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The Colgate Maroon-News

The Oldest College Weekly in America. Founded 1868.

The Colgate Maroon-News

The Oldest College Weekly in America. Founded 1868.

The Colgate Maroon-News

Faculty Discusses Effective Ways to Communicate With Climate Change Skeptics

Colgate University; Graphic: Payton Gore

Professors, staff and students gathered in the Pinchin Hall lobby on Thursday, March 28, to discuss how to effectively communicate with climate skeptics. The event was hosted by the Colgate University Office of Sustainability and Dart Colegrove Commons. 

As part of the event, a panel consisting of staff and professors led the discussion. Associate Professor of Music Seth Coluzzi introduced the panelists. In attendance were Jennifer LeMesurier, associate professor of writing and rhetoric, Rachel Dinero, visiting assistant professor of psychological and brain sciences and John Pumilio, director of sustainability at Colgate.

The event aimed to answer the question of how to start a conversation about climate change with someone who may not believe the reality of it. LeMesurier emphasized recognizing who your audience is and understanding what contributes to their mindset. She explained that to understand your audience is to understand their behaviors and beliefs without invalidating their character.

According to LeMesurier, when talking with someone who has a different belief, it is important to realize they may not have all the same information that you are aware of and understand. In order to have discussions without them turning into debates, LeMesurier stressed it is necessary to find places where open dialogue is supported.

Dinero introduced whether or not the audience’s mind should be changed. Understanding if an individual’s particular mindset is open to changing their mind or hearing another perspective is key. In fact, Dinero claimed sometimes the most important thing is to change someone’s behaviors, rather than beliefs.

“For me, it’s really about recognizing what are situations and contacts in which this is an opportunity for dialogue and which are situations [that are not] really an opportunity for dialogue,” Dinero said.

Dinero continued by wondering how we can communicate with people with fundamentally different mindsets. She explained that high emotional reactivity limits individuals from considering alternative perspectives. Dinero finds that each conversation that involves some discussion around climate change is one step closer to closing the gap and finding common ground with skeptics. A staggered approach aids in acclimating skeptics to these climate-centered discussions.

In response to Dinero, Pumilio found that if people change their minds, they will also change their behavior when making small and large decisions. While Pumilio explained that changing minds and behavior is the end goal, he recognized this change will not happen overnight.

“It takes some patience and persistence to do the things that we are talking about today, and that is to change behavior and minds on an issue,” Pumilio said. “It doesn’t happen in one conversation or one debate or one set of facts. This takes time and it takes [many] consistent approaches.”

Dinero observed that consequential scenarios, such as climate change, can scare people and make them not think about these scenarios. Rational behavior would suggest we would respond to consequential threats, but the opposite can happen with climate change. It’s the very fact that climate change is so utterly consequential which causes many people to not care about it; they disengage, since the threat is overwhelming.

First-year Sophie Wohlstadter found the methods used to incline climate skeptics to change their behavior without necessarily changing their minds eye-opening.

“I thought the panel was very insightful and found the results-oriented approach interesting. Encouraging sustainable practices by bringing up benefits that climate skeptics might agree with — like cost savings, for example — is an approach I had not really thought about before,” Wohlstadter said.

Pumilio reiterated the value of finding common ground with climate skeptics or anyone with a differing belief. Continuing to have conversations and finding points of agreement will produce more results than arguing with others or dismissing them.

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