Climate Change Denial

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March 29, 2012


George Marshall @ 2:02 pm

In this 20 minute video I suggest six strategies for talking to people who do not accept climate science.  I argue strongly that one should avoid a debate about the data and content of the science, and concentrate instead on addressing the values and emotions from which people  construct their beliefs.  The strategies are: finding common ground; expressing respect; clearly holding your views; explaining the personal journey that led to your own understanding; speaking to people’s worldview and values, and finally offering rewards that speak to those values.

These recommendations are based on the current social research and four years experience of leading workshops on peer to peer communications.  My colleague Dr Adam Corner has prepared a paper at with links to the original research.

I want to apologise for using the phrase Climate Change Denier which is tricky I know.  It is, I am sure, the best title for people looking for this material and I want the video seen by as many people as possible.  Half way through the  video I recommend using the term Climate Dissenters as an alternative.

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  1. Georgia says:

    This is very helpful. I admit I have given up even trying to discuss the topic of climate change with anyone. But now I feel much more confident and actually comfortable with what is a compassionate approach shown here, as I believe only love and love related energy can elicit change, I just didn’t know how to do it on this topic due to my own extremely strong feelings about it. I am going to revisit my journey and recollect how I came to be active on climate and then how I dropped out due to the pain of it too! This approach would be most useful in all sorts of situations and topics. Thank you for this 🙂

  2. Dear Mr. Marshal. I am a professional communicator, who has devoted a great deal of time over the past 20 years trying to open spaces for people (of all kind) to reflect on climate change troughout the work of a very small NGO (hear in my country, Ecuador, and others in Latin America). We realize that an approach like yours is an important way to contribute to breaking the tremendous gap between knowledge (soft or hard) and the interest and motivation of people to think, feel and act around the CC issues or facts. We are now more than persuaded that international and national organizations working on CC (even us) have lost so much efforts and resources traying to generate among common people scientific literacy on this mega issue, without trying to hit into their soul and conciuousness, which really influence actions and changes. So I am eager to learn more about your wanderful ideas, and results.

  3. John says:

    My partner says you’re brilliant. She never says that about me.

  4. Brilliant. Well done – although, for me, this is really more generally about ‘persuasion’. It helped me with something I have been thinking about which is nothing to do with climate change. You should call this “George Marshall’s 6 steps to persuasion”.

  5. First class. The principles described are universal truths not just applicable to climate change but to any topic as Peter also said above. I particularly liked the personal journey and world view elements. Very often I ask people who are green in outlook about their personal journey and listen carefully to the drivers which brought change. The answers can be very unexpected and unpredictable. George’s comment on everyone’s journey began somewhere struck me. 25 years ago climate change was an issue but no one realised the problem. So everyone has made a jorney even if it is to say it is not an issue.Common ground is also a key element. People often want to be mainstream and this factor of wanting to belong is much stronger that most people recognise. Much impressed by the clip. Thank you.

  6. Ryder says:

    This is all about persuasion… in other words, salesmanship.

    The true art of sales is to get people to buy things they don’t really need, by getting them to feel like they do.

    Of course, these same rules apply to those that want to sell the idea that climate always changes, always has and always will… to persuade people that it’s nothing worth worrying about.

    The *validity* of either view becomes totally unimportant in this context.

    Not especially different from the famous “How to win friends and influence people”

  7. I’m sure the basic argument is correct; if I have understood things aright most climate change dissenters are not scientists anyway. But I would say be careful of behaving like persuaders, salesmen, and the like. That can seem like treating people as passive consumers with little intelligence or time to think. Hopefully, it is possible to reach someone’s soul without doing that.

  8. Sarah says:

    “I argue strongly that one should avoid a debate about the data and content of the science, and concentrate instead on addressing the values and emotions from which people construct their beliefs.”

    The above comment is exactly why your aregument is losing steam. Why would you ever discourage anyone from discussing the science?Strategies to persuade peole into beleiving climate change tells the whole story. if it’s fact, you wouldn’t meed persuasion.

  9. Ian says:

    Sarah points out:- “I argue strongly that one should avoid a debate about the data and content of the science, and concentrate instead on addressing the values and emotions from which people construct their beliefs.”

    You are talking the dogma of faith, not fact, of blind belief. Logic is the philosophical study of valid reasoning, one must debate the science. Some people are capable of thinking for themselves. Weird weather is not climate.

