How to talk to a denier

This interesting new video by George Marshall from Talking Climate discusses how to talk to someone who doesn’t accept the reality of climate change or the need to act, and how best to start persuading them that they might be in error. From the Talking Climate blog post:

George emphasises that argument, conflict, and dis­respectful language will make it more difficult to achieve the goals you are aiming for – that is, to encourage some­body who is sceptical about climate change to engage with the problem and possible solutions to it. Finding ‘common ground’ and being able to under­stand why people are sceptical about cli­mate change in the first place is critical. It isn’t all that much to do with a lack of under­standing of ‘the science’, but has a lot to do with the ‘personal journey’ that people go through when forming their beliefs about cli­mate change and whether to engage in sustain­able behaviour.

George last featured at Hot Topic a year ago, when I discussed his talk on the ingenious ways we avoid believing in climate change. In some respects this new talk builds on that, taking into account the social psychology of belief in climate change. For a more detailed discussion of what’s going on, Marshall’s colleague at Talking Climate, Adam Corner, popped up at the Guardian last week to discuss an experiment on how attitudes condition belief:

What this experiment illustrates, though, is that “belief” in climate change is very much what matters. Without belief in climate change, scientific evidence simply bounces off. And it is social views and cultural beliefs that predict climate change denial, not people’s level of knowledge about climate science.

There’s lots of interesting stuff in Marshall’s video, in Corner’s article and at the Talking Climate web site. I would like to think that I follow Marshall’s suggested approach in one-on-one conversations — I usually find it pretty easy to find common ground with my more sceptical neighbours, for instance — but even the best of intentions can break down in the face of an intractable relative, whether Uncle Bob or the sister-in-law from over the sea…

See also: The Debunking Handbook, by John Cook and Stephan Lewandowsky.

[Nick Lowe]

16 thoughts on “How to talk to a denier”

  1. I watched the video with respect–even admiration–and,in dealing to the Fs and Ps (Myers-Briggs & Jungian typology),I’m sure George Marshall is right,or at least on the right track.But,I found some of his strictures profoundly unsatisfying:for example,tell the story of ‘your journey’.Yuc!The Fs and Ps will not want to know about Hardin and Lovelock.For them,the truth is what other people believe,and if there isn’t a group involved but just you on AGW,the absense of group feed-back,nodding their heads or hating you,will just create a void.My point is you can’t go one-to-one with Fs and Ps–the majority;the sheeple,damn it.It’s got to be in a group.And,you RIG the group.You salt it with another warmista who starts off anti,preferably nasty-anti,but who comes around,but not too fast.If this sounds immoral,read some of Roger Pielke’s blogs.Or,have I been at all this too long? Where’s another habitable planet?

  2. There are a lot of people who accept GW but just ignore the severity and effectively wish not to change their world view. In fact that is mostly all my peers.

  3. I’m afraid I find any such ‘journeys’ beyond tedious. Climate or any other kind. And I’d be lying if I claimed I ever doubted or disbelieved what scientists were telling us anyway. My only mistake was to think it was just like all the other issues, asbestos, lead, CFCs and would be dealt with the same way.

    I think the biggest message is never to try to ‘win’ such arguments or discussions. My approach in employment/management was to ‘sow seeds’. If a couple of months or years later, my notion was being treated as received wisdom, I was content. I never, ever, said ‘Told you so.’

    It really is enough that someone takes your ideas on board. If they’re reflective enough to work out that they’ve changed their views – most people don’t really do this – they just might remember your part in it. But don’t rely on it.

  4. I suspect that most sceptics accept that it is a problem but that they can put off taking serIous measures, like selling their 3 litre car and buying a 500cc model* or better still, a bike, until “later”.

    (* if such a thing exists??)

    1. There is the “all new” Fiat 500 which is not actually a 500cc vehicle of course, it is actually 1358cc

      Checking the prices, I see that the convertible manual is a touch under $30,000.

      Yes, I’d happily trade in my old banger for one of these.


  5. I actually thought this was great right up until he attempted to use his suggested approach with his mythical ‘Uncle Bob’ . The fact that he used his train trip to Italy for his holiday was pure comedy gold. That stated his views are broadly consistent with what I have been arguing here for a while and a lot of people here could learn a lesson or two on effective approaches to this subject.

    1. Yes it is a great suggestion to take a train to Italy instead of flying. Just imagine, you could spend 2-3 days of your 7 day holiday on a train instead of jumping on a RyanAir flight and getting there in a couple of hours.

  6. The overarching question I have, after forcing myself to watch this video, is why?

    What does George Marshall actually hope to achieve by getting people to see the world through his lens?

    I would suggest that the majority of the population make their decisions based on simple economic and practical terms. Can I feed the kids? Can I afford the petrol to get to work? Will I spend 3 days out of my seven days of my holiday on the train when I could be lounging by the pool with a G&T for those days if I’d flown with EasyJet?

    There are a small number of the population who will go out of their way to do something more difficult or more expensive, because they feel that they are somehow being good environmental citizens.

