It’s been a point of maddening frustration for scientists and environmentalists that as the predictions on global warming grow more dire, the public seems to be getting more skeptical.
Blame conservatives for fomenting doubt and confusion for sure. But as UC Berkeley psychologist Robb Willer observed in a study recently, crying Cassandra can backfire. In a paper published this month in the journal Psychological Science, Willer and his research staff found that when people are faced with apocalyptic scenarios, they tend to hunker down and disbelieve the evidence. For those who view the world as a fundamentally just place — called the “just world view” — the skepticism gets worse.
“The scarier the message, the more people who are committed to viewing the world as fundamentally stable and fair are motivated to deny it,” said Matthew Feinberg, a doctoral student and coauthor of the study, as quoted in the press release.
The way around the disbelief, the researchers found, was to offer people positive messages and solutions to an otherwise dangerous situation.
The study concludes that, “Fear-based appeals, especially when not coupled with a clear solution, can backfire and undermine the intended effects of messages.
The study is instructive to scientists and public advocates whose doomsday scenarios — no matter how accurate — seem to be falling on deaf ears. For true believers it may seem disingenuous to dangle little stars of hope, especially when what’s needed is a fundamental overhaul of our way of life.
But this study makes the point that presenting a positive vision of what the world could be, and then offering steps to get there, may be what’s needed to get the public out of its climate change rut.
It’s too late for that now. Recently I asked a number of my sons grade 6 friends questions about climate change, and they all said it was BS. You might suggest that they have been indoctrinated by their school perhaps, but nope you’d be wrong. His school is a liberal public school which every year shows “An Inconvenient truth’ without any alternative film or viewpoint, teachers openly support climate change solutions like cap&trade, they scare students with catastrophe scenarios, they sometimes ridicule students for having alternative viewpoints. I think the students have heard enough about how humanity is destroying the world and they now reject it all. Perhaps they think it is an old fogey parent’s thing, like tie dye shirts or Birkenstocks. I have been saying for years that scaring the public will do tremendous damage to the environmental movement in the end, and now I think I am seeing how. I believe we have lost a large part of the next generation of greens through constant climate fear mongering. I have been an environmentalist since 1970 and I have never seen anything like this. This is a disaster in the making.
That’s really sad that kids in schools are so skeptical … and they’re supposed to be the generation that will propel the movement forward. Do you think offering them a vision on a positive future would help, and then get them active in projects that show how they can make a difference? It seems like when you feel useless, that’s when denial sets in.