Bus Drivers and Climate Change Communication

The regular community bus driver (let’s call him Jack) that gets me from downtown Sidney to Industrial Sidney every morning is fantastic. He knows his passengers (it is a community bus, so just a few of us), he knows which bus we come into town on, he even drops us right outside of work instead of at the regular stop. He saves me 10 minutes every day, and does it in style. Thanks! He also gives us five minute talk radio type banter with his friend in the front seat, who I suspect rides the bus just for this purpose. We catch a lot of transit gossip, union gossip, hockey gossip and occasional monologues on the paeans of hard work, family and always speaking up. Somebody should hire this guy, he’s articulate, he’s passionate, he communicates clearly, great radio attributes.

Jack is also a climate denier who has the pleasure of ferrying Andrew Weaver, Victoria’s most famous climate scientist, to work some mornings. I hear one side of his “debate” with Weaver, and I hear Jack reel off all kinds of denier science theories about evaporation, clouds, scientists who can’t predict the weather, etc. His talk show partner chimes in occasionally with similar “sciencey” sentences that make little sense to me. I think Andrew Weaver gets into it, because he takes his role as climate change and science communicator very seriously and according to Jack, it’ a lot of back and forth between the two.

So, as someone who thinks climate change is a serious issue, is it not my responsibility to jump into this debate? Here’s an otherwise stand-up guy who appears to be very misinformed and misled on basic climate change facts, good opportunity to change minds, right?

I am not so sure. Here’s David Roberts of the Grist synthesizing the state of the art on science communication and Dan Kahan’s recent study published in the Nature Climate Change Journal (Free article!).

Once again, with feeling: More science will not cure climate skepticism

The answer might seem to be obvious: ignorance! People just don’t understand the science. <snipped> However intuitively plausible this answer might be, it suffers from one important flaw: It is wrong. Better educated people are not less likely to be skeptics. Greater scientific literacy and reasoning ability do not incline people toward climate realism. Where skepticism exists, additional information and arguments only serve to reinforce it.

Jack is the perfect example. He knows his “facts”, he’s so sure of them that he finds himself “winning” debates with accomplished climate scientists on the strength of those “facts”. His passion and certainty are strengthened by these facts and more facts are only going to reinforce his beliefs. So, what to do? Kahan’s paper has this tentative recommendation:

It does not follow, however, that nothing can be done to promote constructive and informed public deliberations. As citizens understandably tend to conform their beliefs about societal risk to beliefs that predominate among their peers, communicators should endeavor to create a deliberative climate in which accepting the best available science does not threaten any group’s values. Effective strategies include use of culturally diverse communicators, whose affinity with different communities enhances their credibility, and information-framing techniques that invest policy solutions with resonances congenial to diverse groups. Perfecting such techniques through a new science of science communication is a public good of singular importance.

The polarizing impact of science literacy and numeracy on perceived climate change risks

The answer is better peer-to-peer communication where trust has been built. This is hard, grassroots work.

 Update June 1: David Roberts has a new post that makes some excellent points on winning the climate culture war.


3 comments for “Bus Drivers and Climate Change Communication

  1. klem
    June 1, 2012 at 11:23 am

    Sounds like the climate alarmist elite have finally concluded that climate fear mongering has backfired and the deniers have won.


  2. Nathaniel
    June 1, 2012 at 6:21 pm

    It has always been thus: people believe what they believe, are invested in their beliefs and it’s very difficult to get them to change. Even if you can trump them with facts/logic, all you are likely to do is make them resent you for being a damned know-it-all.
    It’s a fallacy to assume that people look for facts on which to bese their arguments on. For most of us, our decisions and beliefs are developed through a complicated medley of culture, emotion, and perceived vested interest, and having the correct facts will rarely budge people, because facts are only (if at all) a small part of the process.
    What is important is have the information easily available for those open minded enough to seek it. And try and understand the processes behind why someone doesn’t want to accept scientific fact, and deal with them at that level.