Gloom and doom on climate can backfire, new study says
Talking gloom-and-doom about global warming may backfire with the public, according to a new study on climate attitudes from the University of California, Berkeley.
While the researchers' sample is hardly comprehensive or representative of America--the two psychologists conducted one experiment on 97 UC Berkeley undergraduates, and a second with 45 volunteers recruited from 30 U.S. cities via Craigslist--it raises an intriguing question about how environmentalists' outreach on climate change.
In the experiment involving undergraduates, the subjects read a news article that began with factual data provided by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change, but had two different endings. Half ended with warnings about the disastrous consequences of climate change, while half offered potential solutions to the problem, such as clean energy innovations.
The results--which will be published in the January issue of the journal Psychological Science--showed that those who read the upbeat ending were more open to believing in the global warming's existence and were more confident about science's ability to solve the problem.
"The scarier the message, the more people who are committed to viewing the world as fundamentally stable and fair are motivated to deny it," said Matthew Feinberg, a doctoral student in psychology who co-authored the study along with Robb Willer, UC Berkeley social psychologist.
The new paper comes as environmentalists are pondering why their strategy to pass a broad climate bill failed this year, and how they might make progress in the face of a much more hostile Congress in 2011.
Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund, lays out his thinking Tuesday in the Huffington Post, in which he suggests his group will focus more on grassroots activism and will seek to punish some companies that obstruct curbs on greenhouse gases even as it seeks to enlist new allies. The move would mark a decided shift for EDF, which has focused on promoting its goals inside the Beltway.
And while the Democrats might be losing their majority as of January, that's not stopping the House Committee on Science and Technology from having a climate hearing Wednesday on the science and physics of climate change, the evidence concerning global warming and its impacts. It promises to be a lively debate, even if many of the new climate skeptics elected this month won't be participating.
| November 16, 2010; 12:10 PM ET
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