If anyone needs a reminder of why we talk about the intersectionality of, say, transphobia and climate denial or misogyny and climate disinformation, read this BBC op-ed by Sarah Ott, a woman who "thought climate change was a hoax" but has now "changed [her] mind."
Ott's denial had a relatively standard origin story, developing from exposure to right-wing radio godfather Rush Limbaugh’s climate denial and the Climategate disinformation narrative. So what was "the big turning point"?
It wasn't a fact check or disinfo analysis or anything even remotely related to climate change. Instead, one day Ott "tuned into NPR" and heard them describe a since-forgotten topic "in a completely different way from what [she] had heard on [her] usual stations.”
“And it sounded so reasonable."
"Suddenly, other news stories I listened to on my usual stations stopped making sense," but the "one that really touched a nerve was about contraceptive pills, which had been framed as something bad, that women just wanted to be promiscuous," Ott explained.
She "stopped listening to conservative radio shortly after, and [she] started to consume other media." From there, Ott "realised how much [her] social network had changed since [she] had stopped teaching" to become a stay-at-home mom, with only her right-wing church group for social support. But "when they voted for Donald Trump," Ott knew she "had to leave that group." She "went back to [her] job as a teacher and made new friends" and "realised [she] was no longer a climate denier."
There's a reason the fossil-fueled and billionaire-backed right-wing disinformation machine pumps out transphobia alongside its climate denial and why lobby groups like the Heritage Foundation advocate for criminalizing anti-abortion laws while pushing their anti-climate agenda. They know that the way to sell unpopular and painful policies (i.e. pollute the public for private profit) is to fan the flames of their target audience's knee-jerk hatred for other groups of people.
Ott unfortunately wasn’t convinced that conservative media was feeding her hateful lies until she realized that the Right is also targeting her. Climate communicators shouldn't shy away from ostensibly non-climate-related topics because pointing out the ways that anti-climate policies are accompanied by other harmful plans can help people realize that this fight is personal and the actors pushing hateful initiatives really don’t have their best interests in mind.
That's also why it's vital to defend voting rights for everyone in order to protect the climate. People need to be empowered to vote out the bad actors trying to take away both their reproductive rights and their right to a safe climate, for example.
So, let this be a lesson. Ott wasn't a denier because she had a specific concern about climate models or scientific data. She was a denier simply because she was repeatedly exposed to right-wing radio disinformation, which was then reinforced by her similarly disinformation-steeped church community. Ott wasn't persuaded by some slick, A/B-tested catchphrase used in an expensive advertisement. She was convinced by appeals to issues that directly affect her, which then led her to completely reconfigure her social circles.
If we ever succeed in turning off the disinfo tap, deniers will disappear. But in the meantime, climate communicators must focus on connecting with people's humanity, in any and all possible ways, because you never know what "reasonable" sounding claim, like the simple statement that people should have control over their own bodies, will be the one that starts someone down a new path.