Not Cool Ep 1: John Cook on misinformation and overcoming climate silence

On the premier of Not Cool, Ariel is joined by John Cook: psychologist, climate change communication researcher, and founder of SkepticalScience.com. Much of John’s work focuses on misinformation related to climate change, how it’s propagated, and how to counter it. He offers a historical analysis of climate denial and the motivations behind it, and he debunks some of its most persistent myths. John also discusses his own research on perceived social consensus, the phenomenon he’s termed “climate silence,” and more.

Topics discussed include:

  • History of of the study of climate change
  • Climate denial: history and motivations
  • Persistent climate myths
  • How to overcome misinformation
  • How to talk to climate deniers
  • Perceived social consensus and climate silence

References discussed include:

Solving climate change doesn’t require convincing that 8% of the population who are dismissives. It’s incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to change most of their minds. Instead what we need to do is be reaching out to the 90-plus percent of the country who are open to evidence and who are at least not going to deny the science when they encounter it.

~John Cook

Ariel Conn: Hi Everyone. I’m Ariel Conn, and I’m excited to welcome you to the very first episode of Not Cool: A Climate Podcast. Now, for the last few years, I’ve been studying existential threats to humanity, and climate change has been especially disturbing because each new article and report that comes out, seems to find that everything keeps getting worse. And there’s little in the news about solutions or hope. And that’s unfortunate. If there’s one thing I’ve learned while trying to communicate about existential threats, it’s that people don’t like learning about devastating global problems that have no solutions. We don’t like learning about something that could very likely destroy society as we know it, and there’s nothing we can do about it. And this is unfortunate in the case of climate change especially  because it’s simply not true. Our individual actions can’t solve climate change, but together, our individual actions can help drive the political momentum and change that’s necessary. Unlike threats associated with artificial intelligence, biotechnology, and nuclear weapons, the climate crisis isn’t a problem that can only be solved by the scientific and political elites of the world. In fact, we’ll all need to make changes to our lives if we want to keep the negative impacts of climate change to a minimum. 

But this leads to another problem. Change sucks. It’s hard and scary. Even more so when we can’t say for certain what the outcomes of the change will be. Better to stick with the Devil you know, than the devil you don’t, right? I wanted to start this podcast to help better understand the climate problem, but also to better understand what really needs to be done. I think a point that my first guest makes is incredibly important: We can’t address climate change, if we’re not talking about it more. And that doesn’t mean just talking about what’s going wrong. It also means talking about everything we can do in our homes and neighborhoods to start improving our future. I’ll be on Twitter using #NotCool and #ChangeForClimate, not only to talk about climate issues, but also to talk about lifestyle changes I’m making, changes I wish I could make, and the struggles and failures that come with trying to change one’s lifestyle. I hope you’ll consider joining the discussion.

Without further ado, I’d like to introduce John Cook, our first guest. John is the founder of SkepticalScience.com, an award-winning website about the science behind climate change. He is a research assistant professor at the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University, where he researches cognitive science. He’s coauthored multiple textbooks on climate change, and he’s been working on different strategies to counter climate misinformation, including a high school curriculum, a MOOC about climate denial, and he’s currently working on a mobile game called Cranky Uncle that teaches critical thinking about climate change.

So, John, thank you so much for joining the show.

John Cook: Thanks for having me.

Ariel Conn: I think maybe before we even start talking about misunderstandings about climate change, it would be nice if you could just give maybe a really brief overview — which might be an unfair request — of what we’ve known about climate science and climate change and for how long.

John Cook: Actually, that’s a really good question and I think it’s a really important question, because a lot of people don’t realize that our understanding of climate change dates back to the mid-1800s. Joseph Fourier was the first scientist to propose that the planet should be a lot colder than it is: there’s something in the atmosphere which is warming our planet. He didn’t know what it was, he just knew that something was happening. And it wasn’t until the 1860s — in fact it was around the same time as the US was fighting the Civil War — that a scientist in England, John Tyndall, conducted experiments finding a greenhouse effect.

