Will Climate Skeptics Change Their Tune When They Feel the Heat?


Photo zbigphotography via Flickr/CC BY

Why it is that skeptics continue to dismiss the increasingly compelling body of evidence -- collected by thousands of scientists -- that finds humans are causing the planet's climate to warm is the topic of endless conversation, most of it thankless. Is it a behavioral complex that preconditions certain people to refute factual analysis? Is it political ideology that impedes logic? Or, is it, as my commenters are fond of telling me, because they can see through those greedy scientists' grant-seeking agenda and the liberal warmist dogma hypocritically spread by Al Gore? Not likely. Instead, the latest research suggests that it's a matter of 'seeing is believing' -- or in this case, feeling the heat. A new piece in Miller-McCune details the idea:

How do you get people to understand that climate change is occurring? The question frustrates scientists and policymakers, who face a disbelieving public prone to discounting discomforting data. A newly published study suggests one answer is to set aside the charts and statistics in favor of a more visceral approach. To put it simply: If you want to convert a skeptic, turn up the thermostat.

Jane Risen of the University of Chicago and Clayton Critcher of the University of California, Berkeley, provide evidence that belief in global warming increases along with the temperature one is currently experiencing. The researchers attribute this to a phenomenon they call "visceral fit."

Rocket science this ain't -- the study essentially concludes that if people experience circumstances that correlate to the ideas about the future being proposed to them, they'll be more likely to accept those ideas. If a scientist tells you that an increasing concentration of carbon in the atmosphere is enhancing the greenhouse effect, trapping more and more heat in the earth's atmosphere -- and that this could make temperatures rise a couple whole degrees by the end of the century -- you'd be more likely to believe him if it's 95 degrees outside.

Unfortunately, the practical applications I can imagine arising from these findings are few and far between -- we can't simply wait around for it to get hot enough for people to believe in global warming, or herd folks into heated rooms when the subject is taught in schools. It's nonetheless another worthy contribution to the behavioral analysis of climate skepticism.

More on Climate Change Skeptics
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