Is Climate-Change Hysteria Bad for the Environment?

A new study called “Apocalypse Soon?” by the psychologists Matthew Feinberg and Robb Willer (summarized by the BPS Research Digest) finds that, for people who implicitly believe the world is fair, dire warnings about climate change may make them more skeptical about the concept. The researchers had 97 students read two different articles about climate change, one that described “apocalyptic consequences,” and one that “was more upbeat and described potential technological solutions.” Feinberg and Willer found that “[t]hose participants with stronger just-world beliefs were actually made more sceptical about global warming by the more shocking newspaper article. By contrast, the more upbeat article reduced participants’ scepticism regardless of the strength of their just-world beliefs.” The BPS Research Digest points out that “[t]his is the latest in a string of studies that suggest fear-based messages can backfire if they clash with people’s underlying beliefs.” Yeah, we hear you. [%comments]


Meme Mine

Nothing has ever been as bad as a journalist or scientist had said it was going to be. NEVER!

Climate Change has done to science, scientists and lab coat consultants and journalism, what nasty priests did for religion. Scientists produced cruise missiles, cancer causing chemicals, land mine technology, nuclear weapons, germ warfare, cluster bombs, strip mining technology, Y2K, Y2Kyoto, deep sea drilling technology and now climate change. And how ironic is it that up until 25 years ago, scientists were condemned for producing planet killing chemicals and making environmentalism necessary in the first place? Meanwhile, the UN had allowed carbon trading to trump 3rd world fresh water relief, starvation rescue and 3rd world education for just over 24 years of climate control instead of needed population control.
If you in academia had any credibility you would weed out your criminals.A wave of former believer rage has arrived.
I urge everyone to contact their elected leaders via email to get these criminal fear mongering journalists charged with treason for knowingly leading our country and the entire globe to a Bush-like false war of climate change. We missed getting Bush jailed so lets go after these irresponsible lazy copy and paste journalists and see them all judged by the courts of our country. We owe it to our children to make this CO2 mistake right. We mistakenly condemned our kids to death by CO2 for 25 years because of the lies spewed about a dying planet. Yelling "FIRE" in the theatre was criminal.
System Change, NOT climate change.

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Janice Herbrand

Don't worry. Nobody is going to do anything about climate change or over population until it's too late,

DaveyNC

So, is the lesson here to avoid clashing with people's underlying beliefs? Even if those beliefs are misguided?

Warming is occurring. It is likely at least somewhat anthropogenic, though I doubt that man is the primary cause. None of it--NONE of it--justifies implementing a world-wide fruitbasket turnover in economic systems and people's lives just to make the largely developed economy handwringers happy. Right now we are experiencing food shortages in places like Eqypt and the rest of Africa at least in part because Al Gore thought it would be a good idea to put ethanol in our gasoline. Deciding that it is a good idea to burn your food for fuel is as sure a sign as any that your society is overfed and pampered.

We're doing this so that sea levels don't rise a whopping 50cm over the next 100 years. In 100 years, people will find a way to cope with that problem by moving inland a few hundred feet. In the meantime, we'll keep burning our food. Ridiculous.

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German voice

People uttering crazy nonsense like #1, another anti-climate change tirade? Only in the USA...

Or not, some of these trolls even visit European forums. Never shy to admit that they are from the United States.

ACC Agnostic

History is replete with spurious casi belli. The Maine, Gulf of Tonkin, Iraqi WMD come immediately to mind. In each case the incident was available and overblown as a justification for doing what our leaders honestly thought needed to be done but for reasons that the public was either unable to grasp or unwilling to get behind.

But it is not just justifications for military action that can be overblown in order to get the public to "do the right thing." This is especially true when it comes to the need to take measure to protect the environment. The scientific nuances explaining why such-n-such situation poses a danger can make the average citizen's eyes glaze over. On the other hand citing the danger of apocalyptic disasters or the suffering that will accrue to charismatic mega fauna (e.g., polar bears) can get everyone excited, regardless of whether the danger is far fetched or not.

Many in the environmental community, not just bearded latter day Luddites, have been decrying Americans' irresponsible and greedy usurpation of the world's natural resources and preaching the gospel of using less energy and living a simpler lifestyle for decades but he American people haven't bought it. The concept of anthropogenic climate change has been the first message to resonate with the American people that would cause them to embrace the sort of societal changes that the environmentalist have been advocating for so long. Regardless of whether anthropogenic climate change is real, if that's what it takes to get us to where certain well meaning people think we need to go, don't be surprised to see them sell it in whatever way works.

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James

"...for people who implicitly believe the world is fair..."

There really are people who believe the world is fair? Do they all live in sheltered housing somewhere?

Traciatim

Janice, you mean in 6 billion more years when the sun swallows the earth? I can barely plan what I'm doing this weekend let alone that far out.

LS

Who believes in a just world? White male first-world healthy employed people, that's who.

What a surprise -- people who bad things don't happen to don't think bad things will happen because of climate change! And you know what -- they're right, it will happen to others and not them.

prefersciencetovoodoo

The only hysteria I see in the so-called climate change debate is voiced by those like Meme Mine and others convinced of a science-wide conspiracy. Watch the C-Span coverage of the House Hearing on Climate Science last November for further proof.

ACC Agnostic

LS asks and answers, "Who believes in a just world? White male first-world healthy employed people, that's who."

Good point but that is who votes in the United States and it is those people who need to be convinced that there is a problem - them and the Communist Party leadership in China -- because that is where most of the carbon is coming from and those are the people who will decide whether something needs to be done about it or not. Right now both groups are leaning towards not.

