Chapter 5 Dealing With Disinformation And Skepticism

MOST OF YOUR STUDENTS WILL LIKELY BE EAGER TO FIND OUT MORE ABOUT THE CLIMATE-LINKED PHENOMENA THAT THEY CONSTANTLY SEE IN THE NEWS. But beware, they will encounter greenwashing by the fossil fuel industry, hear fake experts questioning climate change, and read disinformation being spread. As professionals, we’re obligated to acknowledge these diversions from reality and denial of the science, but we can’t dwell on them, given that the vast majority of young people believe climate change is real and that humans are to blame.

Resources in groups

I’ll arrange some resources in four groups. 1) the value of skepticism in science and how that can get hijacked by denialists, 2) the value of students understanding the consensus among scientists about climate change, 3) samples of how disinformation about the climate is spread, and 4) the interesting research on teachers debunking and pre-bunking denialist claims.

This guide looks at both the evidence that human activity is causing global warming and the ways that climate ‘skeptic’ arguments can mislead by presenting only small pieces of the puzzle rather than the full picture. Here is the website where this document comes from; it sets the record straight on 219 different denialist claims—whew! along with videos on this page. And here is a stylish graphic about skeptical claims from Information is Beautiful.

Based on the evidence, 97% of climate scientists have concluded that human-caused climate change is happening. This scientific consensus has been a hot topic in recent years. The Consensus Handbook lays out the facts. Here’s a scientific study on how a greater understanding of scientific consensus is correlated with belief in climate change and support for public action (just an example, there are many).

About denial and greenwashing…here’s Petro Pete (curriculum for small children developed by the petrochemical industry), he’s reading how many wonderful things are made from oil and natural gas. I guess you’ll have to see all the “resources” for yourself. Here’s the report America Misled: How the fossil fuel industry deliberately misled Americans about climate change. Hint: They copied Big Tobacco’s playbook. Here’s also an easy-to-read overview of science denial (as opposed to just climate denial) by researchers from Sweden, Australia and Germany.

Debunking is a useful strategy as this report describes. However, pre-bunking or inoculation, is now gathering momentum as a research-grounded strategy. Researchers John Cook, Stephan Lewandowski, and Ullrich Ecker found that inoculating messages that (1) explain the flawed argumentation technique used in the misinformation or that (2) highlight the scientific consensus on climate change were effective in countering those adverse effects of misinformation. Also, here’s a report on helping students evaluate scientific expertise and information.

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