How to explain man-made climate change to disbelievers

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Simply explaining the science of man-made climate change probably won’t help convert the sceptics, according to an Australian study.

The views of disbelievers go much deeper than the science, to the core of how they see themselves and the social groups they belong to.

The feeling of being under attack only entrenches their views.

A better approach might be to consider group dynamics, and take steps to reduce the polarisation between sceptic and green groups, says a study published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Although there is a growing belief in the general public that climate change is real, there is a sharp division in beliefs about its causes with many sceptical of human-induced change.

Of the climate science papers which take a position on the issue, 97% agree that climate change is caused by humans but less than half of the US population shares this belief.

Ana-Maria Bliuc of Monash University and colleagues conducted an online survey of 120 climate change sceptics and 328 believers living in the US.

They found that the contrasting opinions of believers and sceptics about the causes of climate change provide the basis of social identities which define who they are, what they stand for and who they stand with (and against).

Part of the group consciousness of each group is anger at the opposing side.

This suggests that antagonising sceptics and increasing their anger towards their opponents is likely to polarise them further, making them more committed to taking contrary action.

The authors suggest that encouraging believers and discouraging sceptics about the likely outcome of their groups’ efforts is a more effective way to achieve consensus.

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