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How To Explain Climate Science To That Person Who Just Won't Listen

This may stop your personal relationships cooling.
Uncle Bill hates it when people discuss climate science before his fish dinner.
Kace Rodriguez,
Uncle Bill hates it when people discuss climate science before his fish dinner.

We all know someone who is dismissive of climate science. We all have friends or family members who think they know more about global warming than trained climate scientists. So how to talk about climate change with those people?

John Cook can help. Cook is the person behind the famous 2013 paper which found that 97 percent of climate scientists agree with the theory of human-caused climate change.

That paper has been peer-reviewed, and reviewed again, in numerous studies since it was published. Always the results hold true. Ninety-seven percent of climate scientists still agree that humans are causing global warming.

That's despite the fact that there's very little money in researching warming. You should also know that scientists tend to advance their careers by discovering new stuff no one else has discovered -- and human-caused climate change hardly fits that category.

The science is real, the science is not conspiratorial, and the science is almost universally accepted (97 percent of scientists rarely agree on ANYTHING!). Yet some people still won't have a word of it. So then. What to do next?

John Cook

Explain The Consensus Among Climate Scientists

"Climate scientists solved this decades ago. In reality there is no scientific debate on human-caused global warming," Cook told HuffPost Australia in our Breaking The Ice podcast -- our series of conversations with people on the front lines of climate science.

"But the public don't realise that. The misinformation campaign has made sure of that by continually trying to convince the public that there's an ongoing debate, that the science isn't settled, and they're doing it to this day."

According to Cook, the disruptive tactic has worked. Few people understand the overwhelming scientific consensus. The solution? Shout it from the rooftops. Politely, of course.

"To have that strength of agreement means that you're looking at something which is rock solid. It's based on mountains of evidence, and many different independent lines of evidence. The fact that humans are causing global warming is as close to an established fact as you get in science."

You might also educate your dismissive friend or relative aware as to who the opposition voices really are.

Cook's research has revealed that the scientists who most disagree with the theory of human-caused climate change are geologists working for the petroleum industry. Imagine that.

"If you want to confuse people, it's quite simple. You just pick a group off scientists who have less expertise in climate change, and you'll get a lower level of consensus," he said.

Next step. Refer to a few simple climate change facts.

We can all relate to this story.

John Cook's transformation from solar physicist to climate science communication expert all started with an argument over lunch. Back in 2007, he was at a family gathering when his father-in-law repeated an old line from a Republican senator that climate change was "the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people".

"Basically I was thinking that next time we get together, he's going to be throwing all these different arguments at me and I should prepare," Cook told HuffPost Australia.

"So I started listing all the possible arguments that he might give, started researching the science on each particular argument, and created a database. I really wanted to win this argument."

Cook's database became the basis of his website Skeptical Science, which is widely regarded by many -- including renowned climate scientist Michael Mann -- as the world's best source of simple info which debunks global warming misinformation.

You can point your friend or relative in that direction for starters. The site is super easy to navigate and there's even an app.

And after you've done all that, don't make the mistake of expecting too much to change.

"What I've learned subsequently over the last ten years of doing climate communication is that people whose beliefs aren't based on evidence can't be persuaded by evidence," Cook told us in the podcast.

This is not exactly great news. It means you almost certainly won't win that argument over lunch or dinner with your father-in-law. Help! What next?

"I often get asked the question what do I say to climate denialists*," Cook said.

"And my answer, after doing a PhD studying the issue and reading mountains of other people's research, is that's it's the wrong question. The question is not what to say to denialists. The question is who should we be targeting our efforts to?

"The people who deny climate science are a small proportion of the population. In Australia and in America it's less than 10 percent. We should be concentrating our energy on the large undecided majority."

In other words, you might never win over your friend or family member. But that's OK. Do what you can, don't insult anyone, and move on.

*Cook does not like the term "climate change denier" because of its loose connection to the term "Holocaust denier". He prefers the word "denialist" or better still, "dismissive".

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