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1 Public Understanding of Climate Change Decades of research on climate have made it increasingly clear to Earth scientists that Earthâs âclimate is changing, and that these changes are in large part caused by human activitiesâ (National Research Council, 2010b:1). However, these conclusions have recently lost support among the U.S. public. Similarly, scientists find that âclimate change . . . poses serious risks for both human societies and natural systemsâ and that ac- tions to mitigate (slow down) and adapt to these changes are needed and urgent (National Research Council, 2010b:1). This understanding and level of concern are not yet evident in national public policy. These divergences between science and society raise important social science questions: an- swers to those questions can help the nation make progress in dealing with climate change. This chapter summarizes research that helps to answer some of these questions by explaining why understanding and responding to climate change have been so difficult. Anthony Leiserowitzâs research describes âsix Americas,â each characterized by a unique set of understandings of and responses to climate change, some sharply at variance with climate sci- ence. Susanne Moser puts these differences in perception, understanding, and behavior in a broader context of societal forces. She discusses multiple reasons why climate change is hard for nonspecialists to understand, includ- ing that the topic is inherently difficult and complex; that understanding it requires a kind of cognitive functioning that does not come easily to most people; and that the media and society have not sent clear signals for the need to respond for the common good. The studies by Daniel Read and his colleagues find that many peopleâs mental models of climate change
FACILITATING CLIMATE CHANGE RESPONSES are inadequate or different from scientific understanding and that peopleâs confusions have persisted for almost two decades despite education and communication on the issue. Elke Weber discusses how ingrained cognitive and affective responses to risk can lead people astray when they consider the risks of climate change. Finally, the research reported by Riley Dunlap shows how an organized climate change denial âcounter-movementâ linked to conservative political institutions and elements of the fossil fuel industry has worked to influence public understanding and how an increasing ideo- logical polarization in U.S. public opinion on the topic has followed their efforts. The chapter concludes by summarizing a discussion that considered how ongoing structural changes in the mass media might affect the poten- tial to improve public understanding and what might be done to improve understanding through the education system and in the broader society. INTRODUCTORY COMMENTS Anthony Leiserowitz1 Yale University Anthony Leiserowitz began by noting that the topic is of great current interest. Public support or its lack is clearly a constraint on national climate legislation, and global public opinion will affect action at the December 2010 Copenhagen meeting. Polls in late 2009 suggested that Americans were somewhat less convinced than before that climate change is real and human caused. The recent scandal of hacked e-mails, centered on the Uni- versity of East Anglia, may also have influenced public opinion. Leiserowitz offered three comments to frame the discussion. First, decades of research by natural scientists have tremendously im- proved understanding of how the climate system works, showing unequivo- cally that Earth is warming, that human activities are the primary cause, and that impacts are already beginning to be felt, with stronger ones ex- pected in the future. Now, however, climate change is a major problem for the social and behavioral sciences, because it is rooted in the factors that drive human decision making and behavior and because the solutions to climate change will require human beings to choose and act differently as individuals, families, communities, nations, and societies. In addition, many of the impacts of greatest concern are the potential consequences of climate change for human well-being. Second, the greatest source of uncertainty in climate models is future 1 Presentation is available at http://www7.nationalacademies.org/hdgc/Session_Moderator_ Public%20Understanding_of_Climate_Change_Anthony_Leiserowitz.pdf [accessed September 2010].
