A study conducted by Portland State researchers Brianne Suldovsky and Daniel Taylor-Rodriguez has suggested that communicating about the effects of climate change is more likely to get a denier involved in mitigating them more than explaining why climate change happens.
The study, published in Climatic Change in June, examined how liberals and conservatives in Oregon think about climate science by creating an online survey.
“The most interesting thing to me is that liberals and conservatives are just seeing climate science from a completely different epistemic vantage point,” Suldovsky said about the results.
The survey showed that conservatives tend to deny climate change as they do not directly observe the effects while liberals tend to believe what experts say on the issue.
“That has huge implications for the way that we engage with conservatives because, up until this point, the approach has been to shove more information from climate scientists at them and that’ll do the trick, and it doesn’t,” said Suldovsky.
“One of the things that our study is showing is that [resistance] might be because conservatives are looking to a different source to give them knowledge about climate change: their own direct lived experience.”
As people who believe in climate change tend to believe the experts while those who do not tend to rely on direct observations, it is argued that communicating about the effects of climate change may change the perspective of those who deny it.
“Attending to people’s philosophical beliefs might get us beyond this place where we focus on the facts.
“This study demonstrates we can go deeper than that and ask questions and measure how people are seeing the world. That might get us a little bit further.”
“I grew up very conservative. I grew up in northern Idaho. I grew up very religious. I didn’t accept evolution. I didn’t accept climate science and so I know what it feels like to feel like science is your adversary.
“And what changed my mind was philosophy, learning that there are different ways to think about the world and different ways to think about knowledge.”
Focusing on the effects of climate change allows people of different political ideologies to participate in mitigating them.
“Sea level rise is something that we can infrastructurally deal with without people agreeing on why that sea-level rise is occurring,” Suldovsky said.
“Cities can plan for increased heat waves without convincing people that climate change is causing the heat waves.
“Just broadening our conception of what communication and engagement can look like to include things like public forums or transdisciplinary science where you’re involving multiple perspectives and problem-solving would be helpful,” she added.