#3: Tackling Deniers (and Believers)

Hello dear readers!

How has your week been? ^-^

Concerning last week’s topic on climate change denial, you may have once asked: Is there anything that can be done to change the mindsets of those climate change deniers?

Well, we’ve now learnt that going on about the scientific evidence underscoring climate change may not be the most effective.

Writer Karin Kirk acknowledges this in an article she wrote for Yale Climate Connections. Based on her personal experiences, she proposes a framework for communication with people who refute the reality of the environmental crisis. Also referencing a Big Think post regarding the same article, I have summarised Kirk’s approach into three key steps below:

Source: (Kirk, 2018)
  1. Identify the kind of denier you’re dealing with, based on Kirk’s range of categories (see image above).
  2. Mould and steer the conversation to be about matters relatable and of concern to that particular kind of denier.
  3. Discern if your conversation is really necessary – “trolls” (people who entertain themselves by getting into online fights) should be ignored, while “ideologues” (people who cling to their political affiliations) need not be convinced to believe in climate change per se.

Susan Joy Hassol, director of Climate Communication, is quoted on some examples in Kirk’s write-up, one of them being: When met with the “uninformed”, we should share how climate change will negatively affect their well-being, children, and expenditures. These topics are more likely to strike a chord in them as compared to any news about hungry polar bears.

Not knowing anyone who denounces climate change personally prevents me from trying out Kirk’s framework for the time being, but I do believe these ideas are important. One of the goals of my blog is to explore how people can be convinced to save the Earth, and her suggestions would seem more useful than having arguments and forming an “us” versus “them” mentality.

Both the Big Think and Yale Climate Connections articles emphasise a category I think most of us can identify with: the “informed but idle”. Big Think writer Matt Davis calls upon readers to go full force in telling this group about the devastating consequences of inaction, but without making the situation seem unsalvageable. However, it was at this point I questioned, “If these people already knew the widely-accepted truth, would telling them more of the same thing stir them from inaction?”

Zooming out, how feasible is it to target all climate change deniers with information specifically tailored to their “needs”? Is there a way to change behaviour without much direct communication?

Stay tuned for future updates…

Until the next post, thanks for reading!

Tasha (^-^)/

Bonus content!
Here’s a study relevant to what I covered in today’s and last week’s post:
Promoting pro-environmental action in climate change deniers

8 thoughts on “#3: Tackling Deniers (and Believers)

  1. Hey Tasha!

    I was drawn towards your blog post as I personally struggle with addressing climate change deniers, or maybe more aptly the informed but apathetic friends that I have ): Just to share briefly, common sentiments I get is that technology is advanced, so us as individuals do not have a role to play. ‘Leave it to the scientist and engineers’ seems to be their motto and they continue with their lifestyle habits like drinking hot beverages with straws, really! I had a friend who also said there needs to be a bigger event that will shake the world into action (I am vexed as isn’t the current Amazon fire a big enough event, or closer to home the haze?). Seeing that you have better knowledge on Kirk’s approach, how would you tackle these situations? (some case studies for you to consider, since you mentioned you don’t have much personal experience on this)

    In addition, I’m with you in questioning Davis’s suggestion on “(going) full force in telling this group about the devastating consequences of inaction”. It seems like he is advocating fearmongering. This is problematic to me as first, fearmongering is notorious for making situations so pessimistic that it leads to inaction. I had a class whose readings were on The Uninhabitable Earth, and my peers were indifferent after reading it. Secondly, I don’t think even in the categorized identities of “informed but idle” there can be a one size fit all strategy? Just like how our motivations to protect the environment is diverse and complex, I suppose their reasons for inaction must be too and thus, are their “needs” really homogenous? I suppose this is part of the feasibility you are questioning too…

    I loved the bonus content at the end! Maybe all my questioning on the approach you mentioned could be nullified if we were to focus on communicating the benefits of mitigation efforts on a more humanitarian perspective instead! I’ll keep that in mind!

    Can’t wait for your next post!


    1. Hi Chloe,
      I’ll let Tasha address the main gist of your comment, but I would like to point out something minor…
      “drinking hot beverages with straws”
      Straws are made of plastic and are not meant to be put in a hot beverage. We already know that microplastics transfer from water bottles to the water inside and that we then ingest them. This, to me, seems quite risky, even if the straws don’t contain BPA and other hazardous chemicals.
      Also, there’s an increased risk of scalding your mouth – ouch !

    2. Hey Chloe!

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts! It’s nice seeing how what I shared was relevant to some areas of your daily life.