PUBLIC UNDERSTANDING OF CLIMATE CHANGE human behavior. Whether the world stabilizes global warming at 2 degrees Celsius or warming reaches a much higher level depends fundamentally on whether humans act to alter the trajectory of climate change. Thus, the social sciences are key to meeting the climate challenge. Furthermore, hu- man systems are much more complex and hard to predict than the climate system. Carbon dioxide molecules all behave in the same way and do not change their behavior appreciably when scientists study them, but hu- man beings do. Human beings as individuals and as societies are capable of a wide range of potential responses, making it very difficult to predict how they will respond to future climate change or to research on climate change. Third, the U.S. public is not homogeneous. Leiserowitz and his col- leagues have identified six distinct groups or segments (what they have termed âThe Six Americasâ), each of which responds in a very different way to climate change (Leiserowitz et al., 2008). They have labeled the seg- ments as âalarmedâ (18 percent of the population), âconcernedâ (33 per- cent), âcautiousâ (19 percent), âdisengagedâ (12 percent), âdoubtfulâ (11 percent), and âdismissiveâ (7 percent). These groups vary in terms of how much they believe global warming is a reality, how concerned they are, and how motivated they are to take action. He emphasized that public response to climate change is not a linear response to scientific information. Rather, people are already predisposed either to accept or reject what scientists say about it and, similarly, to support or oppose proposed policies. THE TROUBLE WITH CLIMATE CHANGE: WHY IS CLIMATE CHANGE HARD TO UNDERSTAND? Susanne Moser2 Susanne Moser Research and Consulting Susanne Moser began by stating that climate change as a phenomenon has attributes that make it extremely difficult for nonspecialists to under- stand. She posed a series of questions. Is the difficulty of understanding cli- mate change in the nature of the topic? Is there a problem with how human brains are âwiredâ? Does the ultimate challenge lie in peopleâs world views, which donât allow them to see climate change as a problem or to accept proposed solutions to it? Is the problem a failure of communication? Does the problem lie with how the mass media work and describe the issue? Are there too many more pressing distractions that preoccupy peopleâs atten- 2 Presentation is available at http://www7.nationalacademies.org/hdgc/Why%20is%20Clim ate%20Change%20Hard%20to%20Understand%20Susanne%20Moser%20SM%20Consu lting.pdf [accessed September 2010].
10 FACILITATING CLIMATE CHANGE RESPONSES tion? Finally, does it actually matter whether the public understands? She concluded that there are partial answers to all of these questions, and that the challenge of engaging the public on climate change involves a âperfect stormâ of all of these factors operating together. The difficulty of understanding is partly due to the characteristics of the problem. First, you cannot see climate change. You cannot see carbon dioxide: if it made the sky black, it might be more easily noticed. Second, change is happening very slowly on the time scale of human perception. People can easily remember one cold winter, but they cannot notice a sea level rise at the rate of 1 mm/year. And a driver from the city into the suburbs experiences a temperature change due to leaving the urban heat island that is larger than has been seen for the Earth over the past century. In addition, there is the perception that many of the impacts are distant in time and space. Public opinion polls in the United States and some other countries show that respondents see greater harm from global warming coming to animals, plants, and people and things that are far away from them than to those close to them (see Figure 1-1). Next, modern humans are insulated from their environments. People spend 20 hours or more per day in buildings. A time survey conducted in 2000 indicated that 51 percent of Americans spend no time outside, and an additional 30 percent spend no more than one hour outdoors. All of this makes people highly dependent on mediated communication for information on climate change. In addition, there is no quick, simple, or good fix. Taking action gives no gratification or very highly delayed gratification. A recent study by Solomon et al. (2009) shows that, short of active interference with the climate system to take carbon back out of the atmosphere, the climate will not return to the preindustrial state in the lifetime of anyone now living. Climate change is also challenging for the human brain. People tend to react quickly to things that stem from the ill intent of an identifiable actor, that provoke moral outrage, that present clear and present danger, and that happen fast. Moser quoted Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert as saying that the ability to duck what is not yet coming is a stunning but recent in- novation. Also, our impact outstrips our brain. Many people believe and everyone hopes that climate change is just the result of a natural cycle. Also, it is difficult to understand systems, which must be understood in order to comprehend the nature and magnitude of change that is needed to limit climate change. In addition, most people are much better at intuitive information processing than systematic processing. They have trouble deal- ing with uncertainty, so that uncertainty about climate, for many, provides a rationale for postponing action. It is demanding to deal not only with the overwhelming scientific complexity, but also with the moral complexity of the climate issue. Furthermore, the signals indicating that responses are needed are inadequate.
