We all know someone—perhaps an uncle or a friend’s mom on Facebook—who is a climate change denier. Although the science is clear, misinformation still runs rampant, says Arunima Krishna, a COM assistant professor of mass communication, advertising, and public relations, who studies public perceptions of climate change. In this episode, Krishna explains how climate misinformation spreads, who believes it, and how to engage with people who deny climate change.
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- Krishna says that before you engage a climate change denier, try to understand their perspective first. Try to gauge: how strong their attitudes are, how motivated they are by climate change, what kinds, and to what extent, have they accepted climate change misinformation
- In reality, climate change misinformation and disinformation amplifiers are a small minority of the population. When it comes to denial, most can be classified as disinformation-vulnerable and/or disinformation-receptive individuals
Exxon Advertisement from 1980: “What’s being done to find more oil in America?
This Exxon platform sits above a major California oilfield. Next year, it will begin producing enough oil to supply the needs of 300,000 people for years to come…”
Dana Ferrante: This is Question of the Week, from BU Today.
Jessica Colarossi: Climate change denial and misinformation have been around since scientists first began documenting the causes and dangers of climate change. As early as the 1950s, scientists warned of the harmful impacts of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions like excess carbon dioxide and methane. And in the decades after, to mislead the public, fossil fuel companies have funded and carried out misinformation campaigns.
Exxon Lobbyist Keith McCoy speaking to Greenpeace U.K. in 2021: “Did we aggressively fight against some of the science? Yes. Did we join some of these shadow groups to work against some of the early efforts? Yes, that’s true.”
Colarossi: And slow any progress of transitioning the world away from fossil fuels, which the majority of scientists agree, needs to happen to avoid the worst effects of climate change.
Even today, 139 members of Congress refuse to acknowledge human-caused climate change as real, despite public support for solutions.
I’m Jess Colarossi, science writer for The Brink. In this episode, I talk to Arunima Krishna, an assistant professor at Boston University’s College of Communication. Arunima studies public perceptions of social issues, like climate change, to better understand who is most vulnerable to misinformation, and who spreads it.
We discuss the origins of climate misconceptions and how to effectively engage with people who deny climate change.
Arunima, thank you so much for being here.
Arunima Krishna: Yeah, my pleasure.