He shown infrared light through these containers containing CO2, or water vapor, different greenhouse gases, and he empirically showed that certain gases trap heat. It wasn’t until I think around 1895, I think, that Svante Arrhenius from Sweden did the calculations to work out how much the planet would warm if we doubled the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. And he was doing this with pen and paper. And he got not far off: It was about four or five degrees, where the actual answer that our climate models and our supercomputers now calculate is around three degrees. So, not bad for 1800s science.

Ariel Conn: I’d heard about his calculations in the late 1890s; I had not heard about the other research earlier. But my understanding is that it wasn’t until the 1960s or 70s that scientists really started to take this seriously. Is that correct? Or how early did the science community start to recognize this as a problem?

John Cook: When Svante Arrhenius proposed that all of this CO2 that we’re emitting could contribute to global warming, he was coming from a very cold part of the world. So he was saying, “This would be actually pretty good, guys.” But that research kind of went nowhere because it was only a few years later that another scientist, Knut Ångström, did another experiment, and he found that if you keep adding CO2, eventually it saturates and has kind of diminishing returns. It no longer has a warming effect.

So, he said that even if we are emitting CO2, it probably won’t make any difference. In a sense, this was like the first climate denial argument and it still persists to this day. This happened around 1900, and then scientists kind of lost interest in the issue for at least half a century. It wasn’t until around the 1950s that Guy Callendar — which is a funny name, I was researching him and trying to find images and when you Google “Guy Callendar,” you get a lot of images that aren’t helpful for trying to find a historical figure — anyway, Guy Callendar calculated that actually Angstrom made a big mistake in his assumptions. He was assuming that the atmosphere was like a little container in a lab that you shine infrared energy through. And it turns out that atmosphere isn’t that simple: It’s a series of layers. And while you might get a saturated greenhouse effect in the bottom layer, you still get greenhouse warming happening higher up in the atmosphere. And so once scientists realized that, the game was back on again, and scientists started to realize that global warming could be on the cards, and that continued until the 1970s where scientists were saying, “Well, we’re adding all these greenhouse gases now, we’ve had several decades of measuring CO2 and it’s going up and up. So, we know that atmospheric CO2 is increasing due to our emissions. Global warming should be around the corner based on the physics.” And they turned out to be correct. In the late ’70s, that’s when global warming — the modern warming trend — really started to kick in, and it’s been warming ever since.

Ariel Conn: You started with one of the earliest myths about climate change. Can you give us a brief history then as well of climate skepticism?

John Cook: Climate skepticism, or what I would call it is climate science denial, really began in the early 1990s. At that point the science was becoming clearer, and the science implied that we have to do something about this: We need policy to reduce emissions and avoid the worst impacts of climate change. And there were some people who didn’t like that policy, particularly conservative groups who believed in unregulated free markets. They didn’t like the idea of regulating the fossil fuel industry, because they were worried that that would be the first step down a slippery slope to socialism and communism and controlling all of our lives and all sorts of big government outcomes which they feared.

And so these conservative free market groups, rather than come up with their own free market solutions to climate change, unfortunately went in a different direction and they decided to attack the science instead. Not liking the proposed solutions, they instead denied there was a problem that needed solving. And since the early 1990s, there’s been a persistent misinformation campaign that persists to this day.

Ariel Conn: I don’t know if this is a scientific question or sort of a “your experience” question, but why have people had — for a while, at least, they’ve almost had an easier time believing the denial than the science? Why is that?

John Cook: That’s a complicated question. I’d have to think about that a bit. Because there’s lots of reasons why people believe things. Partly I think it’s because it’s a lot easier to believe the status quo. There’s this quote that one of my colleagues in the office loves quoting, and I’m going to butcher this quote, but it’s something to the effect of “nothing has more efficacy than status quo.” In other words, it’s easier to do nothing than to do something.

