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How do You Deal with Climate Change Skeptics?

April 29th, 2009 by skigreenguy | Filed under Policy & Social Change.

climate-changing-fast_6439If you talk about climate change, you will inevitably run into climate change skeptics. These are folks that deny warming exists (a dying breed), cite competing theories, or see climate change as a hoax driven by big government and/or a conspiracy of grant-hungry liberal scientists.

Ignoring skeptics is a lost opportunity. Not only do skeptics vote but they make choices everyday that impact the climate. Our collective action—in politics and lifestyle—over the next few decades will have a major influence on the magnitude and rate of future warming.

A greater engagement in this issue is clearly needed. According to a 2006 Pew Global Attitudes Survey, nearly half of Americans (47%) and somewhat fewer Chinese (37%) express little or no concern about the problem. As the top producers of greenhouse gases we need to educate ourselves and others in how to be responsible for our sport—and all the carbon that goes up into the atmosphere so we can slide down hills.

So how do you deal with a climate change skeptic?

First, understand where they get their information. There are well-funded efforts like the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) that are financially supported by “environmental advocates” like ExxonMobil Corp, Amoco, Texaco, Inc. and Ford Motor Co. Much of the material on these sites work to support the illusion that the scientific debate on climate change means that there is not a broad scientific consensus on the issue. Skeptics can find lots of nicely written material at neutral-sounding websites like CEI’s globalwarming.org.

Next, respectfully encourage them to learn “even more” about the topic. You’ll find thousands of web pages and hundreds of blog dedicated to climate change. I think the best sites are those that keep the science of climate change separate from climate change policy. After all, it’s the “what to do about climate change” question that awakens the deep pockets and strongest responses. A resource list can be found on this SkiGreenGuide post. The first step of taking responsibility for our actions—skeptic or otherwise— is to understand the consequences of what we do as individuals.

Many of the conversations I’ve had end up being more about rhetoric than substantive scientific knowledge. SourceWatch provides an excellent list of common claims and rebuttals to climate change skeptics. Coby Beck’s series, “How to Talk to a Climate Skeptic,” provides responses to the most common skeptical arguments on global warming. His arguments are divided by, Stages of Denial, Types of Argument and Levels of Sophistication. Finally, the Environmental Defense Fund has a page summarizing the latest Myths and Facts on Global Warming.

Given these tools you may find that all but the most head-in-the-sand skeptics will concede that, even on top of the natural variability of the climate, something out of the ordinary is happening to our climate and humans do have some impact on the climate. The next phase of your conversation is to agree on how to take responsibility for the problem…

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4 Responses to “How do You Deal with Climate Change Skeptics?”

  1. Fred | 29/04/09

    I love the concept of your blog! I think most skiers are pretty green at heart, but don’t think about how many of their habits and actions have unfortunate consequences to the environment and the reasons climate changes are impacting their sport more and more. You’ve got some heavy lifting to do.

    In dealing with climate change skeptics, it might be helpful to let them know that so much of the confusion people feel about what is the truth stems from the deliberate decision in 1995 by the fossil fuels industry and its main lobbying and PR group the Global Climate Coalition to disregard its own scientists and technical experts who were advising it that the science backing the role of greenhouse gases in global warming could not be refuted. To get the full story on this check the New York Times article “Industry Ignored Its Scientists on Climate.” http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/24/science/earth/24deny.html?_r=2&em

    Nobody likes to be hoodwinked. Perhaps if skeptics can be shown that the so-called competing theories and explanations are mere smokescreens and that the carbon industries have known all along that their emissions are clearly exacerbating the problem, some of the skeptics might not only change their mind, but might get angry at those who have mislead them.

  2. skigreenguy | 30/04/09

    You make a good point: Nobody likes to be hoodwinked. In our “information society” being skeptical is probably a healthy response. And doing some homework on the competing theories and explanations is necessary. Thanks for the link to New York Times article.

  3. Phil Allsopp | 25/10/09

    Great Blog! The skeptics I run into in Scottsdale, Arizona tend to be roughly from my father’s generation who I think bought into the whole American Dream hook line and sinker. Mention public transit, for example, and they seem to go ballistic citing all kinds of reasons why it will never happen or that it will never “pay for itself”.

    Seems to me we need to help educate skeptics about the fact that we live in a highly complex and interrelated social, economic and environmental system. As such, a small or large change in one part of the system (investing in a light rail system, for example), may not “pay for itself” in traditional accounting terms, but when the balance of all of the positive and negative economic, social and environmental effects of that decision are accounted for, huge system-wide benefits might well be available.

    We also have some bigots who continue to spit political and racial vitriol at the mere mention of global warming. Not sure what we do about those folks – maybe there’s nothing at all we can do about it. But they tend to be loud, ornery and they vote.

    Phil Allsopp, Scottsdale, AZ

  4. muscle relaxer | 10/12/09

    You need think about it. Despite the emails, the overwhelming evidence showing global warming is happening hasn’t changed.
    “The e-mails do nothing to undermine the very strong scientific consensus . . . that tells us the Earth is warming, that warming is largely a result of human activity,” Jane Lubchenco, who heads the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, told a House committee. She said that the e-mails don’t cover data from NOAA and NASA, whose independent climate records show dramatic warming.