What to Say to a Climate Change Skeptic. [Video]

Via Merete Mueller
on Oct 3, 2012
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Simran Sethi: The Psychology of Why and How We Care

Let’s begin this blog with a show of hands.

Who here has ever had a conversation with a climate change skeptic?

Who here is a climate change skeptic?

Who here might be able to imagine the psychology of someone—climate change skeptic or not—who feels overwhelmed and incapacitated by the thought of climate change?

In recent years, Simran Sethi, lauded in 2007 by Vanity Fair as “the environmental messenger,” began to question why so many people, faced with so many facts about our bleak environmental future, still didn’t seem to be acting to remedy the situation. Looking for answers, she dug into extensive psychological research on the human brain, looking for the messages that would be most likely to make us, as humans, pay attention and act. At the same time, she found herself settling into a community in the heartland of Kansas, surrounded by people whose cares, at first glance, seemed to be very different from her own.

The result of both experiences is this powerful TEDx talk, which in my opinion should be shown to every non-profit, every communicator and every person who cares about engaging the public and making change.

YouTube Preview Image

So what’s the most important thing you can say to a climate change skeptic (or any constituent that you’d like to reach, engage, and empower)? For starters, stop thinking of them as “climate change skeptic” and think of them as a human instead. Then ask, “What do you care about?” and stop to actually listen.


About Merete Mueller

Merete is a writer and filmmaker, and was once-upon-a-time the Managing Editor of elephant journal's print incarnation, from 2006-2008. Today, you can find her on Twitter @meretemueller and on her blog To The Bones. Her first documentary, "TINY: A Story About Living Small", about people who have downsized their lives into homes the size of a parking space, premiered at SXSW in March 2013.


23 Responses to “What to Say to a Climate Change Skeptic. [Video]”

  1. Muks says:

    Could you explain to me what is worse about shooting a bird than buying a bird in a supermarket?

    When I was in secondary school America was far away from participating in any green movement. When I saw the numbers I felt like an idiot saving energy and water. I am glad there have been huge changes in attitudes in the US.

  2. Mark Ledbetter says:

    Couldn't get the video to go here in Japan. But I gather we're talking about the psychological motivation behind climate change deniers. But NOT the psychological motivation behind climate change believers.

    Considering the high correlation between your side on climate change and your side on politics, you have to first suspect a psychological motivation for most people on BOTH sides.

    I see three good reasons to be open to the idea of human-generated global warming. 1) the warming part does actually seem to be happening. 2) computer models predict it. 3) a great majority of scientists seem to believe it.

    But I also see two good reasons to be skeptical. 1) There's no firm mechanism for human-generated global warming. Increased CO2 in the atmosphere doesn't explain it without a feedback loop that greatly increases the effect of CO2. Such a feedback loop is assumed by proponents but it hasn't been found. Without a feedback loop, CO2 can only be a small part of the cause, the major cause, we have to assume at this point, would be natural cycles. 2) The computer models based on CO2/greenhouse gases predict easily measurable changes in high altitude equatorial warming that clearly are not happening, lending a high level of doubt to the validity of computer models, and the feedback loops they assume..

    In any case, global warming either is or is not happening… and if it is happening, it either is or is not human-generated. But we don't seem to have enough evidence to say with confidence which it is. Therefore, believers on BOTH sides must be deriving their beliefs from psychological-political-cultural positions rather than science. But this article seems to assume only side is driven by psychological motivations.

  3. Bob says:


    That was an excellent and well crafted post. Thank you.


  4. timful says:

    You need only compare the tropics to Siberia to recognize that global warming will encourage more vibrant ecosystems with greater diversity of life (as is also born out by the fossil record). For every polar bear that is lost, we will see 10 new species of flowers emerge. So, we should not pretend that global warming is any threat to nature. Nature will thrive.

    It just might not be very comfortable for the species we care most about, especially those with ocean front property. Possibly this is where the disconnect arises. Trying to freeze the earth exactly as it was when we grew up is a fundamentally selfish aim, which must be weighed alongside other selfish interests. Yet, many proponents treat it as a higher calling that trumps everything else.

    As for higher callings, if plant life were left to its own devices it may have sequestered all the carbon out of the atmosphere. Without the crafty humans to dig it back out from the earth and light it on fire, all life may have come to an end.

  5. Mark Ledbetter says:

    "What to Say to a Climate Change Skeptic"

    Well, we have a few right here (skeptics, that is). Y'all have anything to say to us? I'd especially be interested in a scientific non-political refutation of the feedback loop problem since it is, as Mr. S points out, the crux of the problem. I mean, this is, at root, a science problem. As a person interested in truth, I'm willing to follow truth wherever it leads. Fortunately, the feedback loop problem indicates that truth might not be leading Earth to a catastrophic denouement. That is certainly good news, but I don't believe something simply because it's good news. Is there a valid refutation to the feedback loop problem?

    I've asked that question before here on Ele, the only place I'm currently spending much time. Nothing but silence on the issue. Could it be that Mr. S is right? That there is only silence because there is no refutation? Any comments to be made here, Ms. Mueller? Ms. Sethi?

    Are any of you global warming warners willing to join me in placing truth above political agenda? In other words, are you willing to shift toward skepticism if it turns out there is no valid refutation for the feedback loop problem? Because if there is no valid refutation, the whole thesis of human-generated global warming is dealt a blow, not a fatal blow but certainly a serious blow.

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