Republicans & Climate Change — It’s Not About the Facts

Giving Republicans more facts just makes them more hostile.

There’s been a lot of work on how to more effectively communicate about climate change with skeptical audiences.  A new study indicates that such efforts may actually backfire: simply hearing about the evidence, regardless of how the issue is framed, makes Republicans even more opposed.  The researcher suggests instead that we focus on persuading Independents and the minority of Democrats who are unconvinced of the urgency of climate change.  That seems like shrewd advice.

What, then, about GOP opposition to climate action?  This is only one study; perhaps some different way of framing the issue may turn out to be more effective.  It’s also possible that particular frames may actually succeed with specific subgroups, so the messaging needs to be more tailored.  On the whole, however, it may be better to try to win Republican support on specific policies.  For instance, at least some environmentalists believe that nuclear power should be part of our efforts to decrease carbon, and Republicans do tend to be pro-nuclear.

It’s also possible that opposition to climate change will fade as a totemic symbol for Republicans.  As recently as 2008, the Republicans nominated a presidential candidate who had favored cap-and-trade.  What has changed once might change again, not because of outside persuasion but because of internal developments.  The growing factionalism within the Republican Party could make lead people to be less likely to embrace positions simply because they are the party line.  For instance, Republicans with a libertarian orientation might look at the Libertarian Party for guidance. Gary Johnson doubts whether taking action on climate change is cost-effective, but he does say that humans are probably causing climate change.  Maybe that will cause some Republicans to soften their views on the science, possibly leaving them open to persuasion that some policies actually are cost-effective responses to a real problem.

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Reader Comments

6 Replies to “Republicans & Climate Change — It’s Not About the Facts”

  1. If you look at conservatives in general, (not just U.S. conservatives, but whatever is conservative wherever) they are strong reactors to fear. One way of dealing with fear, especially from threats that are difficult to deal with, is to deny it, to hide under the blankets from the monster in the closet, as it were or otherwise invent some fantasy that protects you.

    This probably goes way back to our monkey ancestors; some monkeys were curious about new things and found new territories, discovered bananas, etc. Other monkeys were alert to danger and protected the monkey band from leopards and snakes. These latter monkeys saw something scary, climbed up a tree screaming to alert the rest of the band, and threw feces at what they thought was the threat.

    Not much has changed.

    One way to deal with this is to provide at least plausible (and hopefully non-threatening) means to deal with climate change, even if they aren’t very effective. This will alleviate the fears of the fearful, allow them to come down out of the tree, and maybe reduce the rain of feces a bit. Then other solutions can be discussed.

    Nuclear power might be one route, as might various sequestration schemes.

    1. Dear CDBARRY and Dan,
      The secret to persuading Republicans on climate change is to first persuade me (good old bqrq). We have been talking about climate for a long time on this forum, and thus far no one seems sufficiently knowledgeable and erudite enough to put forth a convincing argument which is founded on solid science and credible empirical data. tisk, tisk.

      We the general public have become bored with climate, we lost interest, we don’t care. Many climate practitioners have left the field and moved on. After November, this frivolity will continue to fade away sooner rather than later (even if Hillary is elected). Say goodbye to climate change, problem solved, next crisis please?

      1. Using the Stefan Boyz man law and the color temperature of the sun, calculate the average temperature of the earth with no carbon dioxide.

        Plot this point at 0 ppm CO2.

        Plot whatever you think the average temperature of the earth is at 280 PPM which is a good enough number for the historic concentration 9f CO2.

        Draw a straight line between the two points and extend it out to whatever number you can find yourself as current or future concentrations, considering that we burn roughly a cubic mile of oil every year, and more coal than that.

        See what temperature this gives you.

        Then come back with some magic theory why this isn’t going to work this way.

        The physics are stunningly simple and are as founded as well or even better 5han gravity. Global warming has been understood for well over a century.

        No, I am not a climate scientist, just an engineer who has done a few jobs involving radiative heat transfer. The basic problem is commonly done in heat transfer classes, physics classes and even math classes (because one way of doing it involves solving a simple version of a particular kind of equation).

        If the physics are wrong, then you can explain why boilers work, and why the IR thermometer in my tool bag is accurate (29.95 at Harbor Freight) and so on.

        No one needs a consensus of scientists to know that the earth will warm with increased greenhouse gases.

        1. “…..No one needs a consensus of scientists to know that the earth will warm with increased greenhouse gases…..”

          Dear CDBARRY,
          Thanks for your thoughts, we know that climate changes, so what?

          Hillary is a dirty filthy corrupt degenerate criminal, plus she is also the standard bearer for climate hysteria. That is all we need to know. Hurry November.

  2. The problem is that people aren’t _just_ giving them facts, but a fresh load of partisan hate at ever opportunity. This frames them like some sort of hostile alien monster. People, especially scientists, especially top celebrity scientists – who are chosen by the press for the level of fear they’re willing to sell, and I’m sure you’ve witnessed some of this – seriously just don’t know how to communicate. It’s especially problematic on the internet, where everything is toneless and assumed to be hostile, which makes it hard for anyone to actually listen without thinking you’re trying to take their lunch money away or something.

    1. It’s not meant to demonize anyone. Denial of unpleasant things vs dealing with them is a core part of human nature. Ask any dentist, or for that matter, look at the number of people who are overweight, don’t exercise, smoke,…

      (We owe our survival as a species to both liberal and conservative monkeys a long time ago.)

      Much of climate change denial is exactly this tendency – made even worse because the consequences are well in the future. Trying to convince some people will make them resist even more. It is better to offer a solution that is acceptable, allay fear, offer another solution, incrementally getting what needs to be done accomplished, preferably without ever confronting the core fear.

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Dan Farber

Dan Farber has written and taught on environmental and constitutional law as well as about contracts, jurisprudence and legislation. Currently at Berkeley Law, he has al…

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