And so, the people who oppose climate action and tend to oppose climate science, they’re just saying, let’s keep doing things the way we’re doing. That’s an attractive argument and it’s the easiest thing to do: Do what we’ve always done. What we need to do to avoid the worst impacts of climate change is transition. We need to change the ways that we burn energy. That’s a bit of work. Change is difficult. It’s also, in the long-term, it’s the healthier and economically stronger way to go as well.

Ariel Conn: Over the years, what has been the most persistent myths about climate change?

John Cook: One of the most common and damaging myths is the myth that there is not a scientific consensus on climate change. There’s been a number of studies looking at this particular myth. Some of the research that my colleagues here at George Mason have done have found that, testing a whole bunch of different climate myths, that one myth — that there’s no consensus — is the most effective in reducing people’s attitudes about climate change, in reducing their acceptance that it’s happening, reducing their acceptance that humans are causing it. It’s just a really potent myth.

Another analysis by some other colleagues, Elsasser and Dunlap, found that it’s one of the most common myths as well. They did some analysis of conservative opinion pieces about climate change, and they listed all the different arguments being used, and attacking the consensus was the number one argument. So, it’s one of the most common and it’s one of the most damaging myths.

Ariel Conn: So then you were also the person who published the paper about, no, 97% of climate scientists actually do agree on this. That was you, right?

John Cook: I’d love to take credit for that, but I was one among many different studies that have found that same result.

Ariel Conn: Okay.

John Cook: We published a study in 2013 finding 97% consensus on human caused global warming. But the first study that found 97% consensus came out in 2009, and then another study came out in 2010 also finding 97% consensus. So we were actually the third study. And so it was kind of funny, people just have short memories and they forget anything that didn’t happen last week, or in this Twitter age, over the last 24 hours. When our study came out in 2013, later that year, Senator Ted Cruz was on TV saying the 97% consensus is based on one discredited study. I like to talk to the authors of those other two 97% studies and we speculate on which of our studies is that one discredited study.

Ariel Conn: But there’s actually various studies now that are showing consensus on the 97% consensus.

John Cook: Consensus on consensus.

Ariel Conn: Have you found that to be a strong rebuttle to climate deniers then, or are there other arguments that you’ve found? What has been the most effective approach to dealing with climate denialism?

John Cook: Two things: firstly, yeah, the idea of replication is one of the strongest elements of the scientific method. When there’s just one scientific study finding results, that’s interesting, but we don’t have strong scientific confidence or understanding until multiple studies, ideally using multiple different methods, all come to the same conclusion. It’s only then, when you have all that replication, that we start to have confidence that we’re on the right track.

And so now, we’re at the stage where we have multiple studies all quantifying the level of scientific agreement on human-caused global warming. And they all come to that same conclusion, that there’s over 90% agreement; and multiple studies, at least four studies, finding 97% agreement that this is human-caused global warming. So replication is one of the strongest responses to misinformation. 

The other response — which I think is quite powerful, and my research backs this up — is explaining the techniques used to mislead people. If you explain the specific fallacies or misleading techniques in misinformation, then that misinformation no longer influences people. During my PhD, I conducted research trying to find out ways to neutralize misinformation. And I found that if you can preemptively explain the techniques used to mislead, then expose people to the misinformation afterwards, that misinformation has no effect on them.

So what I’m currently focusing my work on is putting that into practice: teaching critical thinking, teaching people how to detect logical fallacies and denial techniques so that if they encounter those techniques and fallacies in the real world, it’ll have less influence over them.

Ariel Conn: I think I read that you started skepticalscience.com in 2007 — is that correct?

John Cook: Yes.

Ariel Conn: Have you found that the discussions have changed over the last 20-plus years, or do you find that you’re still having the same — I don’t know if argument is quite the right word — but if you’re still making the same points over and over and over again?

John Cook: I was at a conference in Washington DC — it was a climate denial conference, as in, it was a conference attended by climate deniers, and all the talks were promoting climate denial arguments. And so I got into a few conversations with a few climate science deniers. And the arguments they were presenting there were exactly the same arguments that I was looking at in 2007. Climate denial is kind of in a state of stasis. The same arguments that we see in 2019 are the same arguments that we were seeing in 1990s. It’s just those same denial talking points repeated over and over.

