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It is not a toxic waste or a strictly technical problem to be solved.

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Rather, it is an endemic part of our society and who we are. To a large degree, it is a highly desirable output, as it correlates with our standard of living. To reduce carbon dioxide requires an alteration in nearly every facet of the economy, and therefore nearly every facet of our culture. To recognize greenhouse gases as a problem requires us to change a great deal about how we view the world and ourselves within it.

And that leads to the second distinction. Climate change is an existential challenge to our contemporary worldviews. The cultural challenge of climate change is enormous and threefold, each facet leading to the next. The first facet is that we have to think of a formerly benign, even beneficial, material in a new way—as a relative, not absolute, hazard. Only in an imbalanced concentration does it become problematic. But to understand and accept this, we need to conceive of the global ecosystem in a new way. This challenge leads us to the second facet : Not only do we have to change our view of the ecosystem, but we also have to change our view of our place within it.

Have we as a species grown to such numbers, and has our technology grown to such power, that we can alter and manage the ecosystem on a planetary scale? This is an enormous cultural question that alters our worldviews. As a result, some see the question and subsequent answer as intellectual and spiritual hubris, but others see it as self-evident. If we answer this question in the affirmative, the third facet challenges us to consider new and perhaps unprecedented forms of global ethics and governance to address it. Unfortunately, the distribution of costs in this global issue is asymmetrical, with vulnerable populations in poor countries bearing the larger burden.

So we need to rethink our ethics to keep pace with our technological abilities.

What causes climate change?

Does mowing the lawn or driving a fuel-inefficient car in Ann Arbor, Mich. If you accept anthropogenic climate change, then the answer to this question is yes, and we must develop global institutions to reflect that recognition. This is an issue of global ethics and governance on a scale that we have never seen, affecting virtually every economic activity on the globe and requiring the most complicated and intrusive global agreement ever negotiated. Taken together, these three facets of our existential challenge illustrate the magnitude of the cultural debate that climate change provokes.

Climate change challenges us to examine previously unexamined beliefs and worldviews. It acts as a flash point albeit a massive one for deeper cultural and ideological conflicts that lie at the root of many of our environmental problems, and it includes differing conceptions of science, economics, religion, psychology, media, development, and governance. And, as such, it provokes a violent debate among cultural communities on one side who perceive their values to be threatened by change, and cultural communities on the other side who perceive their values to be threatened by the status quo.

If the public debate over climate change is no longer about greenhouse gases and climate models, but about values, worldviews, and ideology, what form will this clash of ideologies take? I see three possible forms. The Optimistic Form is where people do not have to change their values at all. In other words, the easiest way to eliminate the common problems of climate change is to develop technological solutions that do not require major alterations to our values, worldviews, or behavior: carbon-free renewable energy, carbon capture and sequestration technologies, geo-engineering, and others.

Some see this as an unrealistic future. Others see it as the only way forward, because people become attached to their level of prosperity, feel entitled to keep it, and will not accept restraints or support government efforts to impose restraints. The Pessimistic Form is where people fight to protect their values.

In reply, climate activist groups posted billboards attacking Heartland and its financial supporters.

This attack-counterattack strategy is symptomatic of a broken public discourse over climate change. The Consensus-Based Form involves a reasoned societal debate, focused on the full scope of technical and social dimensions of the problem and the feasibility and desirability of multiple solutions. How do we get there? Research in negotiation and dispute resolution can offer techniques for moving forward. In seeking a social consensus on climate change, discussion must move beyond a strict focus on the technical aspects of the science to include its cultural underpinnings.

Below are eight techniques for overcoming the ideological filters that underpin the social debate about climate change. Know your audience Any message on climate change must be framed in a way that fits with the cultural norms of the target audience.

Rapid Climate Change: Causes, Consequences, and Solutions by Scott G. McNall

The study Climate Change in the American Mind segments the American public into six groups based on their views on climate change science. The polarity of these groups is well known: On the one side, climate change is a hoax, humans have no impact on the climate, and nothing is happening; on the other side, climate change is an imminent crisis that will devastate the Earth, and human activity explains all climate changes. Ask the right scientific questions For a consensus-based discussion, climate change science should be presented not as a binary yes or no question, 7 but as a series of six questions.

Some are scientific in nature, with associated levels of uncertainty and probability; others are matters of scientific judgment. In asking these questions, a central consideration is whether people recognize the level of scientific consensus associated with each one. Move beyond data and models Climate skepticism is not a knowledge deficit issue.

Michigan State University sociologist Aaron McCright and Oklahoma State University sociologist Riley Dunlap have observed that increased education and self-reported understanding of climate science have been shown to correlate with lower concern among conservatives and Republicans and greater concern among liberals and Democrats. Research also has found that once people have made up their minds on the science of the climate issue, providing continued scientific evidence actually makes them more resolute in resisting conclusions that are at variance with their cultural beliefs.

When people hear about climate change, they may, for example, hear an implicit criticism that their lifestyle is the cause of the issue or that they are morally deficient for not recognizing it. But emotion can be a useful ally; it can create the abiding commitments needed to sustain action on the difficult issue of climate change.


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To do this, people must be convinced that something can be done to address it; that the challenge is not too great nor are its impacts preordained. The key to engaging people in a consensus-driven debate about climate change is to confront the emotionality of the issue and then address the deeper ideological values that may be threatened to create this emotionality.

