative viewpoints. (Photo: CC0 Public Domain / Unsplash - Juan Encalada)

It may sometimes simply not be enough to counter the so-called skeptics’ arguments of denial with cold hard facts. So how can you sustainably confront the convictions of climate change skeptics? Is it possible to convince them otherwise?

In their efforts to find an answer to this question, scientists from the Universities of Queensland and Western Australia have developed a guide to debunking misinformation that can be used not only against proponents of climate change denial but also in a variety of other fields and situations. The method boils down to three main points:

  1. You should always focus on the facts, not the rumor.
  2. Before you even mention a myth, be sure to clearly label it as false information.
  3. Any refutation should encompass an alternative explanation which serves to provide factual clarity in neglected areas left by the original misinformation.

1. Facts First

Recent global temperature changes are largely man-made.
Unusually cold winters are often mistakenly put forward by climate change skeptics as an argument against global warming. However, these are also a consequence of the climate crisis. (Photo: CC0 Public Domain / Pixabay - Janeb13)

The human brain receives and processes information in highly complex cognitive processes. Once our brains receive false information and evaluate it as true, it cannot be simply corrected by the presentation of true or factual information. The researchers who developed the guide to debunking misinformation found that discussions can start to pose challenges as a result of a variety of boomerang effects:

  • The more familiar a piece of information or message is, the more likely it is to be accepted as true. If you repeat the rumor of your counterpart – even if only to refute it – you might end up helping to confirm it in the long run.
  • Simple and concise information can be processed better and is more readily accepted than detailed, complicated explanations. It’s best to have two or three sound arguments that you can use in a short and concise discussion.
  • It is particularly difficult to refute misinformation when you are dealing with people who have a very firm opinion on a particular subject. If they are confronted with contradictory facts, they will be all the more eager to fall back on arguments that support their own worldview – and thus strengthen their own convictions.
Tips on how to talk to climate change skeptics
This three-pronged approach to navigating discussions on climate change denial with skeptics should help you convey the truth in the most effective way. (Photo: CC0 Public Domain / Unsplash - Joshua Ness)

This considered, you might try this if you find yourself in conversation with climate change skeptics: If possible, do not repeat the misinformation of your counterpart. Instead, work with fewer, but all the more understandable arguments. Focus your energy on debates with people who do not yet have a solidified opinion and are open to other viewpoints.

Keep in mind: A majority of factors will determine how receptive someone is to a particular viewpoint or perspective. Remember to tread lightly, assess the situation often, and don’t overextend yourself. In other words, don’t end up having an argument instead of merely explaining one.

2. Clearly Designate Myths as Such

You can’t always avoid speaking about climate change denial myths if your primary goal is to debunk them. In such cases, it is important to briefly point out that statements about myths contain misinformation.

Here’s an example: It has been scientifically proven that humans are a major catalyst of global warming. Nevertheless, the rumor that the global rise in temperature is due solely to natural processes remains persistent among climate change skeptics. Thus they deny man’s contribution to global warming despite widespread consensus within the scientific community.

3. Talking to Climate Change Sceptics: Provide a Conclusive Explanation

Climate change denial discussions: provide conclusive arguments
Climate change denial discussions need facts to fill in the cracks of skeptics’ arguments. (Photo: CC0 Public Domain / Unsplash - Joshua Woroniecki)

Even once rumors have been refuted by facts, problematic viewpoints may still persist. If misinformation is the only explanation someone has for a given situation, they will tend to fall back on it – even if they’re aware the information is inaccurate. In order to convince your counterpart in the long term, you should put forward counter-arguments that offer a realistic and conclusive explanation.

Once you’ve identified a particular climate change denial rumor as false, you’ll need to provide a science-based explanation for the man-made climate crisis. The climate change denial rumor leaves behind important questions to be answered, and it’s your task to answer these with facts.

Here’s an example: Although certain temperature fluctuations can be explained by natural phenomena, it has now been proven that the drastic and unusually rapid changes in global temperature witnessed throughout recent decades are almost exclusively due to human behavior.

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has confirmed that humans are responsible for an increase of approximately one degree Celsius in global temperature compared to pre-industrial levels. What this means: climate change skeptics are trying to rally support for climate change denial without the full truth.

The most effective way to help skeptics consider the truth is to track down the trick or argument which convinced them of the climate change denial myth in the first place.

Climate Change Facts: General Tips

Climate crisis debate: general facts to know
The best way to get your point across and leave a lasting impression: Know your stuff. (Photo: CC0 Public Domain / Unsplash - Johannes Plenio)

Before entering into any discussion, it helps to have a certain general knowledge of the topic at hand. Nowadays it’s crucial you get your information from up-to-date, trustworthy sources. Whether confronted by arguments of climate change denial or others, it’s also best to always remain factual and avoid dramatic language. In such cases, especially people who are firmly rooted in their own opinions will otherwise quickly feel personally attacked. This is no way to begin a discussion. Plus, it will make it much more difficult to convince anybody of your argument.

And please remember: Although we aren’t all entitled to our own facts, sometimes a debate about the climate crisis against skeptics in denial just might not be worth your time.

This article was translated by Evan Binford. You can view the original here: Klimawandel-Fakten: So überzeugst du die Leugner des Klimawandels.

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