Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Why We Should Stop Labelling People Climate Change Deniers

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Why We Should Stop Labelling People Climate Change Deniers

Article excerpt

Why we should stop labelling people climate change deniers


This article was originally published on The Conversation, an independent and nonprofit source of news, analysis and commentary from academic experts. Disclosure information is available on the original site.


Author: Chui-Ling Tam, University of Calgary

In the westernmost reaches of Nunavut, on the Northwest Passage, Inuit hunters have told me some pithy things about climate change.

The land is changing. It isn't climate change. This is part of cycles. Our elders saw this coming.

Some of the most visible and profound effects of global warming are occurring in the Arctic. Some Inuit are worried climate change will permanently alter the world. Others say it will pass, as other times of want and plenty have passed through the Inuit's long cycles of life in the Arctic.

In Inuit Nunangat, the Inuit homeland in Canada, perceptions about climate change cannot be divided into two camps of "believers" and "deniers." The situation is far more complex.

To understand climate change communication and adaptation in maritime communities, my research team has travelled to the Canadian Arctic, Indonesia and the Philippines to find out what local communities have to say about climate change.

The answer so far? It varies.

Some fear climate change, some deny it's real and some don't know what, or whom, to believe. Many don't want to talk about climate change at all. Others say we must talk. The diverse interpretations of how climate change fits into their own stories are beautifully captured in the documentary Qapirangajuq: Inuit Knowledge and Climate Change.

It's simplistic to divide people into only two opposing camps of climate change: believers or deniers. The way we have been communicating the science of climate change has not been persuasive.

Place matters

Scientists warn that human activity, industrialization and our dependence on fossil fuels have caused a warming of global temperatures that threatens life on Earth. By contrast, climate change deniers dismiss such dire premonitions as conspiracy. The weight of scientific facts is often presented to better inform or inoculate a misinformed public.

Yet between those two polarized positions are local populations living with the immediate effects of climate change on the environments they depend upon.

Few people can claim to share the Inuit's experience of climatic variation. Many process the concept of global warming with facts about climate change, but also by the geographies they occupy. As University of Cambridge geography professor Mike Hulme suggests, we should conceive of climate change as the cultural evolution of the idea of climate.

Local experience, traditional knowledge and personal experience may blend in a swill of contradictory impressions about climate change. People are shaped in part by their place in the diverse physical and social spaces undergoing climate-related events, whether they are marine, mountain, urban or desert regions.

The history and experience of individuals and communities may influence how they interpret and prioritize climate change. This diversity of lived experience and worldviews contradicts the divisions between climate change belief and denial.

Facts aren't enough

Climate change science alone is not convincing. Recent research suggests the public is split into two conflicting groups: those whose views align with the scientific community (believers) and those who do not. These opinion-based groups have distinct social identities, beliefs and emotional reactions to environmental change; they are set apart by cultural differences and political leanings.

A recent study found that social networks influence people's stance on climate change. So, how you talk about climate change matters. An international survey of 24 countries found that personal experiences, beliefs, knowledge, values and worldviews are important factors that shape climate change belief. …

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