Only 12% Believe There is Scientific Consensus on Global Warming and What to do About it

Bob believes the climate is changing but he thinks it is a stretch to say that humans are to blame. He thinks, like many conservatives, that the climate has always changed and will continue to change, but it is unlikely that humans are causing it. In fact, Bob has never heard that 97% of published climate scientists agree on human-caused climate change. But Bob is not alone.

Would you believe that 88% of Americans don’t know that there is scientific consensus on climate change? This is a big deal since conservatives listen to their peers and politicians who say climate change is a hoax, cooked up by liberals to create hysteria.

Whether you call them skeptics, deniers, or contrarians, there is a coordinated effort to misinform and confuse people about climate change. According to cognitive psychologist and linguist George Lakoff, Republicans have been purposely reframing climate change facts for decades.

When it comes to climate change deniers, few are as resilient and proud of their denials as oil-state Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe, who brought a snowball into the Senate to supposedly disprove global warming. Republican Alabama congressman Mo Brooks said, “Rocks tumbling into the ocean” were causing sea level to rise. There are other tall tales such as, “It’s the sun getting warmer,” or “It’s not that bad”? All of these and other misinformation create confusion and disbelief in people about the facts from valid climate change research. And unfortunately, once people have faulty information it is very difficult to counteract that. That may help explain why so many Americans have such a hard time hearing and accepting the science. But nonetheless, the misinformation continues.

So what can we do to increase the climate literacy of Americans? Let’s start with one fact: 97% of scientists believe in human-cased climate change. How do we debunk the persistent distracting retorts such as, “no, there are many who doubt climate change”, or “Here is a physicist who can prove that climate change is a hoax “?

Unfortunately, when we repeat a falsehood, our brains automatically reinforce the falsehood, because it re-associates climate change with a hoax. Linguist George Lakoff says in order to not reinforce the falsehood we need to use what he calls a “truth sandwich”.

A truth sandwich starts with the truth. Then it alludes to the misinformation, without repeating it. Then finishes with restating the truth. Let’s try it on the above example with the falsehood, “Climate change is a hoax.”

First we state the truth:

  1. 97% of scientists agree that we have human-caused climate change.

Next, we debunk the misinformation, without reinforcing it by stating it directly:

2. Some people are trying to mislead others even though there is strong consensus about climate change.

Finally, we restate our fact:

3. 97% of scientists agree that we have human-caused climate change.

That is how to respond to misinformation about climate change. If the climate contrarians ask for references, be sure and tell them they can find the facts at NASA, an independent agency that has been conducting valid climate research for several decades.

One more thing, in order for all Americans to hear this and remember it, we need to repeat it over and over, and over, and over again.

97% of scientists agree that we have human-caused climate change! Now that is consensus.

Author of Vermont’s Ebenezer Allen: Patriot, Commando and Emancipator by Arcadia/The History Press, University of Vermont EdD.

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