Back in 2010, huge swaths of the American public doubted the evidence of global warming. Thanks in part to efforts by risk communication professionals to develop best practices for undoing misinformation (such as the freely available Debunking Handbook developed by Cook and Lewandosky), many doubters have been convinced. However, there are still a whopping 16% of Americans who believe there is not enough evidence to prove climate change is real.
But this is not a post lamenting this continued skepticism. In fact, I personally believe far too much attention has been and continues to be paid to this subsection of the population. According to Social Marketing: Influencing Behaviors for Good, approximately 16% of a population is outright unwilling to change their behavior with relation to a given subject or activity without being forced (Lee and Kotler, 2011). It’s not hard to draw a parallel between this social marketing concept, designed to change behavior, and communications strategies designed to undo misinformation about climate change. These so called “laggards” are so hard to convince, that maybe we should stop spending so much time and effort trying to do so.
If one assumes that there is a limited capacity for talking about climate change at all, and these “laggards” seem pretty much entirely unwilling to change their beliefs, why not focus efforts on pushing everyone else to learn more, care more, and do more about it? Maybe it’s time for a strategic pivot away from increasing the proportion of the population that believes climate change is real and towards pushing those who already believe to take more proactive steps to proactively mitigate and adapt.