The psychology of denial

Whilst the vast majority of people claim to be concerned about the climate, it is also the case that large numbers of people also avoid, minimise, switch off, or distance themselves from effectively engaging with the problems. A small but noisy minority actively deny that there even is a problem. How do we understand this, and how do we solve the “It’s Not My Problem” problem?

One of the ways of dealing with denial is to raise awareness of the scientific consensus on climate change.  The importance of this cannot be overstated. Typically, the general public think around 50% of climate scientists agree that humans are causing global warming. The reality is that 97% of scientists agree.

Psychologists who have specialised in understanding science denial have found that the best way to respond to this is to use a branch of psychology dating back to the 1960s known as “inoculation theory” (See Cook, 2015). The way to neutralise misinformation is to expose people to a weak form of the misinformation. The way to achieve this is to explain the fallacy employed by the myth. Once people understand the techniques used to distort the science, they can reconcile the myth with the fact.

With respect to climate change, science denial can be stopped by first explaining the psychological research into why and how people deny climate science.

Having laid the framework, you then show people how to examine the fallacies behind the most common climate myths. There are five common techniques that are used to create myths about climate change.

  • Fake experts
  • Logical fallacies
  • Impossible expectations
  • Cherry picking
  • Conspiracy theories

Use this link below to see a convenient chart of common myths, facts, and fallacies to illustrate this point.

http://www.skepticalscience.com/docs/Fact_Myth_Fallacy.pdf

 

Denial

Cook, J. (2012). The scientific guide to global warming scepticism.  http://www.skepticalscience.com/The-Scientific-Guide-to-Global-Warming-Skepticism.html

 

 

 

 

Cook, J. (2015).  Innoculating against science denial. The Conversation, 27 April 2015. http://theconversation.com/inoculating-against-science-denial-40465

Cook, J. & Lewandowsky, S. (2011). The Debunking Handbook. Available at: http://www.skepticalscience.com/Debunking-Handbook-now-freely-available-download.html

Cook, J., Nuccitelli, D., Skuce, A., Jacobs, P., Painting, R., Honeycutt, R., Green, S. A., Lewandowsky, S., Richardson, M. & Way, R. G. (2014). 'Quantifying the consensus on anthropogenic global warming in the scientific literature: A re-analysis'.  Energy Policy. 73. 706-708.

Ecker, U. K. H., Lewandowsky, S., Fenton, O. & Martin, K. (2014). Do people keep believing because they want to? Preexisting attitudes and the continued influence of misinformation. Memory and Cognition. 42, 2. 292-304.

Hamilton, C.  (2010). Requiem for a species: Why we resist the truth about climate change, Allan and Unwin.

Hulme, M. (2009). Why we disagree about climate change. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Klein, N. (2014). This changes everything. Simon and Schuster, New York.

Lewandowsky, S., Oberauer, K. & Gignac, G. E. (2013). NASA faked the moon landing therefore (climate) science is a hoax: An anatomy of the motivated rejection of science. Psychological Science, 24, 5, 622-633.

Lewandowsky, S., Gignac, G.E., Oberauer, K. (2013). The Role of Conspiracist Ideation and Worldviews in Predicting Rejection of Science. PLoS ONE, 8, 10.  e75637. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0075637.

Lewandowsky, S., Gignac, G.E., Vaughan, S. (2013). Nature Climate Change, 3, 399–404. doi:10.1038/nclimate1720.

Marshall, G. (2014).  Don’t even think about it.  Why our brains are wired to ignore climate change. Bloomsbury, London.

Marshall, G. (2015). Climate Change Denial blog.  This blog explores the topic of the psychology of climate change denial - with observations and anecdotes about our weird and disturbed response to the problem. http://climatedenial.org/

Marshall, G. (2012). How to talk to a climate change denier (dissenter Blog and tipsheet). Created by George Marshall, founder of a climate change charity the Climate Outreach Information Network. This blog explores the topic of the psychology of climate change denial. 20 video at: http://climatedenial.org/2012/03/29/how-to-talk-to-a-climate-change-denier-dissenter/ Blog

 

Making Sense of Climate Science Denial.  Massive Open Online Course.  University of Queensland.

 

 

 

 

Norgaard, K.M. (2011). Living in denial:climate change, Emotions and everyday life, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Skeptical Science  http://www.skepticalscience.com/

Stoknes, P. E. (2015). What We Think About When We Try Not To Think About Global Warming: Toward a New Psychology of Climate Action. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green.

Washington, H., & Cook, J. (2011).  Climate Change Denial: Heads in the Sand. Earthscan, UK

University of Queensland (May 2015).  Making sense of climate denial. Free MOOC.  https://www.edx.org/course/making-sense-climate-science-denial-uqx-denial101x#.VBxNu-c0phE

 

 

The scientific consensus on climate change

The importance of raising awareness of the scientific consensus on climate change cannot be overstated. Typically, the general public think around 50% of climate scientists agree that humans are causing global warming. The reality is that 97% of scientists agree.
The Consensus Project  http://www.theconsensusproject.com/

Cook, J., Nuccitelli, D., et al., (2013). Quantifying the consensus on anthropogenic global warming in the scientific literature. Environmental Research Letters, 8.  024024 doi:10.1088/1748-9326/8/2/024024

Lewandowsky S, Gilles G and Vaughan S 2012 The pivotal role of perceived scientific consensus in acceptance of science Nature Climate Change, 3, 399–404

Oreskes, N. (2004). Beyond the ivory tower. The scientific consensus on climate change. Science, 306,1686.

Oreskes, N. (2007).  The scientific consensus on climate change: how do we know we’re not wrong? Climate Change: What It Means for Us, Our Children, and Our Grandchildren. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Doran, P. & Zimmerman, M. (2009). Examining the scientific consensus on climate change. EOS Trans. Am. Geophys. Union, 90, 22–3.