16 December 2009

Can Scientists Convince the Growing Number of Global Warming Skeptics?

Posted by Michael McFadden

Recent public opinion polls show the public is less certain that global climate change is happening, said Connie Roser-Renouf of the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., at the ED31C: Education and Communication for Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness I session on Wednesday.

Further, November’s hacking and distribution of University of Anglia climate researchers’ emails prompted a surge of creationist rhetoric disputing global climate change. The Seattle-based Discovery Institute, which supports intelligent design, doubled its output of blog posts in the wake of “climategate,” said Steven Newton of the National Center for Science Education in Oakland.

6Americascover.jpgAn author of a report titled Global Warming’s Six Americas 2009, Roser-Renouf attributes the overall drop in public certainty about global warming to the changing opinions of about 31% of the public who are either disengaged from the issues or cautious about them.

“The cautious and disengaged groups say they could change their minds, and I think a lot of them have changed their minds in very recent times,” she said. “The perception that there is a lot of disagreement among the scientists has increased quite a bit.”

The six groups discussed in the report, which was released in spring 2009 by researchers at Yale University and George Mason University, also include 51% who are alarmed or concerned about climate change, 11% who are doubtful, and 7% who are dismissive.

The Discovery Institute blog posts support the positions of those who dismiss climate change. They describe the released emails as evidence of a “toxic leftist-atheist ideology” by “a cabal of leading scientists, politicians, and media,” Newton said. They write about the “corrupt influence of our scientific elite”, who “systematically exclude and professionally destroy scientists who express skepticism.”

“They deny the science itself. They don’t think science methodology works,” Newton said.

To deal with those who are firmly in the “denial” camp, calling them out at every opportunity may be the best response for climate scientists, Newton said.

But opportunities to change the minds of others abound. A few of those discussed at the session:

Science centers, which are found in every Congressional District, are developing programs targeted at adults. Dennis Bartels spoke of San Francisco-based Exploratorium’s approach to climate education at the session, and more information is available here.

Diane Fisher spoke of an effort by NASA to educate kids about climate change through a number of fun web applications. Find more information at their site.

James Brey of the American Meteorological Society spoke of a new undergraduate course the society is about to launch.

–Olga Kuchment, UC Santa Cruz Science Communication Graduate Student.