Ariel Conn: I’ve seen polls that are showing that we’re at least getting more people convinced that climate change is real and something that we need to be addressing. Have you personally seen that the numbers of people who still are in denial have gone down? Or does it feel like it’s still a huge problem, I guess?

John Cook: The number of our people who deny climate science — or as the Yale and Mason surveys call them, the dismissives — that’s been a small number in single digit percentages, around 8% or 9%, for the last 10 years. It hasn’t really shifted. However, when you look at the population as a whole, people are becoming more understanding of climate change. So what you say is exactly correct: The public are getting it. When you look at the average answer, when asked, how many scientists agree on human caused global warming, what’s a scientific consensus, that has steadily been shifting upwards over the last 10 years.

So the public are becoming more aware of climate change and more accepting, but that little small percentage of dismissives is kind of rusted on, and fixed. I think that that’s actually really important to recognize. Solving climate change doesn’t require convincing that 8% of the population who are dismissives. It’s incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to change most of their minds. Instead what we need to do is be reaching out to the 90-plus percent of the country who are open to evidence and who are at least not going to deny the science when they encounter it. And so we are seeing headway amongst the vast majority of the population.

Ariel Conn: I want to go back to your background. You studied cognitive psychology, is that right?

John Cook: Yes.

Ariel Conn: You just described how you looked at misinformation. How did you end up getting into climate change? I almost feel silly asking this question now, because I think in some ways it’s sort of obvious, but how has your background influenced the way you look at the problem of climate change skepticism?

John Cook: So, I got into this issue by getting into arguments with my father-in-law. This was before I was doing cognitive psychology. In fact, at the time, my day job was cartooning: I was drawing cartoons for a living. And this was after I did a physics degree. So I did a physics degree, then I made the natural transition into cartooning, and then I got into an argument with my father-in-law about climate change. And I started researching whether his argument that climate change was a hoax was valid or not, and found that actually climate change was real, and his arguments were not based on science at all.

The next step for me was, as a son-in-law who was determined to not get beaten in an argument with his father-in-law, I started researching what the science said about all the different climate denial arguments, and showing just how motivated I was to prevailing the next argument, I started building a database of all the possible arguments he might present and what the science said about each one. This began as a personal database, but eventually I realized that other people have family members who are climate deniers as well, whether they’re cranky uncles or father-in-laws.

And so, I took my personal database and published it online as the Skeptical Science website. I did that for a little while, and it was really just a hobby on the side: My day job was drawing cartoons, my hobby was doing science. But eventually the science kind of grew and grew and the website got bigger and bigger until it eventually led to me doing a PhD into how to counter misinformation. And then that ended up me actually relocating to the US from Australia to continue my research into climate communication and countering misinformation.

Ariel Conn: That was not the order I expected it to have happened in.

John Cook: That’s a very meandering kind of path. It began as a physicist doing cartoons on the side; then a cartoonist doing science on the side; and now I’m a scientist using cartoons in my science to try to counter misinformation.

Ariel Conn: I mean I think that’s the best way to do communication personally. That kind of connects very nicely to another question I have for you then, and that is how can people who are concerned about climate change converse both with family members at, say, a holiday meal or something like that, and how does our method of interacting with people change when we’re, say, online, where we know comments can get quite negative?

John Cook: Having published a lot of articles online and been subject to feral comment threads, that led me to reading some of the literature on online trolling and bullying. And it’s a sad fact that when people can post anonymous comments, their behavior is much worse than how they are face-to-face. In fact, I experienced that on Thursday. I met a few climate deniers face-to-face and they were quite cordial, and we were quite friendly with each other. And then they went on Twitter and posted lots of nasty tweets about me. Like I don’t know how, he seemed so nice when I met him. That’s a shame.

