Communicating climate change, countering denialism, and the importance of scientific consensus

Press/Media: Profile/Interview

Period10 Jun 2021

Media contributions


Media contributions

  • TitleCommunicating climate change, countering denialism, and the importance of scientific consensus
    Media name/outletSkeptically Curious
    Media typeOther
    DescriptionIn this episode, I spoke to John Cook who, for almost a decade and a half, has tirelessly tried to raise awareness of the seriousness of climate change, to highlight the consensus view among climate scientists, and to combat climate change denialism. In 2007 he founded the website, Skeptical Science, which is an invaluable resource for all those interested in a readily accessible summary of the evidence for anthropogenic global warming and rebuttals to all the major, and even minor, talking points promoted by those who persist in denying the evidence for human-mediated climate change. He first earned a degree in physics and later a PhD in cognitive psychology and has previously held academic posts as a researcher in climate change communication at the University of Queensland and George Mason University, among other institutions. When I spoke to him, he was about to take up a new position at Monash University in his native Australia.
    John is perhaps best known for a paper he co-authored in 2013 showing that 97% of climate scientists agree humans are behind the global warming trend measured since the late 1700s. Naturally, due to its prominence in his career, we discussed this paper and some of the reactions to it, but explored many other topics as well. These included his opinion on the defining features of the scientific method, a brief summary of how we know that humans are behind the climate change trend currently observed globally, tactics adopted by those who deny climate change, leading to a discussion of the FLICC model that he conceptualised highlighting the chief methods employed by denialists, Cook’s contention that science denial is essentially consensus denial, whether we are inevitably doomed to a future resembling a post-apocalyptic Mad Max-style hellscape, his opinion about whether the climate crisis is inextricably bound up with the economic imperatives of capitalism, the claim increasingly made by scientists that reducing meat consumption is a way to curb climate change, and whether we should think seriously about limiting population growth. In addition, I asked him about whether humans are even psychologically equipped to face up to an unprecedented threat such as climate change, which is widely, although unevenly, distributed across the world and demands taking into account long time scales and future generations. Despite the doom and gloom aspects of this topic, which as you can probably tell I did not shy away from in the slightest, John remains optimistic and urged everyone to try to do what they can to make a positive difference.
    I thoroughly enjoyed this conversation with someone who communicates his insights clearly and carefully, and displays a refreshing humility in admitting when he is not fully knowledgeable about a topic. He embodies the kind of intellectual honesty and fundamental decency we need more of in this world.
    PersonsJohn Cook