How to change a climate skeptic’s mind

How do you convince Uncle Charlie that climate change is real? Conservancy climate scientist Evan Girvetz says some new mobile apps and books might do the trick.

Figure: Global temperature (red, NASA GISS) and total solar irradiance (blue, 1880 to 1978 from Solanki, 1979 to 2009 from PMOD. Figure courtesy of Skeptical Science.) FIGURE: Global temperature (red, NASA GISS) and total solar irradiance (blue, 1880 to 1978 from Solanki, 1979 to 2009 from PMOD). (Photo: Skeptical Science)

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Having just ended the warmest year and warmest decade on record, where 97 percent of climate change scientists believe humans are causing this warming, it is perplexing that barely a majority of the U.S. public think humans are responsible for climate change.
The science is strong and extensive in showing that carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping greenhouse gasses are warming our planet at an extremely fast rate. A National Academy of Sciences report by leading climate scientists states clearly that “climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities and poses significant risks for — and in many cases is already affecting — a broad range of human and natural systems.”

So, why does the public not see eye-to-eye with scientists about climate change? One reason is that there is a loud community of “climate change skeptics” who make arguments for why humans are not responsible for climate change. As a scientist, I appreciate skepticism to ensure we are getting the best science possible. However, much of the climate skepticism out there seems to be rooted in misinformation and arguments intended to mislead and confuse the public about climate science.

There is a growing community of scientists who are trying to better communicate with the public to clearly explain why they are confident in climate change science. One website, SkepticalScience.com, has created great resources that explain in simple terms what the best science says about many of the climate skeptic arguments.
SkepticalScience.com provides one-line answers to 141 climate skeptic arguments as well as deeper examinations with different levels of scientific detail — basic, intermediate, advanced — depending on how far someone wants to dive into the science. Below are the top five climate skeptic arguments as outlined by the site, as well as what scientists say in response. You can click on the one-line answers to go deeper into the science.
‘Skeptic arguments’ versus what the science says
“It’s the sun.”
Mobile phone applications are being developed that bring climate science to people all over the world. SkepticalScience.com has free mobile phone applications for iPhone, Android and other phones that allow you to quickly access what peer-reviewed science says about skeptic arguments, view climate change science maps and graphs, and report skeptic arguments you’ve encountered.
And Climate Central has reviewed 10 mobile phone applications that range from providing answers to climate science questions, to allowing you to analyze climate change data on-the-fly.
There are also some informative and easy-to-read short books recently released that provide explanations of climate science that are understandable to the general public. Here are a few:
  • Climate Central and Sally Ride Science recently produced a short book titled “What You Need to Know: Twenty Questions and Answers About Climate Change” that you can download or buy a hard copy.
  • Skeptical Science website recently released a short book titled “The Scientific Guide to Global Warming Skepticism.”
  • For more science that is still accessible to the general public, the Climate Change Compendium 2009 produced by the United Nations Environment Program provides a good overview of the state of climate change science.
  • And to dive deeper into the science, see the America’s Climate Choices website (AmericasClimateChoices.org) and related publications produced by the United States National Academy of Science.
In just the past year or two, a lot of good climate science has become much more accessible to the general public. I think the general public is smart enough to understand the basics of good climate science, and this is a good first step toward getting the public to see eye-to-eye with climate change scientists.
The bottom line is that scientists are confident climate change is occurring, and feel strongly that action is needed immediately to limit the impact to people and nature. Before you know it, climate change could be impacting your backyard — and may already be. Let’s all get informed and help inform others about good climate science.
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