11 PUBLIC UNDERSTANDING OF CLIMATE CHANGE How much do you think global warming will harm . . . A great deal A moderate Only a little Not at all Donât know amount Your People People in People You Plant and Your Future family in other in the US generations developing personally animal community countries industrialized species of people nations N = 2,164 FIGURE 1-1 Perceived degree of harm from global warming to various entities, perceived by U.S. respondents. SOURCE: Leiserowitz et al. (2009:30). Reprinted with permission. Figure 1-1 R01827 Moser said that society has failed to signal the need for change. Climate change is the ultimate market failure. We have noimage carbon to signal uneditable bitmapped price on the value of reducing emissions, no uniform and steady messaging, a lack of consistency between what leaders say and do, and a lack of social nar- ratives that portray âclimate protectionâ as a source of a socially desirable identity. Such signaling would be necessary to help people see beyond nar- row self-interest and act for the common good. People filter information through a âculturalâ lens colored by their general beliefs about society and about right and wrong. This filter operates prior to facts and shapes the interpretation of information. Moser remarked that she sees this filtering as the underlying cause of the âsix Americasâ reported by Leiserowitz. Particularly, the people at the extremes of that continuum of views say they
12 FACILITATING CLIMATE CHANGE RESPONSES are highly unlikely to change their views, probably because of their strong attachments to preexisting cultural world views. Moser drew several implications from this analysis. People reject infor- mation that contradicts their beliefs and selectively attend to information that confirms them. This process leads to social and political polarization. Moser suggested that people need different forums for deliberation so they can understand each othersâ world views and seek common ground. She noted that climate change is presented within multiple âframes,â each of which works for some audiences, but none of which works for all. Some frames (such as some scientific ones) fail to resonate with audiences, yet when climate change is framed as a catastrophe or a threat to the social system, it may threaten some peopleâs sense of self. The media also are part of the problem. The traditional media are orga- nized for profit, not for education. This fact shapes their choice of stories. Techno-cultural and economic changes in the media industry are part of the picture. They include a change from broadcasting to ânarrow-castingâ focused on selected audiences. The downsizing of the reporter corps, in- cluding on environmental and science issues, results in a greater probability of reporting with factual mistakes and shallower treatment or simply less climate change coverage. The mass mediaâas corporate businessesâfocus on news that âsells,â which puts a premium on extreme events, human interest stories, and controversies over slowly developing stories. The rise of the Internet and âsocial mediaâ democratizes, but people are not ex- posed to ideas across the spectrum and tend to get news more frequently in sound bites and through peripheral information processing or from sources that conform to their preexisting views. Mass media can do less than they once could, and they are not good at direct persuasion, fostering behavior change, promoting two-way communication, dealing with issues in depth, or resolving conflicts, although some of these are much needed in climate change policy. Finally, Moser offered a list of what climate change is not, as a way to explain why it is hard to keep the topic on the public agenda. To many people, climate change is not visible and so may not seem real. It is not im- mediate, even in its threat, cost, or the pleasure or satisfaction of trying to solve the problem. It is not (yet) relevant in the sense of being personal, here and now. It is not intuitively understandable. It is not easy to talk about at the dinner table. It is not easily solvable, which would provide a sense of personal and response efficacy. It is not morally simple. And it is not yet seen or perceived as a threat to everything people are and value. In the discussion that followed the presentation, Richard Andrews noted that climate response is being given positive frames in some states, for example, as a development issue. Moser responded that the climate change
1 PUBLIC UNDERSTANDING OF CLIMATE CHANGE discussion has been framed mainly by scientists and environmentalists, even though other framings are valid for certain audiences. A questioner asked whether audiences can be segmented to focus dif- ferently on groups that have different views on the topic. Moser replied that an economic framing cuts across the population and that, for some audiences, an environmental justice frame can engage people with climate change. However, she doubted that there is a single frame that would work for everybody. Leiserowitz commented that an energy frame works for almost everyone because there is widespread concern about the nationâs energy future. NOW WHAT DO PEOPLE KNOW ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE? A STUDY OF LAY BELIEFS AND MENTAL MODELS Daniel Read Yale University Daniel Read presented work he did in collaboration with Ann Bostrom, Rebecca Hudson, Anu Narayanan, and Travis Reynolds. An earlier related project in 1992 in which he, Bostrom, and others participated resulted in two papers (Bostrom et al., 1994; Read et al., 1994). Since then, popular sources have bombarded people with information and arguments on cli- mate change. In a new study, the research group replicated the methods from 1992 using very similar people under similar circumstances in 2009 (in both cases, July 4, in the same park in Pittsburgh). (Note: This study, Reynolds et al., 2010, was accepted for publication after the workshop.) Its goal was to see whether and how public understanding had changed. The 2009 sample scored a bit lower on education level and was augmented by a more highly educated subsample for comparability. The results showed little change from 1992 in beliefs about whether hu- man actions have changed global climateâif anything, there was a decline in this belief. Understanding of the nature of the greenhouse effect has in- creased only slightly in 17 years. As in 1992, people were asked how much temperature change there has been to date, how much they would expect in 10 years, and how much they would expect by 2050. The results were highly similar in both samples: people believe temperature has changed, and will change, much more than the estimates provided by the Intergovern- mental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). These beliefs are very unrealistic, 3 Presentation is available at http://www7.nationalacademies.org/hdgc/Mental%20Model s%20of%20Climate%20Change%20Daniel%20Read%20Yale%20University.pdf [accessed September 2010].
