The collapse in public trust: mischief and disappointment fuels denial

Recently blogs – both sceptic and “pro-science” – have been buzzing with news about some recent poll results discussing the general public’s “belief” that climate change can be attributed to human activity.

The results are worrying.

The Yale Project on Climate Change surveyed over 1000 adults in the US on their understanding of climate change issues. The poll asked if they thought global warming was a “fact” :

Recently, you may have noticed that global warming has been getting some attention in the news. Global warming refers to the idea that the world’s average temperature has been increasing over the past 150 years, may be increasing more in the future, and that the world’s climate may change as a result. What do you think? Do you think that global
warming is happening?

The results:  those thinking it is happening declined for 71% to 57% between 2008 and 2010. Those in the “Don’t know” category increased from 19% to 23% in the same period.

What is the cause of this collapse in the public’s understanding and belief in science? Several factors are at play here.

Contributing factor one: mischief

As noted by several commentators the sceptic movement has been diabolically clever in manipulating the East Anglia “leaks” and misrepresenting the contents of these stolen emails to good effect. By stressing small, easily remembered quotes such as “hide the decline” they have successively smeared scientists and eroded the public’s trust in science.

Contributing factor two: it’s cold!

Both Northern Europe and the America have experienced record snowfalls and low temperatures. As a consequence, many individuals have mistaken this as proof that global warming is a myth. Simply put… why is it so cold? Where’s the warming? Sceptics have also been playing this card, and as a consequence large segments of the public are judging long-term trends based on how much snow they see outside their window.

Contributing factor three: failure at Copenhagen

There were extraordinarily high hopes for the Copenhagen conference last year. Many people hoped the governments of the world would unite in an attempt to reach binding targets. For many people the conference was a failure. Naturally this disappointment has turned to cynicism and perhaps a flight to denial. It’s easier to wish a problem away than accept the failure of Copenhagen.

What does this mean?

No doubt this will translate into a lack of public support for government initiatives aimed at tackling climate change. Whether it be cap-and-trade schemes, signing up to international agreements or helping stimulate research into alternative energy sources, the public will be far more cynical and opposed to such measures.

Sceptics are achieving what they set out to do: maintain the status quo, discredit scientists and science as a whole.

Scientists, commentators, experts and concerned individuals need to work harder to blunt the attacks of sceptics. It’s no longer enough to simply present the evidence. The sceptics have proven to be masterful at confusing the public.

The time has come to aggressively debate sceptics, highlight their tactics and demonstrate their links to industry and right-wing think tanks.  It’s time to highlight their actual motives and discredit their tactics.

One thought on “The collapse in public trust: mischief and disappointment fuels denial

  1. […] are dark times not only for climate scientists but science as a whole. The effectiveness of the denial industry […]

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