    These people are probably the choir that George Marshall is preaching to.

    What does he hope to achieve otherwise?

    1. The blinkers you wear are very effective. The title of the talk is self-explanatory. You probably fall into the “beyond redemption” category, but I’d be pleased to be proved wrong.

  7. What does George Marshall want to achieve?He is trying to help those who care about AGW and its Armageddon-like impact reach out and make a difference in this media-muddled,politically-pragmatic,focus-group-controlled,and spin-doctored world.It’s a very big and bold objective.But,the odds against those who do care demand the courage and audacity of a Horatius Captain of the Gate;some of us are just old,washed-out men. I do,however worry a lot about the effect of George’s excellent initiative.For the Great House of Clusium army is stubborn,self-interested and bats with an IQ of under 100 so AGW is going to have to get a whole lot worse and REALLY get up their noses before they’re ready to seriously listen.The essential problem is that Clusiums have high emotional intelligence quotants,witnessed by John Key & Co’s appeal to voters.Somehow we have to invert their two IQs which at the bottom of it all George is helping us to do.

  8. I was harsh in offering <100 as an average denier/conservative IQ.I'd just been listening to Chris Mooney talking about his latest book "The Republican Brain" which led me to their Conservapedia website which refutes everything! I'm sometimes prone to proximity bias and that site was a major shock. <115'd closer, though after flicking through Conservapedia,questions involving insanity pop-up.Still think the Myers-Briggs F and P combination is the best explanation, though.On the other hand we have Ts and Js who are much more likely to be liberal in outlook and thus more keener to listen–and change their mindset or world view.

  9. AndyS, In essence what you are saying is: Unless we have the harsh central (Global?) government which you so despise and which mandates by laws, regulations and taxation the reductions in planet destroying activities we currently engage in, nothing will change, because you maintain that not enough “enlightened” individuals will voluntarily do what is good for the future while cutting their own exuberance.

    I guess you hare a point in case that perhaps we do need that central global government to take care of the entrenched cornucopians who will simply deny that the size of the proverbial cake is limited and therefore their entitlement to a slice of it is rather different than their private view of the matter….
    In fact, the “entitlement thinking” may of us harbor and you seem to defend at every corner of the path of our discussion is at the centre of the problem we are facing. You are not borne with the entitlement to consume the future of our civilization out of existence whatsoever. In fact what is around you today is completely unusual and probably very special indeed on the path of humanity on the scale of millenia….

  10. I did hope to get some more tips on coping with denialists.I do wish people would stick with the topic! George Marshall does seem to understand denialism psychology very well for his advice meshes with that of the F’s and P’s personality.I also offer Locus of Control as another feature with denialists’ having external loci;ie,at the extreme, won’t accept responsibilty for anything;where those people with an internal loci sometimes feel guilty even when they just see a policeman! Those with a strong internal locus will readily accept (too readily?) their responsibilty for acting against AGW.

    I’ve lent my copy of ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ to a number of people.Recently I’ve been pulling my James Bond trick of laying a hair across its face.The last 3 borrowers didn’t take it out of the sleeve,though they said “it was good’.You can lead a horse to water,etc.

    Nonetheless,we need a Kiwi-originated new IT which is designed to pull-up all those denialist anchors that so many rely on–like the Hockey Stick debunking urban myth– and which goes to every household in the country free and gratis.

    The biggest problem here isn’t finding the finance to do it(difficult,though);it’s the marketing–how do you get people to watch it?I’d guess 40% of households would but the other 60% would chuck it.Any ideas?

  11. What if we appealed to sheeples’ greed by emphasising Hansen’s Carbon Tax proposal: flat tax on all fossil carbon to be distributed equally to every man, woman and child. They will be free to spend it as they please…offsetting higher petrol costs, buying more fuel-efficient vehicles, blow it on the porkies, whatever. The monthly dividend would be very attractive to most folk and would shift the focus onto climate change as an effect in daily lives instead of it just being something confusing in the media

  12. That’s an excellent idea,Kiwiiano!It’s the ‘buts’,however that muck it up.And the biggest of all is the politicians.Give them a good idea,and once the lobbyists and self-interest groups have massaged it and taken their subsidy cuts,it turns into a bad idea.Cap and Trade wasn’t a bad idea originally BUT,as implemented it’s full of huge anomolies,is often riddled with fiddles;their are subsidies paid as well,and the Goldman Sacs of this world play casino games with the credit price and supply volume.

    Hansen himself admits that a carbon Fee and Dividend would be anathema to most governments because they would have to forego a large measure of control in an honest administration.And,quite apart from the local GST and Income Tax aspects,the citizens of an exporting country would get a bigger dividend than a non-exporter–all other things being equal.World-wide adoption would accordingly be necessary and international adjustments may be needed.The good news,of course is that while costs go up,so do incomes.Consumers might welcome it.But currently,I can’t see the Nats implementing even a pale version of it.Too many feet would have to come out of the trough for that.

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