I think that we should try to respond online in the same way we would if we were meeting someone face-to-face. We should treat people with respect. When I converse with people online or face-to-face, and when I am talking to someone who is dismissive about climate science, I recognize the fact that there’s actually very little chance that I will change their mind, because they tend to respond to evidence about climate change by denying the evidence, denying the science.

If they’re not going to accept evidence, there’s really nothing you can do to convince them, or there’s very little you can do. But that recognition is important because at least in my case, it gives me kind of a Zen-like acceptance that I’m not going to change a person’s mind and therefore, I’m not going to get as frustrated as I would if I was banging my head against a brick wall trying to persuade someone.

So for example, when I’m giving a public talk about climate change and someone in the audience during the Q&A asks me a question and they throw a climate myth at me, and it’s obvious that they are dismissive about climate science, I will respond to them. I’ll answer their question, I will address the climate myth, and I’ll be talking to that person. But really what I’m doing is talking to all the people around who are watching that exchange: They’re my actual audience. Because A, they’re open to evidence about climate change and they’re open to scientific explanations that I provide. And B, that means that they’re also vulnerable to being influenced by the misinformation.

So I want to make sure that they not only understand the science but they also understand the denial techniques that are used to distort the science. So the way I talk to people, either online or face-to-face, is I answer their questions respectfully, but I also recognize that it’s the people who are watching the exchange who are probably going to get the most out of that conversation.

Ariel Conn: You had a paper come out recently called Science By Social Media: Attitudes Towards Climate Change Are Mediated By Perceived Social Consensus. One of the things that it says is when comments reject the content of, say, a blog post, the perceived reader consensus is lower than when the comments endorse the content — which I found rather disturbing, because in my experience, climate articles seem a lot more likely to attract negative comments. And so I was wondering if you have suggestions for how people who talk about climate change online can address that problem. Do we just not allow comments? Or is there any other option?

John Cook: That was the first thing I thought when we looked at our data: I thought, oh dear, we should just be turning off the whole comment threads. And I’ve touched on that so far in our conversation, but I think it’s important to go back to the idea of the importance of social consensus. Humans are social animals, that’s just how our brains are built. And social norming or peer pressure is one of the most powerful psychological influences on not only our behavior, but even on our attitudes, and our understanding. When all the people around us believe one thing, there’s an immense pressure, more than we realize, to go along with the group.

And so that means that comment threads do have an influence on people’s attitudes. But it also means that it’s important to realize just how many people in the population at large are on board with the reality of climate change. The Six Americas Surveys that Mason and Yale have been conducting for the last decade have found that more than half of the population, the US public, are either concerned or alarmed about climate change. They’re onboard with the climate science. About 51% of the population are onboard. 

But people don’t realize that, and that has a silencing effect. More than half of these people who are on board about climate change don’t talk about climate change with their friends and family. And the main reason they don’t is because they think that not everyone agrees with them. It’s this misconception called pluralistic ignorance. So I think it’s important that we communicate that social consensus, that most of the population are on board with climate change, and the dismissives are less than 10% of the population. Understanding that it’s a social consensus, A, it makes people more accepting of climate change and B, and most importantly, it makes us more likely to talk about climate change and not self-censor.

Ariel Conn: Earlier you were talking about how one of your goals is to help educate people about recognizing fallacies, so they recognize these logical fallacies and they don’t fall for them. Now, as you mentioned, you’re at George Mason, so obviously there’s a limited number of students who are going to be coming through your doors. But you’ve got some other projects that are much more public facing, either currently or I think one of them is still in the works, and I was hoping you could talk a bit about those as well.

John Cook: The earlier work that I did back when I was in Australia was we developed a massive open online course about climate denial. And a key part of that course was not only explaining the facts of climate change, but explaining the techniques used to distort those facts. And you can find that — I’ll just do a little plug — at sks.to/denial101x, or if you just Google “making sense of climate science denial.”

So that was the first public facing work that I did: trying to not just educate the public about climate change, but increase critical thinking about misinformation. But more recently what I’m doing is I’ve become intrigued by the idea of gamification, and the power that it holds to make critical thinking much more accessible — and even fun — to a much broader part of the population.

