Is the torrent of climate disinformation still more powerful than available remedies?

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More powerful than available remedies?

Researchers tested the effectiveness of 6 different psychological messages across 12 countries to combat climate denial. Spoiler: They were all disappointingly weak.
For decades, fossil fuel corporations and others with a stake in a continued fossil fuel economy have worked to sow doubt about the reality of climate change and the feasibility of addressing it. This disinformation campaign has had an effect.

“People around the world believe in climate change and want to act sustainably, but disinformation still affects their beliefs in climate change, their ability to discriminate true and false information about climate change, and their pro-environmental behavior,” says Tobia Spampatti, a graduate student at the University of Geneva in Switzerland who is studying how to use psychology and neuroscience to promote climate action.

Spampatti and his colleagues have developed six psychological interventions to combat climate disinformation. Past research has suggested that pre-emptively providing warnings about disinformation and counterarguments against it could serve as a psychological ‘vaccine,’ inoculating people to better resist denialists’ messages.

The new interventions, which Spampatti and his colleagues describe in the journal Nature Human Behaviour, are based on current research about how people develop and update their understanding of scientific information.

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As the climate changes, what changes people’s minds?

Many climate scientists and climate-change communicators have recently been broadcasting a message that boils down the state of things to just 12 words: “It’s warming. It’s us. We’re sure. It’s bad. We can fix it.”It’s a clear and simple formula and also an evocative one: five stages of climate-change understanding that mirror the five stages of grief. And that raises the question: Just where are various sectors of the public on that pathway? How far has opinion moved from climate-change denial toward acceptance and, ultimately, action?

A look at the scientific literature on climate psychology published over the past several years offers reason for optimism—as well as cautionary notes. One survey of 509 German adults revealed that members of the public have a pretty decent grasp of the basics. (1) They know the climate is changing and that human activities are responsible. But they have a harder time identifying false statements about climate change than true ones. For example, 84 percent of the public correctly identified that the statement “the increase of greenhouse gases is mainly caused by human activities” is true; but only 54 percent recognized that the claim “the 1990s was the warmest decade of the last 100 years” is false.

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