      Firstly, kudos to you for finding out some of your friends’ reasons behind their inaction. How was that conversation like? I personally find it hard to be so direct with my friends when it comes to the environmental crisis, even though I understand the importance of speaking up. In that sense, I admit I am also a part of the “informed but idle” category, but I’m working on it!

      Going back to your question, I think it may help to apply the main gist of Kirk’s proposal, which I understood it to be about linking the environmental crisis to what people care about. So if your friends aren’t into technology, maybe they’re interested in something else? Something I’ve thought of but haven’t tried is asking people what they want to see alive many years from now, what they hope will continue to exist in the future. Somewhere in their answers should be something that can be linked to climate change. Also, maybe your friends’ belief in “individuals do not have a role to play” stems from not knowing what the opportunities for individuals are in the first place, so you could share some of that with them. Another approach to consider would be to lead by example (or peer pressure, perhaps). The next time you plan to get drinks with your friends, ask them to bring a reusable cup or bottle like you would, and buy the drinks with you! Wash your cups/bottles together if that helps too. Sometimes what’s hard to do alone can be made easier when done with a friend.

      You brought up some great points about fearmongering (nearly forgot the existence of this word) and how even the “informed by idle” category probably requires varying approaches to knock them out of inaction. So maybe for those who aren’t aware of the gravity of the environmental crisis, telling them about all that is already happening and how it could get even worse from here would help. But for others, we’d probably need some initially-uncomfortable conversations to understand their position and interests first. If it boils down to being lazy, then maybe it’s time to consider an approach targeting behaviour specifically. And that’s something I hope to explore in my blog. So thanks for the prompt!

      Tasha (^-^)/

      P.S. At the very least, I hope your friends are using straws for warm beverages, and not piping hot ones!

  2. Hi Tasha,
    This is what most struck me in Karen Kirk’s article (and thanks for making me aware of this – very well written and intelligent.
    ““Remember, the atmosphere doesn’t care what people believe, it responds to emissions,” Hassol adds.”
    I used to think this way. But after I started teaching ENV1101, specifically doing research for the week 10 class, my thinking changed. You’ll have to let me know what you think after week 10 – but the general idea is that ppl’s motivations matter to whether we can achieve our sustainability goals.

    1. Hi Dr Colemnan,

      That quote struck me too, and I tried to encapsulate that idea into my blog by writing that people need not be a 100% convinced about climate change in order to make decisions that would be better for the planet. Now I’ll look forward to Week 10’s class to learn about the alternative perspective to this. But I do agree that it would be more beneficial, especially in the long run, if people were driven by a common belief in the environmental crisis and the need to secure a greener future. It’s definitely a daunting task, but worth exploring. Maybe I’ll look into it for a future post!

      Thanks for your comment!

      Tasha (^-^)/

  3. Hello Tasha,

    I’m so glad to have read this post you have written! I felt that this was something that I could identify with and was helpful for me.

    I do agree with many of the points you have raised here. In the point about dealing with “uninformed” people, I remember sharing having a discussion with my friend and he shared that the recent national day rally about rising sea levels and the need to build higher sea walls in Singapore actually made him feel scared because the effects could be felt so close to home.

    Many people feel that environmentalists only care about the environment, and not about their fellow human beings, thus possibly leading to the “us” vs “them” mentality. However, we care for the environment because we do care also about the people who live in it and the future generations that will come after us.

    Am looking forward to your next post 🙂

    1. Hello Ann Shin,

      Happy to have shared something meaningful with you!

      Your friend seems to have realised the gravity of the global warming situation we’re in, especially in terms of how it will impact Singapore in the future. I admire the fact that he paid attention to the National Day Rally and humbly learnt about environmental issues concerning Singapore. Perhaps he has now been “upgraded” from the “uninformed” category? Has his newfound information kicked him into leading a more environmentally-friendly lifestyle? It would be interesting if it did (or even if it did not), because that behavioural change (or lack thereof) is exactly what my blog hopes to look into, and it would be cool to look into the factors that did or did not influence his attitudes and actions!

      Also, you’ve brought up a valid point about how “us” vs “them” sentiments may be formed in this context. While writing this blog post, I’ve only thought about how climate change deniers may be against environmental advocates simply because of contrasting beliefs. However, as you have highlighted, this could stem from a misunderstanding of what the advocates are concerned about and what they want to achieve. I agree that communication is important as it forms the basis for teamwork – crucial to solving this environmental crisis while simultaneously catering to the people’s interests. That would be a much better use of time and energy, instead of wasting it on drawing enemy lines.

      Thanks for the support!

      Tasha (^-^)/

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