Even with nearly a hundred percent consensus within the scientific community, the notion that humans are not causing climate change is still widespread amongst the public. A new study in Nature Climate Change by sociologist Justin Farrell of Yale University aimed to find out how climate doubt is manufactured, and was covered in The Washington Post.
Farrell, the sole author of the study, is quoted at length about his findings. Unsurprisingly, his motivation for research was grounded in a genuine curiosity as to how there is such an extraordinary gap between scientific and public consensus:
“I’ve personally been interested in understanding how a social movement can spread such uncertainty and doubt in the general public on an issue that has achieved near scientific consensus.”
What he found is that the organizations that promote these contrarian views are connected in a network. Those organizations that are central to the network, received funding from larger corporate interests, in this case either ExxonMobil or the Koch Brothers. Farrell isn’t anti-corporate funding, but he is pro-transparency.
“Of course, the solution is not to forbid corporate funding of this or that issue, but to start by providing better access to who is funding who, so that folks are not kept in the dark, making it hard to know who to trust, if anybody.”
“I hope people read these findings in the light of the bigger picture, and not just ExxonMobil or Koch, but more broadly these two entities are simply a very strong indicator of the larger types of financial interests that are behind the movement,” he said.
In addition to Farrell, the article quotes Robert Brulle, professor of sociology and environmental science at Drexel University, who served as a reviewer for the study. Brulle had interesting advice for how climate change activists can shift the narrative and persuade public opinion:
“When you look at comparative strategies, the climate science community or the climate advocacy community does not have as much of a media-centered focus as does the conservative movement,” Brulle said. “I think that that’s what this paper starts to push on. You have to move more toward a media-centered influence—the influencers’ strategy—rather than trying to convert individual by individual.”
Read the full article by Chelsea Harvey here, and learn more about sociological studies of how echo chambers work to limit the amount of climate change science that enters political debates with this article in the Fall 2015 issue of Contexts, the public outreach journal of the American Sociological Society.