In a world where political controversy can be found around every corner, people may doubt or entirely dismiss the claim that climate change is not ultimately political.
But that is what Michael Ranney, professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, claimed in the lecture, “Come, Climate Change Skeptics!: Information that Boosts Conservatives’ (and Liberals’) Acceptance of Human-Caused Global Warming,” in Shideler Hall on Thurs. March 9.
“Red states, blue states — it really doesn’t matter,” Ranney said. “The interventions we have generated increase Conservatives’ acceptance of global warming at the same degree they do for Liberals’.”
So, if politics is not the largest obstacle to fixing climate change, then what is?
Ranney believes widespread comprehension of how global warming works is lacking throughout the country.
“How would you explain, you know, to an 18-year-old, how climate change occurs?” Ranney asked the audience.
No one in the audience immediately offered an answer.
Ranney proceeded to show the audience a short video meant to explain at a very basic comprehension level how global warming occurs.
“A lot of people think they know the basic mechanism of global warming, and it turns out they don’t,” Ranney said.
Due to the identified gap in climate change education, Ranney and a team of researchers at UC Berkeley developed five intervention mechanisms that increase people’s acceptance and understanding of human-caused global warming. They developed a website, howglobalwarmingworks.org, which provides these mechanisms in the forms of videos, essays, statistics and graphs to combat the lack of information in the general population.
Alessia Saul and Christina Haffey, both environmental science and zoology majors in attendance at the lecture, agreed with one another that the best thing to do to connect to those who deny climate change is to show them the website Ranney’s team created.
“I would say education is the best way to sway someone’s opinion,” Saul said. “I like the whole idea of explaining it to them, because a lot of people sort of take a political angle and assume climate change is a hoax or something. But if you explain it to them and make sure they understand it, which is what [Ranney] emphasized, they’ll change their own opinion.”
Ranney touched on an aspect of fear that tends to accompany a climate change denier’s opinion by drawing comparisons between religious faith and nationalistic identity.
“The United States subscribes to the belief that God is on our side more than any other nation,” Ranney said. “There is a common theme of theistic Manifest Destiny with a bit of nationalism thrown in there in our country…. Some people deny climate change because they believe God wouldn’t let us burn up, along with similar claims.”
Not only are religiously-based fears and claims prevalent when it comes to dealing with climate change skeptics, but there is also a fear that by admitting to the problem, America must also admit to the economic consequences of changing the energy industry.
Ranney countered this economic fear with none other than one of his five mechanisms: statistics. Ranney explained the economy would not suffer, as moving to complete reliance on solar and wind energy would only cost $45 trillion. Ranney admitted that sounds like an insurmountable figure, but it can be broken down: humanity spends about $5 trillion in fossil fuel subsidies every year.
“I liked when [Ranney] talked about how it’s actually not that expensive to invest in solar power, like it is actually possible without losing jobs,” Haffey said. “That is also a major fear and reason for people’s denial.”
Ranney hopes the information provided on the website he helped to create will engage people in a more informed dialogue when it comes to climate change and will reach a broad audience.
“If the recent election has taught me nothing, it’s that people need to be engaging with folks across the political spectrum,” Ranney said. “Well over one million people have already seen the information we have put out there…. Our modest goal is just to get over seven billion views. That’s all we ask,” Ranney concluded with aspirational hope and humor.