Climate-change naysayers better at war of words, study finds

NEW YORK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Climate-change opponents are better at spreading their point of view than those who see climate change as real and troublesome, according to a study underlining the challenge of rallying public support as world leaders meet in Paris to discuss the environmental threat.

A participant is pictured in front of a screen projecting a world map showing climate anomalies during the World Climate Change Conference 2015 (COP21) at Le Bourget, near Paris, France, December 8, 2015. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

The naysayers did well at changing the minds of both liberal and conservative Americans in a study of about 1,600 U.S. adults conducted by Michigan State University researchers.

Respondents were asked to read fabricated news articles about climate change.

Half the articles had positive messages, such as the benefits of reducing climate change, while the rest were negative, such as suggesting climate change is exaggerated.

The positive messages had little or no effect on the participants’ core beliefs about climate change, but negative messages prompted participants to doubt its existence, the study found.

The study illustrates the influence of climate-change opponents in the United States, said lead investigator Aaron McCright, an associate professor of sociology at Michigan State.

“That’s the power of the denial message,” McCright told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a telephone interview. “It’s one of these really polarizing emotional topics.”

Research shows the vast majority of U.S. adults believe in the existence of climate change and that manmade emissions are warming the planet.

Conservative opponents are typically hostile to policies that might drive a shift to renewable energy from fossil fuels.

A handful of climate-change skeptics have been on hand this week in Paris, where leaders and negotiators from nearly 200 nations are meeting in an effort to hammer out a treaty to combat climate change and move toward a low carbon global economy.

The Michigan State report was published earlier this month online in the journal “Topics in Cognitive Science.”