The use of dire predictions to encourage action on climate change may be backfiring and increasing doubt that greenhouse gases from human activities are causing global warming.
Although scientific evidence that anthropogenic activities are behind global warming continues to mount, belief in the phenomenon has stagnated in recent years. “When I was a pollster, I was detecting that many dire messages seemed to be counterproductive, we really needed someone to determine why,” says Ted Nordhaus at the Breakthrough Institute, a Californian think-tank for energy and climate issues.
Matthew Feinberg at the University of California, Berkeley, wondered whether presenting children as the main victims of climate change, a common feature of warning messages, might be viewed as unfair because children have not caused global warming. He speculated that this, along with the apocalyptic descriptions of global warming’s possible consequences, might threaten people’s natural tendency to believe that the world is a fundamentally fair and stable place. Undermining that belief has been shown to increase the likelihood that people will ignore reality and allow events to unfold around them without intervening.