The Sciences

The Psychology of Climate Change Communication

The IntersectionBy Chris MooneyDec 28, 2010 6:26 PM


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What the heck is wrong with our minds, such that they prevent so many of us from copping to the evidence about global warming? Well, I've just come across a pretty amazing report that points out many of the problems. The product of Columbia University's Center for Research on Environmental Decisions (CRED), it's called The Psychology of Climate Change Communication--and it covers mental models, confirmation biases, and many other known cognitive effects before going on to lay out a series of recommendations about what to do about them. What to do? The advice includes knowing your audience, employing framing, using trusted messengers (often local voices), using the power of groupthink in your favor (rather than letting it turn against you), and much else. For more detail, read the report. I was pretty impressed myself, and am glad this booklet is out there. The reason I came across it is that I'm digging deeper into the psychology of denial and the research on that topic, already explored in my recent Point of Inquiry podcast with Brendan Nyhan. It seems to me that after a very bad decade for science denial in the US (the 2000s), this body of study is vitally important and finally getting the attention it deserves. For too long, and especially in the science blogosphere, it has been set up as a contradiction: Do you debunk anti-science nonsense, or do you try to understand its sources and sympathize with where they are coming from? My argument is that, at different times, we have to do both. But the problem is, the latter endeavor is in many ways, much much harder than the former. So if we're going to get there, works like the CRED guide will be vital.

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