Climate Change & Group Polarization
“These two groups start to polarize as soon as you start to describe some of the potential benefits and harms.”
Introduction (Via The Situationist)
Over the past few months, polls show that fewer Americans say they believe humans are making the planet dangerously warmer, and that is despite a raft of scientific reports that say otherwise. And that puzzles many climate scientists, but not social scientists.
As NPR’s Christopher Joyce reports, some of their research suggests that when people encounter new information, facts may not be as important as beliefs.
CHRISTOPHER JOYCE: The divide between climate believers and disbelievers can be as wide as a West Virginia valley, and that’s where two of them squared off recently at a public debate on West Virginia Public Radio.
Coal company president Don Blankenship is a doubter.
Mr. DON BLANKENSHIP (CEO, Massey Energy Company): It’s a hoax because clearly anyone that says that they know what the temperature of the earth is going to be in 2020 or 2030 needs to be put in an asylum because they don’t.
JOYCE: On the other side, environmentalist Robert Kennedy Jr.
Mr. ROBERT KENNEDY JR. (Environmentalist): Ninety-eight percent of the research, climatologists in the world say that global warming is real, that its impacts are going to be catastrophic. There are 2 percent who disagree with that. I have a choice of believing the 98 percent or the 2 percent.
JOYCE: For social scientist and lawyer Don Braman, it’s not surprising that two people can disagree so strongly over science. Braman is on the faculty at George Washington University and a part of a research group called Cultural Cognition.
Professor DON BRAMAN (George Washington University Law School/The Cultural Cognition Project): People tend to conform their factual beliefs to ones that are consistent with their cultural outlook, their worldview.
JOYCE: Braman’s group has conducted several experiments to back that up. First, they ask people to describe their cultural beliefs. Some embrace new technology, authority and free enterprise – the so-called individualistic group. Others are suspicious of authority, or of commerce and industry. Braman calls them communitarians.
In one experiment, Braman then queried his subjects about something unfamiliar: nanotechnology, new research into tiny, molecule-sized objects that could lead to novel products.
Prof. BRAMAN: These two groups start to polarize as soon as you start to describe some of the potential benefits and harms.