14 FACILITATING CLIMATE CHANGE RESPONSES suggesting that if people fully understood the IPCC projections, they might lose interest in climate change as a problem. The researchers tried to understand whether people distinguish be- tween climate and weather. Between 1992 and 2009, knowledge declined on several questions about this topic. The researchers have not yet selected subsamples to equate on education. Responses to open-ended questions about what might cause global warming indicated not only many similari- ties across time, but also two important changes. In 2009, respondents were much less likely to attribute warming to aerosol cans, chlorofluorocarbons, and ozone depletion, or to loss of biomass. Read concluded that public understanding is very volatile and is possibly reflective of changes in media coverage. Results with closed-ended questions were similar. The rank order- ing of causes is similar in both samples, but some items were considered less important in 2009 (e.g., deforestation, the hole in the ozone layer). There were some changes in the effects that respondents anticipated from climate change. There was an increase in the extent to which respon- dents expected a number of impacts (ecological disasters, more frequent and larger storms, increased precipitation and humidity globally, and war and immigration problems), all of these consistent with scientific projec- tions. However, there was decreased expectation of sea level rise and of shorter, milder winters globallyâboth changes in opinion that are opposite to scientific expectations. An open-ended question about the most effective actions to help pre- vent global warming yielded the same most common response as in 1992â reduce driving. However, political action and raising awareness, which were the second and third most frequently mentioned responses in 1992, were mentioned much less frequently in 2009. The second and third most frequently mentioned responses in 2009 were recycling and saving energy, which were mentioned more frequently in 2009 than in 1992. There were some major changes in response to a parallel open-ended question on what are the most effective actions the U.S. government could take. Reducing auto emissions was at or near the top of the list in both samples, but pro- tecting biomass, limiting pollution, and protecting the ozone layer were much less frequently mentioned in the 2009 sample, and alternative energy was much more frequently mentioned. Closed-ended questioning about the effectiveness of various actions for preventing global warming indicated that actions that are generally seen as green are ranked highly, regardless of whether they in fact limit climate change, indicating a conflation of protecting the environment in general with preventing climate change. For example, stopping pollution from chemical plants, stopping the use of aerosol cans, recycling consumer goods, and compliance with the Clean Air Act were all among the more highly rated actions in both samples.
1 PUBLIC UNDERSTANDING OF CLIMATE CHANGE Read concluded that, overall, mental models have not changed a lot since 1992, despite a lot of publicity. There was less reference in 2009 to the burning issues of 1992, such as the âozone hole,â but some common misconceptions of 1992âthe confusion of climate and weather and the pollution model of climate changeâremained prevalent in 2009. There was some evidence of better understanding of the role of greenhouse gases. Read spoke briefly about an interview study his group carried out in Se- attle in 2008. It revealed a ânatural causesâ or ânatural cyclesâ story about climate change that some respondents offered, which was not revealed in the survey study. In the discussion following the presentation, a participant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reported that an EPA study has indicated that 42 percent of U.S. emissions are due to materials man- agement, suggesting that recycling makes a huge difference, contrary to an implication of the presentation. PERCEPTIONS OF CLIMATE CHANGE RISKS Elke Weber4 Columbia University Elke Weber began by noting that people study risk perception because of its importance in responding to hazards. It prepares organisms for action by changing physiological stress levels and affecting immune reactions; in addition, perceived risk combined with perceived control leads to positive or negative emotional reactions. This emotional aspect of risk perception serves as an early warning system that motivates action and also leads to expectations of actions by others. Perceptions of climate change risks are influenced by cognitive and af- fective processes. One feature of climate change that has cognitive implica- tions is the gradual nature of the change, which makes âsignalâ detection (i.e., noticing that there is a change) difficult. As a result of peopleâs great adaptability, they sometimes do not even perceive gradual changes. The uncertainty and time delay that are characteristic of climate change are additional cognitive challenges to taking protective action because the costs of climate change adaptation or mitigation are immediate and certain, but the future benefits of such action are uncertain and delayed in time, with large discounting as a result. Moreover, if such actions are successful in terms of preventing future negative consequences, the result may be that 4 Presentation is available at http://www7.nationalacademies.org/hdgc/Insights%20from%2 0Research%20on%20Risk%20Perception%20Elke%20Weber%20Columbia%20University. pdf [accessed September 2010].
