Updated: Jan 27, 2022
[Source: Climate Change Nigeria]
From increasingly dangerous wildfires in Turkey to torrential rainfall in Japan, climate change has taken a toll on all of us in recent years. More than ever, scientists have been warning us about our bleak future if nothing gets done. Recently, a United Nations report on climate change emphasized the serious consequences nations will face in the next 25 years if no actions take place. Yet, efforts against climate change have not gained much media recognition or public attention. Even though most people now acknowledge climate change as a real issue, many have not taken action against it and instead, argue that current environmental issues are not humanity’s responsibility. Despite the overwhelming evidence supporting the negative implications of environmental issues, why are people still in denial about climate change?
This question can be answered through a psychological lens. Since discussion revolving around climate change sparks fear through association with long-term loss and incomprehensible future threats, protective biases kick in and impact people’s perception of this issue. Specifically, many people tend to take a biased approach to climate change through a phenomenon called “confirmation bias.” This unintentional form of decision-making causes individuals to seek out information that agrees with their existing opinions while ignoring factors inconsistent with their beliefs, leading to the acceptance of misinformation and climate change denialism. Misinformation is further amplified when the “algorithm bias” comes into play, a method used by social media platforms to promote information, even when it is false, that aligns with the individual’s preferred contents. The combination of these two factors causes people to fall down a rabbit hole of conspiracy theories designed to miseducate and reemerge as carriers of false information.
[Photo Credit: CalTech]
Additionally, individuals who exercise high levels of Social Dominance Orientation tend to disregard climate change as a crucial problem. Social Dominance Orientation (SDO) is a measure of the support for hierarchical systems in society. In the context of climate change, this orientation extends to the acceptance of “human dominance” over nature, prompting the idea that the pursuit of human activity triumphs the need for environmental protection. Ultimately, “confirmation bias,” “algorithm bias,” and Social Dominance Orientation lead to the wide spreaders of misinformation and thus, the deeply held beliefs of climate change denialists.
This leaves the question: How do we tackle climate change denialism? The answer lies in communication. Recent research highlights that simply presenting scientific facts is not enough to change the opinions of denialists. Instead, having open and nonjudgmental conversations seems to be the solution. Rather than disregarding a denialist’s beliefs as blatant lies or not bothering to talk to them, people should acknowledge denialist views and work them into the conversation. Although this idea might not be a full-proof solution, this simple step will allow communities with opposing beliefs to come together and discuss environmental issues in a respectful setting. After all, it is only when communities work together that conversations about climate change can be followed by actual environmental measures.
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