2015 GSA Annual Meeting in Baltimore, Maryland, USA (1-4 November 2015)

Paper No. 332-4
Presentation Time: 2:20 PM


KIRK, Karin B., Freelance Educational Writer, Bozeman, MT 59715, GOLD, Anne U., Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, University of Colorado at Boulder, CO, Boulder, CO 80309 and SULLIVAN, Susan, Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, Univ of Colorado, Boulder, CO 80309, karin@kirkframeworks.com

In 2014, NOAA commissioned a literature review about public perceptions of climate science to lay the foundation for an external evaluation of the Climate.gov web portal. This work delved into a rich body of research about trust-building, media literacy, and the psychology of communicating complex and urgent information. Several relevant themes emerged, which can be used to improve climate discourse in the classroom and beyond.

It is particularly intriguing to examine the tactics of the climate denialist movement. By understanding the underlying psychology of their strategies, we can be better prepared to respond. For example, current research reveals that cultural values play a central role in shaping people’s views of climate change. Accordingly, contrarian leaders frame key issues with careful attention to the values of their base. Because their argument reinforces cultural values, it resonates with the target audience. Climate educators and policy advisors can seize this same approach, and can frame climate information to make it psychologically attractive. Different framing can be used for different messages and audiences.

In another example, climate contrarians leverage the media to ensure their message is not only heard, but amplified. While the content of this messaging is often characterized by misinformation, the media strategy is one worth examining. Denialist spokespeople are well trained in media literacy and public relations. They seem to leave no opportunity unfilled, issuing a steady stream of easily-understood, perfectly-timed, consistently-messaged rhetoric. We can examine the contrarian strategy and the current research in climate communication to inform our response. Thus, even though climate science is complicated, we can still streamline our message to be consistent, understandable, and repeatable. We can move the topic from the theoretical and faraway, to the immediate and relevant. We can seize opportunities to counter denialist arguments with straightforward, relatable authority. Lastly, we can emphasize the importance of public engagement, with specific steps anyone can take to become involved. These strategies and others can be put into practice by educators, scientists, and citizens as we work together to tackle this urgent scientific and public policy challenge.