  10. Robert Nagle says:

    These are profound thoughts. I really appreciate this video because I deal with these issues almost every day. (I should add that I live in a city (Houston) where a lot of jobs come from the petroleum industry.

    Part of the problem is the “broken record” problem. I see a lot of connections between a certain lifestyle and climate change which other people don’t see. For the majority of people around me, they either don’t know a lot, don’t really care strongly about or are sick of hearing me verbalize these connections. For me, I care passionately about climate change, and many people I come in contact don’t feel that level of passion; therefore, they may view me as a “broken record.”

    Really I try my best to restrain my remarks. Maybe in my work I’ll mention a remark once every week or so. I’ll usually have a long-winded conversation initially and then shut up about the issue except maybe one remark a week.

    Part of the problem is knowing when it is appropriate to bring up the matter (and when the person even wants to have that discussion). I remember one time I had a friendly discussion with two educated men, one of which didn’t believe in any of that climate change nonsense. We mainly talked about car technologies and an interesting economic analysis suggesting that private investment in green technologies produce 3x the jobs as investment in fossil fuels.

    I think part of the problem is that many people who don’t want to talk about climate are not in a position to easily change. I commute to work, but many of my colleagues to work had to drive 45 minutes or more to get to work by car. They live in car-dependent neighborhoods; if they were to actually believe that getting rid of cars was the only solution, they would actually be damning their own lifestyle without having reasonable alternatives.

    My personal communication style is to wear my activism on my sleeve — my friends and colleagues expect that. But these suggestions are great. Dissenters rather than skeptic. Tell your story is also good….because honestly, most of the people I talk to are simply unaware of the science or how far it has advanced or what new technologies are on the horizon. I think it’s important to convey how my views have evolved (and by implication the listener’s will as well).

    Another thing. Aside from “dissenters” rather than skeptics, these strategies don’t necessarily work with online discourse. Frequently the discussion turns to understanding of evidence, economic predictions and political practicality of some plans. These require more in depth conversation. I think it also means recognizing when the discussion has stopped being constructive. At some point this will happen when both sides are restating their points in different ways and simply arguing semantics.

    A personal note. I made an ethical decision never to work or to apply to fossil fuel companies. When looking for work, I have to explain my beliefs in a way that is not too abrasive or accusing. These always make for awkward conversations, but at the same time I will try to be upfront about it. My talking point is: “Climate change is going to be a big problem, and I feel it is important to be on the side working for solutions to this problem.”

    Again, a great talk.

  11. Robert Nagle says:

    One other thought. The context in which you engage in this dialogue is important. Such as:

    1)Did you initiate the discussion or did the other person?

    2)Do you know the person well or are they someone you just met?

    3)Is this person working for a fossil fuel company?

    4)Does this person really care about policy or just is basically apolitical?

    5)How amenable would this person be to information or arguments if presented which conflict with their own?

    Finally, I wish to state something about religion. In USA, many don’t believe in evolution (and I read a poll on CNN that a staggering percentage of ministers — like 50%) believe that the world is less than 6000 years old. If the person you are talking to is religious, and you are trying to talk about the climate record, you may potentially be impinging on religious beliefs. If the individual remains convinced that evolution is not likely, then perhaps a values debate is really the only kind of discussion you can have. Or a future-oriented debate (what will happen in 50 years? — instead of, what happened 20,000 years ago).

  12. Dan Alter says:

    You say above, “I argue strongly that one should avoid a debate about the data and content of the science,”. Are you insane? The data does not bear on your predictions?

    Just use salesmanship, i.e. lie to win your argument makes you, by inspection a mendacious crackpot.

    As a scientist, the data determines the truth of your predictions. The fact that you will not rest your case on the facts we know says all anyone honest needs to know about you.

    In reality, given the fact that we have been in a “ice age” for 90% plus of the last two million years, you should be praying for global warming. I assure you, ice not warmth would kill off most of us.

  13. Aristotle says:

    Well,well, So much for data and science facts, that leaves a purely emotional argument, belief vs. belief.

  14. Pedro Faria says:

    Great stuff! Really good, I loved it. I’m an engineer by training, but I know from personal experience that so much of what you explain is essential. I had never seen it so structured, well explained and with an example at the end (!), but I do agree this is one o the effective ways to talk with people on climate change. Congratulations

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