16 FACILITATING CLIMATE CHANGE RESPONSES the actions appear to have been unnecessary. Weber noted that when people are considering possible future losses, they tend to be risk seekingâthat is, they tend to take their chances. Thus, if climate change is seen in terms of future possible economic or environmental losses, there is a tendency to accept the risk and take the chance on future losses. She also noted that time discounting is not done at a constant rate per time period but follows a hyperbolic form (anything that does not occur right away is discounted very highly), and the discount rate is typically large. Although losses are discounted less than gains, time discounting rates are still very high even for losses and are higher than the rates typically advocated or used in current economic models. Weber noted that how information is acquired matters. For example, many potential consequences of climate change are low-probability, high- consequence events. People tend to overweight rare events when they are described symbolically, so rare potential climate events could get a strong reaction. However, when people learn from personal experience, recent rare events are overweighted, but those that have not been experienced tend to be ignored. Rare events have a low probability of having occurred recently and thus will have low impact on perceived risk. Personal experience tends to be a stronger determinant of choice than vicarious descriptions because it is more engaging. Consequently, climate change events are not likely to provoke strong reactions in many people. The absence of a visceral reaction matters, because emotions drive action. Analytic considerations are neither necessary nor sufficient for action. Evolution has prepared humans for simpler risks: âdreadâ and âunknownâ risks get much stronger reactions than those that do not have these characteristics. Most people do not dread climate change. When affective reactions do exist, they are often incorrectly calibrated or misdirected. Climate change is not a risk people are hard-wired to care about. The threats are slow, intangible, uncertain, and statistical, lie in the future, and are not caused by a hostile agent. These characteristics help explain why global warming is low on peopleâs policy priority lists. Poll data show that the importance given to climate change has dropped when there are other major worries (e.g., after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the recent economic downturn), indicating that people may have a finite pool of worry. Emotions affect how people process information, with different presen- tations of information pressing different emotional buttons. For example, carbon offsets are more palatable than carbon taxes, especially among Re- publicans. Recent research elaborating âquery theoryâ indicates that people argue with themselves, evaluate alternatives sequentially, and generate more arguments about the first-choice option they consider. Thus, whatever op- tion is considered first gets more consideration. Default options (i.e., the
1 PUBLIC UNDERSTANDING OF CLIMATE CHANGE option one gets if no decision is made, often the status quo) are so popular at least in part because they are the ones people consider first. Weber noted several lines of theory and research that discuss risk as a social construction: the cultural theory of risk propounded by Douglas and Wildavsky (1982); the social amplification perspective (Pidgeon, Kasperson, and Slovic, 2003), which identifies as an important role of the mass media creating tipping points in public reaction; and research on how perceived risk can be affected by the expectation of action by others. In final comments, Weber noted the mismatch between the magnitude of the problem and the nature of the solutions offered, as well as the ab- sence of major events that might catalyze action. She said that Hurricane Katrina came closest, commenting that people need to be better prepared to respond to such events when they occur. Weber emphasized that perceptions of climate change risk are multiply determined, that nonanalytic processes are very important, and that affective reactions often guide cognitive pro- cesses. She argued for better appreciation that perceptions are malleableâ that risk is not an immutable attribute of an event or action, but rather a judgment and a feeling that are constructed. Therefore how attention is focused, how information about action alternatives and their outcomes are acquired, what attributions are made about the causes of events, familiarity with events and outcomes, and perceptions of control all matter. CLIMATE CHANGE DENIAL AND CONSERVATISM Riley Dunlap Oklahoma State University Riley Dunlap began with the observation that the U.S. conservative movement has had a significant impact on debates over climate change. The historical background of this impact, Dunlap said, can be traced to the rise of a powerful conservative movement in the 1970s in reaction to what conservatives saw as threats posed by the progressive movements of the 196ÂÂÂÂÂÂÂ0s. The success of this âcountermovementâ can be seen in the general rightward shift of the U.S. policy agenda from the Reagan administration onward. After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the emergence of global environmentalism with the Earth Summit in 1992, the movement began to focus increasingly on the perceived threat posed by environmental regulations. It basically substituted a âgreen scareâ for the declining âred scare.â Conservatives launched an antienvironmental countermovement to combat environmentalism, which they saw as a threat to the conservative agenda of laissez-faire economics, free trade, the privatization of resources, and so forth. During the Reagan administration, the movement learned that direct
