Austin Babrow has a standing offer for students in his environmental communication courses.
“Anybody that can bring into class information from an organization with relevant scientific expertise that denies the truth of anthropogenic warming can have as much class time as they want to teach the class,” Babrow, an Ohio University communication studies professor, said.
No one has taken him up on the offer yet.
The climate is changing, and people disagree over the human impact and how to address the problem. Communication among researchers, politicians and people is increasingly difficult.
The way people think about science and climate change can be dependent on their own values, Babrow said. It’s hard to use information to change people’s cherished values to include the environment.
“When people evaluate evidence on climate that may contradict their outlook, they respond like a prosecuting attorney, not like a judge,” Babrow said.
Director of Environmental Studies Geoffrey Dabelko said people have come up to him after he has given talks on climate change and said they were prepared to tune out what he had to say.
Those conversations have often been rewarding for Dabelko. They’re an opportunity to move beyond preconceived notions and stereotypes, he said.
One notion is that political leanings dictate how people think of climate change.
The idea that all conservatives hate the environment and don’t believe in climate change is not true, Ryan Evans, the president of the OU College Republicans, said.
Part of the issue, Evans said, is there are other, “more immediate” issues. Some conservatives — especially older conservatives — see climate change as low priority.
“It’s not that they don’t believe the climate's changing,” Evans said. “It’s that they really don’t care.”
Evans, who is enrolled in an environmental studies class, said his professor mentioned conservative approaches only “in passing,” focusing mainly on regulation. Evans believes the solution to climate change is best handled by the private, rather than public, sector.
“That’s the issue that I have,” he said. “It’s a lack of both sides to an argument that does have both sides.”
Babrow said his goal in teaching is to make every student an activist, but he knows people do not want their lives to be transformed by the environment in ways they don’t understand.
“I think we need to communicate to people that we need to do everything that we can,” he said.
Those debates about climate change are more important than many realize, Dabelko said.
“I think it’s important for us, coming from the science side, to not be arrogant,” Dabelko said. “It’s not just about jobs and economic security. It’s about culture. It's about identity.”
Clarification: This article has been updated to clarify part of a quote from Austin Babrow.