A government-funded study has bad news for environmentalists: skeptics are winning the battle to sway public opinion on global warming.
Michigan State University (MSU) researchers gave nearly 1,600 participants fake news articles about global warming — both skeptical and alarmist — and had them complete surveys about their beliefs on the issue. The study was funded by the National Science Foundation.
Researchers found none of the alarmist arguments about global warming changed “core beliefs” on the subject, but survey participants presented with skeptical arguments said they are more likely to doubt man-made global warming.
“This is the first experiment of its kind to examine the influence of the denial messages on American adults,” says Aaron McCright, an MSU sociologist and the study’s lead author. “Until now, most people just assumed climate change deniers were having an influence on public opinion. Our experiment confirms this.”
The study comes as President Barack Obama meets with world leaders in Paris to negotiate a global agreement to cut carbon dioxide emissions — the greenhouse gas blamed for rising temperatures. Obama warns that “no nation — large or small, wealthy or poor — is immune to what this means.”
World leaders met Monday to kick off the United Nations 21st climate summit, and hopes are high a global agreement on CO2 cuts will be reached. But Obama seems more concerned about global warming than the Americans he represents.
A November Fox News poll finds only 3 percent of American voters listed global warming as their top concern, down from 5 percent in August. Only 6 percent of Democrats listed global warming as their top concern, compared to 1 percent of Republicans.
American voters are much more concerned with issues like terrorism, immigration and the economy over global warming. McCright’s research seems to add to evidence that people aren’t being convinced the world is headed for environmental catastrophe.
“That’s the power of the denial message,” says McCright. “It’s extremely difficult to change people’s minds on climate change, in part because they are entrenched in their views.”
Most shockingly, McCright finds both conservatives and liberals are more likely to become skeptics when presented with arguments doubting man-made global warming. Even when researchers put up fake news stories arguing the positives of global warming, liberals and conservatives aren’t convinced.
“Medical experts argue that dealing with climate change will improve our public health by reducing the likelihood of extreme weather events, reducing air quality and allergen problems, and limiting the spread of pests that carry infectious diseases,” reads one fake news article on the alleged health impacts of global warming.
On the other hand, negative messaging on global warming — trying to frame it as a conspiracy of the left — was able to get liberals and conservatives to become skeptics, or become further entrenched in their already skeptical views.
“However, most conservative leaders and Republican politicians believe that so-called climate change is vastly exaggerated by environmentalists, liberal scientists seeking government funding for their research and Democratic politicians who want to regulate business,” reads on of the fake articles on global warming skeptics.
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