A new study in Nature finds that, contrary to what you might expect, a person’s level of scientific literacy is not the best predictor for how likely they are to be concerned over the risk of climate change. Instead, the best predictor for a person’s concern over climate change is the hypothesis that
…people who subscribe to a hierarchical, individualistic world-view—one that ties authority to conspicuous social rankings and eschews collective interference with the decisions of individuals possessing such authority—tend to be sceptical of environmental risks. Such people intuitively perceive that widespread acceptance of such risks would license restrictions on commerce and industry, forms of behaviour that hierarchical individualists value. In contrast, people who hold an egalitarian, communitarian world-view—one favouring less regimented forms of social organization and greater collective attention to individual needs—tend to be morally suspicious of commerce and industry, to which they attribute social inequity. They therefore find it congenial to believe those forms of behaviour are dangerous and worthy of restriction
This is a significant finding, because it suggests that efforts to improve scientific literacy are going to be ineffective in promoting a greater willingness to address global warming issues. As with religion, people who are smarter than their peers, but still loyal to an authoritarian worldview, are more likely to use their intelligence to invent arguments and rationalizations intended to promote their party’s agenda regardless of the real-world consequences.
This, in my mind, makes it highly doubtful that the accommodationist approach will ever be successful at anything other than maintaining an unfavorable status quo. What influences worldview-based thinking is not calm, comfortable discourse, but rather the perceived power of the relative positions. People will be convinced that global warming is a real threat only when (a) disastrous natural changes become undeniably real (by which time it will be too late), or (b) when they perceive that the global warming position is the stronger and more authoritative position to take. That means hearing about it from “alpha males”—not that gender is or should be the deciding factor, but that the kind of semi-instinctive dominance we associate with the term is what we need to influence those with an authoritarian worldview.
The same applies in the arena of religion as well. Calm, comfortable discourse only makes people feel comfortable with the way they are. Change comes only when people develop an uncomfortable perception that the other side is more powerful, and the New Atheists deserve at least most of the credit for the creation (such as it is) of that perception in society today.