1 FACILITATING CLIMATE CHANGE RESPONSES attacks on environmental regulations can produce a backlash and that it was more effective to question the seriousness of environmental problems. Because proponents of environmental regulations typically employ scientific evidence to make their case, the movement began to challenge such evidence as a key strategy. It did this by promoting âenvironmental skepticism,â a dismissive view of the scientific evidence for environmental problems, particularly by âmanufacturing uncertaintyââa strategy long employed by the tobacco industry and other industries to fight governmental regula- tions. Dunlap cited a book by David Michaels, Doubt Is Their Product, in which the author notes that âindustry has learned that debating the science is much easier and more effective than debating the policyâ (Michaels, 2008:xi). Dunlap and his colleagues have been studying the efforts of the con- servative movement to undermine the scientific evidence for environmental problems and climate change in particular. One study examined 141 Eng- lish language books espousing environmental skepticism (Jacques, Dunlap, and Freeman, 2008): 81 percent of these were published after the 1992 Rio summit, and 92 percent were linked to a conservative think tank either by authorâs affiliation, publication by a conservative think tank press, or both. With the emergence of the 1997 Kyoto protocol, these books gave increas- ing attention to climate change, portraying efforts to limit global warming as threats to economic growth, free enterprise, personal freedom, and the American way of life. In the past decade, climate change has become the preeminent environ- mental issue for conservatives, and manufacturing uncertainty has become the primary strategy for challenging the evidence for anthropogenic climate change. In fact, several figures in climate change denial were previously heavily involved in challenging the evidence concerning the harmful ef- fects of tobacco smoke. The small number of contrarian scientists who have challenged mainstream climate science now have been augmented by a wide range of actors in the conservative movement. (Evidence for these conclusions appears in a paper published since the workshop: Dunlap and McCright, 2010.) Dunlap said that as a way of examining the growth and diffusion of climate change skepticism/denial and the role of the conservative movement in promoting it, he and Peter Jacques are working on a study of books on this topic published through 2009. They are examining links between 84 books and conservative think tanks, using the criteria employed in their earlier study, as well as the major themes of the books and the credentials of their authors or editors. There was a sharp rise in publication of these books in 2007, which is continuing, and several of the books are bestsell- ers. A total of 6ÂÂÂÂÂÂÂ4 (or 79 percent) of the books are linked to one or more conservative think tanks, and all but one of those not affiliated with a think
1 PUBLIC UNDERSTANDING OF CLIMATE CHANGE tank have been published in the last decade. A growing proportion of the books are written by people who do not have natural science doctoral de- grees, including several that are self-published, and these volumes are less likely to be affiliated with conservative think tanks. Eight childrenâs books have also appeared in recent years giving reasons not to worry about cli- mate change. While books espousing climate change denial were published primarily in the United States early on, they are increasingly appearing in the United Kingdom and other countries, particularly those affiliated with conservative think tanks. The climate change denial books take issue with each of the major IPCC claims: that global warming is occurring and will continue, that hu- man activities releasing greenhouse gas emissions are a major cause of the warming, that global warming produces harmful impacts on human and natural systems, and that a response is called for if harmful consequences are to be avoided. Nearly half of the 59 books published in the 2000s still question the warming trend, almost 90 percent challenge the attribution of climate change to human activities, and close to three-fourths are skeptical about negative impacts. There is also âdelay skepticism,â or the argument that there is no need to do anything now, even if climate change is occur- ring, and all but four of the books endorse this view. Dunlap argued that while the counterclaims to the IPCC have changed as the evidence support- ing anthropogenic climate change accumulates, the bottom line in these books remains the same: no regulations. This reflects the near universal conservative ideology behind different versions of climate change denial. In fact, the sequence of arguments over time parallels that used in the past by contrarians (e.g., regarding the smoking-cancer link, acid rain). Dunlap said that the counterclaims presented in these books and a wide range of other fora employed by contrarian scientists