Published by Flightnook Team on

Speaking the Language of Deniers

Flightnook-Climate Diniers
Physics. Arithmetic. Science. The rules of nature. Would you ever doubt them? Would you ever stop believing that the Earth is round and that it revolves around the sun? Ridiculous questions, yes. But this is exactly how “climate change deniers”, or those who continue to question the truth about global warming and climate change, are showing themselves to be– Skepticism can be unnerving, especially when the subject is science, but we must persevere to ensure there are no climate deniers left in positions of power.
In the United States and a few other countries around the world, conversations about climate change have been reduced to a debate over whether it is true or not. The deniers in these nations consider climate change an opinion rather than a fact. Yet there’s no alternative explanation that justifies the increasing severity of storms and extreme weather events, just PR attacks by giant fossil fuel companies, equipment suppliers, or investor groups– all people with a vested interest in keeping business as usual– stating these fluctuations in nature are “natural” and not man-made. The objective is to confuse and sow doubt amongst the public, to obscure the scientific authority of climate change.
With this political fracturing people become psychologically affected by the “debate” and are inclined to choose sides. When that happens, climate change becomes merely something “you believe or don’t believe” (to quote Greta Thunberg). Because the issue is about the future of life on Earth, choosing sides on the veracity of climate change can spell disaster. For climate scientists, this is like choosing between the metaphysical life and real life.

Why Deny?

When a person refuses to believe something, it is either because he or she has an ulterior motive, or the truth is extremely difficult for them to accept.
What could motivate some of the most passionate climate change deniers? Psychologists note in a study that “political polarization on issues related to environmental conservation” can be explained by the “chronic framing of persuasive messages.” The climate change conversation has become political in many nations, between “liberals” and “conservatives”, each playing to their ideological base.
This confirmation bias clouds people’s vision and pressures them to make decisions based on those who they identify as “alike” around them. The real issue of carbon emission reduction and calls to attain carbon neutrality are unfortunately met with these politicized stances.
An example of this confirmation bias is people clinging to something they know. Often people use job security as an argument against environmental protection and climate resilience. Our entire economy relies on processes powered by fossil fuel, and switching from this to an unknown low carbon future make some anxious about their future roles in society.
But it’s important to remember: There are no jobs on a devastated planet. We must adapt in collaborative ways, that retrain our societies and grow our economies while there’s still time to do this.
Another reason some people might deny climate change because they’re scared of it and don’t want to recognize the terrifying reality of CO2 feedback loops. This should be an easier conversation, especially now that many are joining mass movements like #FridaysforFuture to demand action.
Flightnook-Climate March

Speak Their Language

Political bias can be stronger than scientific facts – this is the sad truth behind the climate change debate. At the same time, the moral foundation of the climate change denier is also a factor. Attitudinal change in terms of, for example, advocating CO2 emission reduction, 1.5 degree lifestyle changes and concern about global warming can only be possible if these actions adhere to the individual’s moral foundation.
Morally framing the issue influences a person to either deny or accept it as truth. In an experiment, psychologists noted that when a pro-environment stance was attached to a binding moral frame, such as obedience to authority, people tended towards believing climate change. These experiments showed that moral concerns are important in “understanding the relationship between ideology and pro-environmental attitudes.”
To speak the language of the deniers, moral framing can be used as a technique in the conversation. For instance, incorporating strong anti-fossil fuel statements in the message can be translated into the language that deniers can speak; instead of saying that burning fossil fuels destroys a specific species, it might be better to say “use of fossil fuels can eventually destroy beautiful natural habitats upon which all living things depend on.” It’s the same message, but it more clearly presents the moral dangers of fossil fuel.
Moral foundation is difficult to break or even sway. Climate change deniers could be holding on to their belief because their fundamental values and their moral foundation dictate it. No matter the truth. With this, climate change becomes a battle of ideology – the more intense the debate, the more rooted the stance of each party. It’s no longer a question of truth.
By speaking the language of deniers, time-consuming and exhausting debates can be avoided. Communication techniques and other ways to get the message across may be adopted to get deniers on board. Treat it like swimming through mud to get to the clear waters – we need to create dialogue with deniers, and we need to do it now.
Flightnook-Eco vs Ego

Bring Them to Shore

Denying the truth will drown everyone into oblivion. Let us not leave the climate change deniers in deeper waters. Instead, through better communication, being more attentive, and understanding their language, we can bring them to shore. Understanding and education are the first steps in combating climate change. Let us make an effort to make them see that accepting the truth will lead to something that is not scary or fatal, but rather will be a better future.
Let’s teach them that there are ways to reduce carbon footprint without necessarily abandoning everything you’ve been accustomed to doing, eating, or buying. Living in a climate reality does not have to mean huge sacrifices– it does mean living mindfully and putting in incremental efforts every day.
It’s been shown that people have recently been changing their minds on climate change. Interestingly many of those who admit to this are greatest group being 65 years or older.
Younger people are an especially great source to help persuade their older or uninformed relatives. Whenever approaching a climate change denier remember the steps below:
  • Listen. To change their mind you have to know their perspective. Why are they so adamant that climate change isn’t anthropogenic? What is their starting point?
  • Educate. Make scientific arguments accessible to them, most people who change their minds do so because “something clicked” for them.
  • Give concrete examples. We are feeling the first effects of climate change, this is not just a problem for future generations.
  • Be there in person. Such discussions are much more productive in person than behind a screen or in the comments section.
  • Encourage incremental participation. Ease your listener into climate activism by small steps, starting with mindfulness.
Start with these steps and don’t get discouraged. It can be fun to engage with people, better understand different perspectives, and walk away having had a fruitful discussion.
Remember, we only have 10 years to do something drastic and the climate movement requires a critical mass of people on board. Though discussions with climate deniers can be frustrating, blaming people only alienates them. It is about time to talk with our deniers as passionately as we talk with our activists.