Don't politicise planetary issues
Experts say that when it comes to talking about environmental issues, people should stick to the science.
Researchers have found that just mentioning politics in a message about an environmental issue can turn people - even those who are informed about the issue - away from supporting a pro-science solution.
In a study at Penn State in the US, participants were asked to react to a message about excess water runoff, and asked for their views on adding things like green roofs to prevent it.
They were presented with ways to responds to the water runoff problem that were framed with particular statements and phrases, such as “stopping global warming will require international agreements” and “human-caused global warming”.
Participants’ general science knowledge and understanding of stormwater runoff issues was measured as well.
When Democrats were presented with a solution that acknowledged global warming, participants with high knowledge reported stronger willingness to pay for environmental solutions.
Meanwhile, Republicans with high knowledge reported stronger support for environmental solutions that were presented as a response to normal fluctuations in climate conditions, not to man-made global warming.
But overall, participants showed lower support for an environmental science improvement project when the message was framed around global warming terminology, researchers found.
“It's the framing of the issue that's really important,” said research leader A/Prof Lee Ahern, an expert in advertising and public relations.
“This is really a message for scientists and science communicators: don't pollute and politicise the information environment around the issue, because once you do that, people's political identities are going to get engaged.”
The study adds to the findings of previous research, which has established that having more knowledge about science does not necessarily translate into more support for pro-science policies.
“The issue with the public's support for pro-science solutions for things like global warming, in particular, as well as other environmental issues that have socially contested policy solutions, is that the political identity of the people who are thinking about these issues often becomes activated,” Ahern said.
He said it was important to note that all political ideologies, not just conservatives, are susceptible to this type of motivated reasoning.
“This is not unique to conservatives,” said Ahern.
“It works both ways. Studies have been done on other issues - for example, nuclear power and genetically modified organisms - that have shown similar effects among liberals.”
They research team concluded that scientists hoping to reach consensus on solutions should avoid political rhetoric in their communication.
“This is really a message for the scientists, not necessarily the public,” said Ahern.
“It's interesting for people to understand what's happening, but the people who really need to change what they are doing are the scientists and science communicators.”
The full report is accessible here. [http://scx.sagepub.com/content/38/2/228.short]