Friday, November 19, 2010

If you want people to believe that climate change is real, talk about solutions

There have been press reports this week about an interesting new study on people's attitudes towards climate change.

In the experiment participants were given one of two factual articles about climate change. Half the participants received articles that ended with "warnings about the apocalyptic consequences of global warming." The other half read articles that ended with "positive messages focused on potential solutions to global warming, such as technological innovations that could reduce carbon emissions"

Here's the interesting part:

"Those who read the positive messages were more open to believing in the existence of global warming."

At first that sounds counter-intuitive -- people become more convinced of a problem when they have evidence that it can be solved? But it does make a certain kind of sense. If a problem is devastating and unsolvable there are all sorts of self-protective mechanisms that help us block the problem out.

I think this study has some interesting implications:

Cynicism is a self-fulfilling prophecy.  If we  act as though there are no solutions to climate change, our fellow citizens will be more likely to ignore the problem all together, making solutions even less likely to emerge.

And, more importantly, daring to envision solutions and talk about them and implement them, at whatever scale we can, is a self-fulfilling prophecy as well. Helping people see solutions helps them bear the truth of what is unfolding during their lifetimes and opens the way for them to help build solutions, which maybe opens the way for some one far removed from you to accept the problem and create solutions, and so on, and so on.

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