and conserva- tive think tanks have been effective. He said that the U.S. media have given much more attention to climate change contrarian arguments and have been more likely to portray climate science as uncertain than have media in other countries. Not surprisingly, the U.S. public consistently expresses less concern about climate change than do the publics in other developed nations and is more likely to perceive a significant lack of consensus in the scientific community. The United States has yet to enact meaningful climate policy and has been an impediment to international policy making. Dunlap said that climate change contrarianism has become a core tenet in conserva- tive policy circles and now has hegemonic status in the Republican Party, as evident in recent criticisms of any Republican politician who calls for action to deal with climate change. Importantly, there is widespread evidence of a polarization of the U.S. public on the climate issue. Climate change denial has diffused to the gen- eral public, particularly to the conservative sector. Before the 1980s, views
20 FACILITATING CLIMATE CHANGE RESPONSES of environmental issues were only modestly associated with political ideol- ogy and weakly and, frequently insignificantly, with party preference. In the 1980s and 1990s, environmental issues gradually became more politicized, and political polarization began to increase. Today, party identification and political ideology are both good predictors of environmental positions on many issues. For example, trend data on opinions about âwhen the effects of global warming will begin to happenâ (already happening . . . will never happen) showed a very modest increase since 2001 in the percentage of people saying that the effects of warming have already begun, but the par- tisan difference continually widened, with Democrats up, and Republicans slightly down (Dunlap and McCright, 2008; see Figure 1-2). Furthermore, among Democrats, belief in global warming increases with education and self-assessed understanding of the issue, but among Republicans, higher education or levels of understanding have little impact on such beliefs. On the question of whether global warming is due more to human or natural causes, the trend since 2001 has been flat, but again there has been a growing divide between Republicans and Democrats, with the gap growing Percentage FIGURE 1-2 Percentages of Democrats and Republicans who believe the ef - fects of global warming have already begun to happen, from Gallup poll data, 2001-2008. SOURCE: Dunlap and McCright (2008, Figure 1). Reprinted with permission. Figure 1-2 R01827 uneditable bitmapped image
21 PUBLIC UNDERSTANDING OF CLIMATE CHANGE most among people who think they understand climate change very well. Dunlap summarized this evidence by saying that for a significant portion of the public, the conservative movement has been successful in portraying climate science as a hoax, a liberal plot, or âjunk scienceâ pursued by self- serving researchers. Dunlap concluded by saying that, in addition to focusing on mental models and other cognitive phenomena impeding effective climate change communication, social scientists need to pay attention to the increasing flow of messages that are undercutting mainstream climate science. Lack of public acceptance of climate science does not occur by happenstance or stem predominantly from cognitive limitations; it is clearly affected by the perceived uncertainty concerning climate change that is purposefully and effectively generated by the climate change denial movement. The sci- entific community cannot craft more effective messages regarding climate change for the American public without taking into account what Dunlap described as the barrage of âdisinformationâ the public receives from those intent on undermining the credibility of climate science and thus the need for climate policy. INVITED COMMENT Frank Niepold Climate Office, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Interagency Working Group on Education, U.S. Global Change Research Program Frank Niepold said that the climate literacy/outreach/extension com- munity has known for at least 2 years that knowing more climate science will not get the problem solved, that the âinformation deficit modelâ is not adequate. The education community is coming around to the social science work, and he expressed interest in making a greater effort toward understanding this work. Mentioning the 2009 federal climate literacy document (U.S. Global Change Research Program, 2009a), he went on to say that education re- form is hard to do in the United States because of state-level control. There are 15,000 school districts, plus museums and other venues for learning. In his view, a very broad consortium is needed to engage the country. Because it is easier to sow doubt than to remove it, people will be doing climate change education for a very long time. He said that to raise the literacy of the nation, both audience differentiation and sustained engagement are needed (which educators do naturally, but advertisers and people in com- munications do not). Niepold called on the social science community to help the education