Focus on broker frames People interpret information by fitting it to preexisting narratives or issue categories that mesh with their worldview. Therefore information must be presented in a form that fits those templates, using carefully researched metaphors, allusions, and examples that trigger a new way of thinking about the personal relevance of climate change. To be effective, climate communicators must use the language of the cultural community they are engaging.

For a business audience, for example, one must use business terminology, such as net present value, return on investment, increased consumer demand, and rising raw material costs. More generally, one can seek possible broker frames that move away from a pessimistic appeal to fear and instead focus on optimistic appeals that trigger the emotionality of a desired future. In addressing climate change, we are asking who we strive to be as a people, and what kind of world we want to leave our children.

To gain buy-in, one can stress American know-how and our capacity to innovate, focusing on activities already under way by cities, citizens, and businesses. This approach frames climate change mitigation as a gain rather than a loss to specific cultural groups. Research has shown that climate skepticism can be caused by a motivational tendency to defend the status quo based on the prior assumption that any change will be painful. But by encouraging people to regard pro-environmental change as patriotic and consistent with protecting the status quo, it can be framed as a continuation rather than a departure from the past.

Rapid Climate Change: Causes, Consequences, and Solutions

Specific broker frames can be used that engage the interests of both sides of the debate. When the Lancet Commission pronounced climate change to be the biggest global health threat of the 21st century in a article, the organization was using a quality of life frame. One broker frame that deserves particular attention is the replacement of uncertainty or probability of climate change with the risk of climate change.

For example, they buy fire insurance for their homes even though the probability of a fire is low, because they understand that the financial consequence is too great. In the same way, climate change for some may be perceived as a low risk, high consequence event, so the prudent course of action is to obtain insurance in the form of both behavioral and technological change.

Recognize the power of language and terminology Words have multiple meanings in different communities, and terms can trigger unintended reactions in a target audience. Overall, the challenge becomes one of framing complex scientific issues in a language that a lay and highly politicized audience can hear.

This becomes increasingly challenging when we address some inherently nonintuitive and complex aspects of climate modeling that are hard to explain, such as the importance of feedback loops, time delays, accumulations, and nonlinearities in dynamic systems. Employ climate brokers People are more likely to feel open to consider evidence when a recognized member of their cultural community presents it. James Inhofe evoke visceral responses from individuals on either side of the partisan divide.

But individuals with credibility on both sides of the debate can act as what I call climate brokers. Because a majority of Republicans do not believe the science of climate change, whereas a majority of Democrats do, the most effective broker would come from the political right. Climate brokers can include representatives from business, the religious community, the entertainment industry, the military, talk show hosts, and politicians who can frame climate change in language that will engage the audience to whom they most directly connect.

When people hear about the need to address climate change from their church, synagogue, mosque, or temple, for example, they w ill connect the issue to their moral values. When they hear it from their business leaders and investment managers, they will connect it to their economic interests. And when they hear it from their military leaders, they will connect it to their interest in a safe and secure nation.

Recognize multiple referent groups The presentation of information can be designed in a fashion that recognizes that individuals are members of multiple referent groups. The underlying frames employed in one cultural community may be at variance with the values dominant within the communities engaged in climate change debate. For example, although some may reject the science of climate change by perceiving the scientific review process to be corrupt as part of one cultural community, they also may recognize the legitimacy of the scientific process as members of other cultural communities such as users of the modern health care system.

Although someone may see the costs of fossil fuel reductions as too great and potentially damaging to the economy as members of one community, they also may see the value in reducing dependence on foreign oil as members of another community who value strong national defense. A National Science Foundation report found that two thirds of Americans do not clearly understand the scientific process.


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  • Employ events as leverage for change Studies have found that most Americans believe that climate change will affect geographically and temporally distant people and places. But studies also have shown that people are more likely to believe in the science when they have an experience with extreme weather phenomena.

    This has led climate communicators to link climate change to major events, such as Hurricane Katrina, or to more recent floods in the American Midwest and Asia, as well as to droughts in Texas and Africa, to hurricanes along the East Coast and Gulf of Mexico, and to snowstorms in Western states and New England.

    The cumulative body of weather evidence, reported by media outlets and linked to climate change, will increase the number of people who are concerned about the issue, see it as less uncertain, and feel more confident that we must take actions to mitigate its effects.

    Will we see a social consensus on climate change? Many have a fractured understanding of how climate change works, including its causes and consequences. This is often because they have received little or no formal instruction in climate-change science as children. The result is that few are able to identify key problems, and few have acquired appropriate language to talk about it. This situation now has the potential to change rapidly. The emergence of the Next Generation Science Standards NGSS in K instruction and guiding framework developed by the National Research Council offers an ideal way to integrate climate science into pre-university curricula, because the new framework presents the practices of science, disciplinary core ideas, and cross-cutting concepts across all domains of science.

    California has adopted the NGSS and school districts statewide are expected to develop resources, strategies, and activities to teach to the core ideas. Climate change and climate systems figure prominently in the Earth and space sciences domain of NGSS, and the importance and the applications of climate science to society are implied throughout [ 27 ] Wysession Because K teachers often lack the resources or even the expertise needed to effectively teach climate science, mergers of university resources with the K community are critically needed, and the UC System is well-positioned to provide the needed help through its teacher-training and educational outreach programs.

    As one example of an effective approach, the UC Museum of Paleontology UCMP is developing instructional support and resources for teaching about climate change at the K through university levels via web-based programs, as it already has successfully for teaching evolution and understanding science Table 3. The UC System can also educate the public about climate change through its numerous venues for the arts, theater, interactive and static museum exhibits, and film programs.