DOUGLAS, Isle of Man, Aug. 12, 2022 – ‘When we say facts don’t work anymore, part of the problem is I just keep giving you the same kind of facts,’ Professor Benoît explained when addressing the problem of winning over climate sceptics with more scientific data.
Temperature records not necessarily changing minds
This summer’s heatwave across Europe – including record-high temperatures in a number of countries – has seen a spate of meteorological data released tracking historic temperature changes. The role of climate change has been at the forefront of reporting, with some researchers claiming it made the 2022 heatwaves up to ten times more likely.
Benoît – who believes climate change has left humanity ‘on the precipice of disaster’ – warned against relying on this kind of data to change opinions alone. “Look at the temperature” – well, it didn’t convince me before. Why do you think it’s going to convince me now? You just repeat the same thing seven times in a different way – and you’re surprised that I’m not convinced?’
Polarisation on climate often ‘rational’
Speaking on the Conversations on Climate podcast – a joint production of United Renewables and the London Business School – Benoît was critical of the idea that polarisation in the climate debate is only a result of irrationality amongst sceptics. Instead, he pointed to his own work on rational polarisation – the idea that opinions might logically diverge on a subject in the face of new data, because this data is evaluated according to pre-existing, rational reasoning.
On the subject of high energy prices in Europe and what it means for climate policy, for example, Professor Benoît drew a distinction between polarising around causes, and polarising around solutions – with implications for how to communicate climate risks.
‘Both groups might agree that if you invested more in fossil fuels, there would be more fossil fuels. And if I’m a fossil fuel person, I’d say yes: if we put five times more into renewables, there’d be more renewables.’ Benoît explained. ‘What they disagree about is what’s the better route to take,’ and that is unlikely to be changed by more of the same kind of data.
Instead, environmental communicators need to ‘take a different angle,’ by recognising points of rationality in sceptical viewpoints, such as vested interests in science funding on all sides. Nonetheless, Benoît stressed the growing ‘consensus’ on climate change in general as a point for hope.
Conversations on Climate invites leading academics and business leaders to offer their expertise to bring a new angle to the climate change debate. Previous guests include Sir Andrew Likierman and Paul Beijer.
The latest episode, featuring Professor Jean-Pierre Benoît, is released today, Friday 12th August 2022. The full video of the interview is available here.