What we’re currently working on is a mobile game where people learn the techniques of science denial by actually trying to kind of become a climate denier, or become a cranky uncle. And so the idea of the game is you learn techniques of denial, and each time you learn a technique, you gain cranky points. And you get crankier and crankier until eventually you become a cranky uncle and you’ve succeeded in the game.

And by doing that, what the research shows is by learning the techniques of denial, you basically get inoculated against them. When you encounter misinformation that use those techniques, it doesn’t influence you. And we’ll test this: We’re hoping that this game will inoculate people against misinformation. And hopefully they’ll have fun: They’ll learn critical thinking, they’ll learn a bit about climate change. But also it will help neutralize all that misinformation and fake news that is out there.

Ariel Conn: Yeah. It’s not just climate change that’s got a misinformation problem, so sounds like this is something that would be useful for other fields as well.

John Cook: Yeah, I’m doing some pilot testing at the moment, testing different quiz questions where we present a false argument and then people have to choose what fallacy is in it by multiple choice. And every example we’re using is not related to climate change — it’s vaccination or creationism or just everyday life stuff. In fact, I think one argument we used was “Taylor Swift’s music is the best because she writes her own songs.” What fallacy does this argument use? It’s just spotting the telltale fallacy argument structures in everyday arguments.

Ariel Conn: That sounds awesome. I think I could probably benefit from that too. It’s probably embarrassing. So one final thing that I wanted to bring up that you’ve been working on is turning misinformation into education opportunities. And if I was reading about that correctly, it focuses on helping students understand these same issues.

John Cook: Yeah. About two years ago, the Heartland Institute, which coincidentally organized that conference that I went to, they sent a climate denial book out to about 20,000 high school students around the country. And this got a lot of people quite upset, that there was this attempt to get climate misinformation directly into classrooms. And so the question was, well, what do we do about this? At that point, I’d been working on that question for a while. Most of my research was how do we neutralize misinformation through public engagement, but over the course of doing that, I came upon similar efforts in the context of classrooms: How do we use education to stop misinformation? And it turns out there’s several decades of research into this approach called “misconception-based learning,” which is the idea that you teach science by addressing misconceptions or misinformation about science. The research finds that this is actually one of the most powerful ways of teaching science. It gets stronger learning gains and the learning gains last longer; The students get more engaged with the content. It’s just a really compelling way to teach science.

I started working on a curriculum in collaboration with the National Center for Science Education. And around two years ago, we trained a handful of teachers scattered around the country — from about eight different states — on how to teach our curriculum of turning misinformation into an educational opportunity. Since then, they’ve expanded that program: The teachers are now training other teachers; They have roughly 20 teacher ambassadors who are going out there teaching in their own classes, but also training other teachers to also use this curriculum.

Ariel Conn: So one of the things that I found interesting — the idea that it seems if we teach students about climate change, they go home and talk to their parents about it and their parents are more likely to become concerned about the issue after talking to their kids than after hearing about the issue from anywhere else. Is that something you’ve looked into?

John Cook: I haven’t directly measured that myself, but there have been other studies that have looked at that exact question. And what they’ve found is that yes, when students are taught climate change, parents’ attitudes about climate change improve as well. And the effect is biggest amongst parents who were the most skeptical. I think it’s important to teach students just for the student’s sake, but that can have flow-on effects to the rest of the family as well.

One thing we did measure when we were assessing our own program of turning misinformation into an educational opportunity: we did measure the students’ confidence to talk about climate change with friends and family, and how much they actually do talk about climate change with friends and family. We found that both significantly increased after the lessons. And that was really important because of that idea of climate silence — the fact that most people don’t talk about climate change. We found that if you taught them climate change by addressing misinformation and misconceptions, it empowered them to talk about the issue. We were quite encouraged by that result.

Ariel Conn: Looking at the huge problem of climate change, what would you like to see more people doing at an individual level, policy level, corporate level, national, international, whatever — what are some of the things that you think are most important for people to be doing right now to address climate change?