Eric M. Jones

I believe I am an optimist.

But, I always like to point out to people who think scientists understand Global Warming, that gravity is not yet fully understood (satellites move in ways gravity doesn't predict), nor is magnetism (it is a difficult quantum-mechanical problem), nor is lightning (recently it was discovered that lightning produces focused jets of antimatter...oops....). And electronics is thoroughly misunderstood...and unrolling Scotch tape emits gamma rays and Xrays...yikes.

Now while AGW people are buzy-bees figuring out how AWG really causes deep cold and heavy snowy winters, I read that:

ScienceDaily (Jan. 17, 2011) - Scientists have taken a major step toward accurately determining the amount of energy that the sun provides to Earth, and how variations in that energy may contribute to climate change.

I have also been trying to understand why the fact that sunspots have been decreasing in size AND number, indicating that the Sun is cooling down, is being ignored.

Some scientists propose that the Sun is apparently accumulating dark matter in its core....cooling it off.

Well, if you have religion, you don't need certainty.

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Jim

FWIW - whenever I hear someone supporting an argument with strongly emotional warnings and claims I automatically approach the discussion from a visceral starting point of disagreement. It is not that they have no chance to convince me, but the strong emotional reaction makes me much more skeptical. It also typically makes me dislike the person.

Interestingly - I also happen to be an employed, healthy, white male from the 1st world.

Emmi

So if your doctor said you had lung cancer, you would have to hope your family "believes" in cancer? What a load of nonsense.

Global warming is not a religion any more than diabetes. Both are backed up by evidence.

Scott

It doesn't help that so much of the "apocalyptic consequences" pushed by popular AGW supporters directly contradict what the scientists say-- for example, the popular pictures of London flooding, even though that would take some ten times the sea level rise predicted in the IPCC's worst-case scenario.

DaveyNC

Honestly, the commenters here on the NYT, (surprise, surprise) are irrevocably convinced that global warming is an unmitigated, inevitable, planet-wide disaster in the making. I don't recall the comments being like this before Freakonomics came to the NYT and I suppose that when Freakonomics goes independent again, we will lose many of these folks. Which is too bad; it makes it easy to see how supposedly smart people think. Monolithically, it would appear. Six of the comments here believe that global warming is worthy of alarm and make no allowances for the benefits that would ensue from a warmer climate. Worse, proponents of global warming seem to somehow have the notion that the climate we have now is the ideal climate when nothing in the historical record supports that. To believe that global warming is a bad thing you have to first believe that our current climate is ideal. So, convince me that it is and I will jump on your ethanol-powered bandwagon.

It's not a zero-sum situation, folks. In fact, a little warming would be a good thing. After all, it's pretty hard to grow food in a colder world.

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Doc

As far as I can tell the only people who really understand the effects of climate are the geologists who refer to ancient periods of warming as the Great Optimum and the Lesser Optimum or names to that effect. They measure what conditions were, not a speculation on what will change in a warmer climate. There is plenty of evidence that the earth's climate has volatility without any human influence. Let's stop arguing and think about coping strategies.

Eric M. Jones

@13 --Emmi: "So if your doctor said you had lung cancer, you would have to hope your family "believes" in cancer? What a load of nonsense."

--You should read a book on logic sometime.

"Global warming is not a religion any more than diabetes. Both are backed up by evidence."

--You should REALLY read a book on logic and soon.

BTW: IPCC Sea Level Rise: Unfortunately, the sea level rise through the 20th century due to the increase in temperature is officially 5 cm. Using the IPCC's method of prediction, and grinding the model backwards, it should have been 500 cm.

Get the picture?

I'm with -DaveyNC on the AGW warming thing, too.

And if you believe in AGW, then quit having so many kids. The CO2 Footprint of one kid is 10,000,000 pounds of CO2.

oldtaku

I've been arguing this for at least a decade. Constant apocalyptic warnings just desensitize people in the long run (even if you're right) and every one that proves wrong sets up mental barriers for next time. And the climate people have been wrong with specific predictions so often. Mostly that's just how science works: you predict, get it wrong, refine. But when you couple that with outright activism and using the incorrect (and often contradictory) predictions as demands for policy changes it gets ugly.

Now I actually believe in man-made climate change because I understand how messy it all is, but I think you've already poisoned the well. It's partly the deniers, but it's also your own damn fault. The CRU Climategate was a perfect little miniature example of this, and everyone who argues that they didn't technically do anything wrong misses the point spectacularly.

Justin

@15

To me, the issue is not global warming as such, it is that the rate at a scale much more closely equivalent to the rate we build infrastructure and populations migrate compared to historical trends. As such, we need to make specific preparations or avert it , and not just let people and food production naturally drift and level out.

We know our current climate is mostly acceptable, I think it is the people who don't oppose change who need to convince us that the changes in climate are leading to better conditions. So far, I've heard that CO2 is also leading to ocean acidification, which does seem to be net negative, and that the greater CO2 levels are not helping with plant growth the way a number of coal state senators seem to claim.

James

Re #15: "...proponents of global warming seem to somehow have the notion that the climate we have now is the ideal climate..."

That's not exactly true. Some of us think the climate is too warm already, and that the ideal was around 10K years ago, at the end of the Pleistocene, when the Sahara was a grassland, and the now-dry lake beds of the Great Basin were filled with great pluvial lakes like Lahontan & Bonneville.