Climate Change: The Role of Emotions and Trust

Despite broad scientific consensus and tons of studies, climate change is still one of – if not the – most controversial issues of our time. One reason why the threat of global warming, this colossal challenge to many environments and livelihoods, is still mounting instead of being dealt with in a coordinated way is that we still haven’t quite understood people’s values and beliefs about climate change. This is problematic, as understanding this complex relationship is increasingly important for designing climate change policies and actions. A recent article in the Australian ECOS Magazine rightly calls for a stronger focus on emotional responses and issues of trust – both requiring an examination way beyond climate change technicalities. After all, be it sand storms over Sydney or global warming facts and figures conveyed through imagery of melting ice and glaciers; people are increasingly confused about who and what to believe.

Acording to a recent survey by CSIRO on emotional responses to climate change, “for those who believe that climate change is natural, the strongest emotional response is irritation. Irritation is likely to be a barrier to any attempt to communicate more information about climate change. Irritation will lead to a failure to engage with anything related to climate change, and generally to inhibit pro-environmental behaviours. These differences are strongly linked to people’s political preferences. Survey participants intending to vote Liberal, National or for Independents, were more likely to state that climate change is due solely to natural variations in Earth’s temperatures. Those who intended to vote for the Greens or Labor were more likely to state belief in human-induced climate change.”

Very interesting also survey responses related to the question of whom to trust. “While all respondents consider university scientists to be the best source of information, those who consider climate change to be natural tend to trust their friends and family, and even their doctors, for information on climate change. In contrast, those who consider climate change to be human-induced tend to favour information from environmental groups and environmental scientists. All groups listed government, car companies and oil companies as the least trustworthy for information on a changing climate.”

Read more via ECOS Magazine or check out the numerous books and publications by CSIRO on Amazon.

Picture by natxoblogg (creative commons, Flickr)

3 thoughts on “Climate Change: The Role of Emotions and Trust

  1. You could make the argument that those who believe that climate change is natural have such beliefs because they trust in the wrong people for their information.

    I would not ask my plumber questions about my bowl movements. Why should anyone ask their doctor about climate change?

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    • Exactly. Climate change really is a tricky one, touching religion and culture – both areas where people can easily be manipulated (you can’t argue against the prophets, can you). Science is suspicious because most people don’t understand it. Businesses fight off threats wherever they arise, and the short life cycle of a politician’s active career won’t make them mess with interests of future employers. Irren ist menschlich, as a German proverb goes. We’re all humans after all, making mistakes on our ways.

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      • Agreed.

        Ideally, I would like to see the media do a better job of helping with the hurdles you’ve just detailed. Explaining the science in a more “accessible” way, calling out corporations and politicians that lie for their personal interests. Unfortunately, there is bias in media as well. So the same people that are suspicious of the science will often be suspicious of the media outlets that try and spread the scientists’ message.

        What a mess!

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