Climate change has joined sex, religion, and politics as an issue not to be discussed in polite conversation.
According to a survey by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, two-thirds of Americans rarely if ever discuss global warming with family or friends. Those that choose to open up the topic will find that it sharply divides people along ideological lines. A 2013 survey by the Pew Research Center found that only 46% of Republicans believe that 'there is solid evidence the earth is warming', while the corresponding number for Democrats is 84%. How did this happen? When nearly 200 scientific agencies around the world (including those of every one of the G8 countries) and 97 per cent of the 11,944 peer-reviewed journal articles between 1991 and 2011 endorse the position that climate change is happening, why is there such an emotional and vitriolic debate over this single scientific issue?
The answer is because the public debate over climate change is no longer about science. It is about values, culture, worldviews and ideology. As physical scientists explore the mechanics and implications of anthropogenic climate change, social scientists explore the cultural reasons why people support or reject their scientific conclusions. What we find is that scientists do not hold the definitive final word in the public debate on this issue. Instead, the public interprets and validates conclusions from the scientific community by filtering their statements through our own worldviews.