John Cook: There’s so many different things that people can do. Probably what I would recommend in a very generic general sense is find what’s unique about yourself — like, what are you good at? — and use that; use your own unique skills; make that a contribution to fighting climate change. But more practically, I think the most important thing that every single person can do is talk more about climate change. There’s a big disconnect between people’s attitudes about climate change and actual policy outcomes and climate action. And maybe the biggest contributor to this disconnect is climate silence: the fact that people aren’t talking about it, even if they’re on board and even if they deeply care about the issue, not everyone is talking about it. And so, we need to break climate silence.

The fact that we’re not talking about it creates this spiral of silence because people don’t hear anyone else talking and assume that no one cares about it. If we can start to break the silence, then we can start building social momentum. And social momentum is the key to political momentum and getting real action.

Ariel Conn: And so to follow up with that: what gives you the most hope? And are you hopeful that we can address the problem of climate change?

John Cook: What gives me the most hope? Probably two things. One is the way young people are stepping up to the plate now. Heroes like Greta Thunberg in Europe leading the way now, but also just students all around the world striking and speaking up and marching and protesting. It’s a cliché that children are our future, but that does bode well, that young people are rightfully standing up on this issue, because they’re inheriting all this climate impacts that my generation has created.

The other thing that gives me hope is the historical fact that social change and technological change is nonlinear. Whenever we’ve had social change in the past, there’s been years or decades where it’s barely budging and then suddenly it shifts. Similarly, technology changes always exceed our expectations. So, my hope is that we are in the process of that nonlinear social shift right now, and the technology will outpace our expectations.

Am I hopeful there? I think it’s the way that I drag myself out of bed every day in the face of this huge issue of climate change, is to recognize that climate change isn’t a binary thing. It’s not a dichotomy where we either avoid climate change or we experience climate change. It’s literally a matter of degrees. Any action that we do now will reduce some climate impacts in the future. It means that we have already committed to some climate impact, and I think that we will experience serious climate impacts; The degree of severity of the impacts is yet to be determined. So, I’m hopeful that we can reduce some of the severity and hopefully it can be a tolerable amount of climate impacts. But I also recognize that we are already committed to a degree of climate change and it’s happening now already: We’re experiencing climate impacts here and now in my part of the world — in every part of the world.

Ariel Conn: Are there any final thoughts that you think are important for people to know that we didn’t get into?

John Cook: I guess the recognition that humans are social animals means that arguably the two most important things that people need to know about climate change are not technical stuff like greenhouse effects or carbon cycles: It’s that there is a scientific consensus and that there is a social consensus. There’s 97% agreement amongst climate scientists that humans are causing global warming, and most of the population are on board with the reality of climate change as well, and support climate action. The public awareness of those two basic facts are pretty low. I think it’s something like 15% of the US are aware that the scientific consensus is about 90%. That’s super low. So it’s a very simple thing to communicate: a single number, 97% scientific consensus; Just be more persistent in communicating those basic facts.

Ariel Conn: All right, well, we’re certainly grateful to all the work that you’re doing to try to do that and we’re trying to do what we can over here. So, thank you very much.

John Cook: Thanks for having me and thank you for all your great work.

Ariel Conn: On the next episode of Not Cool, I’ll be joined by Joanna Haigh, who has been at the forefront of climate science and developing climate models since the 1970s, and whose work helped scientists better understand the difference between natural climate change and human-induced climate change.

Joanna Haigh: When we start seeing what we now call global warming — recent warming — the question is, is that due to natural factors such as those that have happened in the past, or is it due to human activity? So you really need to understand the natural factors to ascertain to what extent they are causing recent warming or not.

Ariel Conn: I hope you enjoyed this first episode. The next interview with Joanna Haigh is also live, so you can have a mini-binge and listen to that right away. And then please join the climate discussion on Twitter using #NotCool and #ChangeForClimate and let us know what you think of the show so far.