Gale Sinatra, University of Southern California and Barbara K. Hofer, Middlebury
Every disaster movie seems to open with an ignored scientist. “Don’t Look” is no exception – in fact, people flatly ignore or deny the scientific evidence.
Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence play astronomers who make a literally heartbreaking discovery, then attempt to persuade the president to take action to save humanity. It’s a satire that explores how individuals, scientists, media, and politicians react to scientific facts that are uncomfortable, threatening, and embarrassing.
The film is an allegory of climate change, showing how those with the power to do something about global warming willfully avoid taking action, and how those with vested interests can mislead audiences. But it also reflects the denial of science more broadly, including what the world has seen with COVID-19.
The most important difference between the film’s premise and humanity’s looming crisis is that while individuals may be powerless against a comet, anyone can take decisive action to stop fueling climate change.
Knowing the myths that fuel the denial of science can help.
As research psychologists and authors of Science Denial: Why It Happens and What to Do About It, we recognize these aspects of science denial all too well.
Myth # 1: We can only act if the science is 100% sure
The first question President Orleans (Meryl Streep) asks scientists after they explain that a comet is on a collision course with Earth is, “So is that certain? Learning that the certainty is 99.78%, the President’s Chief of Staff (Jonah Hill) responds with relief, “Oh great, so it’s not 100%!” Government scientist Teddy Oglethorpe (Rob Morgan) responds, “Scientists never like to say 100%.
This reluctance to claim 100% certainty is a strength of science. Even when the evidence clearly points in one direction, scientists continue to explore for more. At the same time, they recognize the overwhelming evidence and act upon it. The evidence is overwhelming that Earth’s climate is changing dangerously as a result of human activities, especially the burning of fossil fuels, and this has been overwhelming for many years.
When politicians take a ‘wait and see’ attitude to climate change (or ‘sit back and assess’ as the film says), suggesting that they need more evidence before taking action, it is often a form of denial of science.
Myth # 2: The disturbing realities described by scientists are too hard for the public to accept
The headline phrase, “Don’t Look Up,” describes this psychological assumption and how some politicians conveniently use it as an excuse for inaction while promoting their own interests.
Anxiety is a growing and understandable psychological response to climate change. Research shows that there are strategies people can use to effectively cope with climate anxiety, such as being more informed and talking about the problem with others. This gives individuals a way to manage their anxiety while taking steps to reduce risk.
A 2021 international study found that 80% of people are indeed ready to make changes in the way they live and work to help reduce the effects of climate change.
Myth # 3: Technology will save us, so we don’t have to act
Often, individuals want to believe in an outcome they prefer, rather than face a reality known to be true, an answer psychologists call reasoned reasoning.
For example, the belief that a single technological solution, such as carbon capture, will solve the climate crisis without the need to change policies, lifestyles and practices may be based more on the hope that on reality. Technology can help reduce our impact on the climate; However, research suggests that progress is unlikely to happen quickly enough.
Hoping for such solutions distracts attention from the important changes needed in the way we work, live and play, and is a form of denial of science.
Myth # 4: The economy is more important than anything, including looming crises predicted by science
Taking action to slow climate change will be costly, but failure to act has extraordinary costs – in lives lost as well as property.
Consider the costs of recent wildfires in the West. Boulder County, Colorado, lost nearly 1,000 homes in a fire on December 30, 2021, after a hot, dry summer and fall and little recent rain or snow. A study of the fires in California in 2018 – another hot and dry year – when the town of Paradise burned down, estimated the damage, including health costs and economic disruption, at around $ 148.5 billion.
When people say that we cannot act because action is expensive, they are denying the cost of inaction.
Myth # 5: Our actions should always match our social identity group
In a politically polarized society, individuals may feel pressured to make decisions based on the beliefs of their social group. In the case of beliefs about science, it can have dire consequences – as the world has seen with the COVID-19 pandemic. In the United States alone, more than 825,000 people with COVID-19 have died as powerful identity groups actively discourage people from getting vaccinated or taking other precautions that could protect them.
Viruses are oblivious to political affiliation, just like climate change. Rising global temperatures, worsening storms and rising sea levels will put everyone at risk, regardless of a person’s social group.
How to tackle science denial – and climate change
A comet heading towards Earth may leave little for individuals to do, but climate change does not. People can change their own practices to reduce carbon emissions and, most importantly, pressure government, business and industry leaders to take action, such as reducing fuel use. fossils, converting to cleaner energy and changing agricultural practices to reduce emissions.
In our book, we discuss steps individuals, educators, science communicators, and policy makers can take to address the denial of science that is preventing progress on this looming problem. For example:
- Individuals can verify their own motivations and beliefs regarding climate change and remain open to scientific evidence.
- Educators can teach students how to research and evaluate scientific information.
- Science communicators can explain not only what scientists know, but also how they know it.
- Decision makers can make decisions based on scientific evidence.
As academics who work to help people make informed decisions on complex issues, we encourage people to consume scientific news and information from sources outside their own identity group. Get out of your social bubble and listen and talk with others. To look for.
Gale Sinatra, professor of education and psychology, University of Southern California and Barbara K. Hofer, Professor of Psychology Emeritus, Middlebury
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.