Psychologists explain how to talk sense to global warming doubters

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Changing minds on climate changeIn the past three years, the percentage of Americans who believe that global warming is real has declined, from 77 percent to 57 percent, according to a recent poll conducted by the Pew Research Center.

If you’re a scientist, journalist, or educator looking to talk sense to the doubters, you’ll find lots of practical advice in a new 43-page guide titled The Psychology of Climate Change Communication. Here are some tips: Talk openly about scientific uncertainties, but underscore that most scientists agree we have a moral imperative to take precautionary action against the threat of climate change. Be careful using terms like “theory” or “hypothesis” because nonacademics may hear these words as signaling idle speculation. Discuss how droughts and floods are more likely to occur because of climate change, but acknowledge that climate change doesn’t directly cause particular weather events. Also, don’t terrify people with doomsday scenarios that can lead to apathy; rather, focus on solutions.

The guide, released by Columbia’s Center for Research on Environmental Decisions (CRED), is based on the research of scientists at Columbia and elsewhere who study the psychology of risk assessment.

“Gaining public support for climate change policies depends on a clear understanding of how people process information and make decisions,” says Debika Shome, a CRED researcher who coauthored the report with colleague Sabine Marx. “Social science provides an essential part of the puzzle.”

For a copy of the free report, visit http://cred.columbia.edu/guide.

DJC

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