Yes, there's a reason that Exxon and the Koch brothers shell out a pretty penny to sow doubt about climate change. It drives widespread inaction. A new paper just published in the science journal Nature Climate Change offers some intriguing details about what we mostly already knew—that someone who is skeptical about the veracity of climate science will be less likely to support political action to mitigate global warming. The general principle may seem like common sense, but the devil, as they say, is in the details.
The paper's abstract notes that it turns out that people need to believe not just that climate change is occurring, but, as other papers have demonstrated, "four key beliefs about climate change—that it is real, human caused, serious and solvable—are important predictors of support for climate policies."
If a person believes those all four of those things, they will be very likely to support policies that regulate greenhouse gas emissions or otherwise curb carbon pollution. The paper also address's climate opponent's effective strategy of convincing the public that there is disagreement amongst scientists about whether human activity is warming the globe (by and large, there isn't). From the paper:
"We show that the misperception is strongly associated with reduced levels of policy support and injunctive beliefs (that is, beliefs that action should be taken to mitigate global warming) ... In short, people who believe that scientists disagree on global warming tend to feel less certain that global warming is occurring, and show less support for climate policy. This suggests the potential importance of correcting the widely held public misperception about lack of scientific agreement on global warming.Again, not so surprising. And sure, aiming to correct the wild misperceptions that many Americans hold about climate should be a top aim. As Christopher Mims writes at Grist, "it suggests that the battle against misinformation is one worth fighting. If the general opposition to climate change mitigation stems from wrongheaded ideas about the scientific evidence, then clearing up the distortions will pave the way for more public support."
Yes. But we also have to realize the vast majority of the public will never seek out the rebuttals and counter-rebuttals that bloggers, climate writers, and green activists make to faulty information -- the most important thing is for mainstream media to get the story right when they tell it. That responsible, 3 minute news bit about how climate change is making weather more extreme, or an irresponsible one alleging released emails proves global warming is a sham, is probably the only thing most Americans will absorb about climate science all day. Which, indeed, is why we need to keep pressure on the mainstream media to do a better job with their climate coverage in the first place.