22 FACILITATING CLIMATE CHANGE RESPONSES community figure out how to use the social sciences in the education pro- cess. The disconnect between the two communities is a chronic problem, and he encouraged that community to help educators learn how to use social science work in education. He noted signs of increased attention to the topic. There has been a shift from an attitude of âlet them know itâs a problemâ to âthen what?â He said that teachers in some schools are do- ing 3-week units on climate change in fifth grade that leave some children crying. Many teachers do not have expertise in climate change science, nor in how to deal with the impacts of what they are teaching (i.e., the pupilsâ emotional responses). And although many are not familiar with solutions to the climate change problem, they need to teach about them in a way that will leave the students with some hope. Teachers need help to be fluent with the science and to teach what can be done about the problem. Niepold concluded by saying that federal science agencies, including the Agency for International Development, the National Institutes of Health, the Na- tional Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Departments of Defense and Energy, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, are working together on education, but they need help with best practices and techniques. Roger Kasperson asked whether it is realistic to expect any major change in the American publicâs views. Niepold said it is, because federal science agencies are working hard on the issue and will monitor change, focusing on particular target groups. He noted that the United Nations (UN) Framework Convention on Climate Change requires all signatories to do outreach and said that not enough has been done in the United States in this respect. He said that this type of work is not sufficiently funded, and a way needs to be found to do it. Both federal agencies and nonfederal actors are increasingly aware of the issue. In the discussion following the presentation, Dunlap noted a need to be sensitive to the climate contrarian literature moving into the classroom, for example, in the form of a clean coal coloring book given to schools for free or through the influence of conservatives on school curricula, textbook choices, and pressure on teachers. Stewart Cohen asked whether there is an information flow to professional networksâengineers, accountants, public health workers, among othersâto engage them as professionals and turn them into extension agents. Niepold responded that the discussions of a Na- tional Climate Service (NCS) focus on this. Although it is not yet sufficiently resourced, there is talk about building capacity in professional associations. Cohen added that sustained conversations also have to occur in the profes- sions. Niepold agreed that education in these communities would require a sustained effort. There was a question about involvement with the busi- ness community. Niepold said that in the NCS discussions, there was also emphasis on dialogue sessions with the business community to learn about
2 PUBLIC UNDERSTANDING OF CLIMATE CHANGE its needs. He added that these discussions imply a paradigm shift in the science community toward public-private partnerships, in addition to the usual emphasis on satellites, physical observations, and climate models. INVITED COMMENT Bud Ward Yale Forum on Climate Change and the Media Bud Ward began by stating that the United States is in the early stages of a long and fundamental transformation of the media. He said journal- ism lacks a successful business model that supports quality journalism as a component of profitability. He noted that Ann Arbor, Michigan, now has no daily newspaper and predicted that other major U.S. cities also will find themselves without print dailies in coming years. There have been major layoffs at many newspapers, an ongoing process that he said has come to be known as âjournicide.â There also has been a reduction of specialty beats, with what had been environment specialty beats now expanded to cover issues as broad as environment, science, medicine, space, and technology. Ward said that the old rule of thumb of reporters spending 80 percent of their time doing reporting (research) and 20 percent of time doing writing has now been flipped, with reporters under intense and con- tinual pressure to âfeed the beastâ of both their print and online outlets, including such electronic media as Twitter and Facebook. Ward emphasized the importance of having climate change issues re- ported beyond the science and environment pages given that the issue can affect education, business, religion, travel, national security, and other news beats. Although such broader reporting is needed, it carries the risk of a return to an overemphasis on a false or simplistic âbalanceâ or the inad- vertent insertion of factual mistakes, because reporters new to the climate change issue lack familiarity with the scientific underpinnings. So, as the issue moves to other news beats, there will be a fallback in the learning curve. Science and environment journalists by and large accept that Earth is warming and that humans are significantly responsible, and they are be- ing accused of being âtemplate followersâ by those critical of the scientific evidence. Another issue with news coverage is that if a story discusses uncertainty or risk assessment, it ends up being buried or killed outright. Pointing to increasing financial pressures facing the media and to something of a collapse of the traditional âiron wallâ separating editorial and business interests, Ward said that the term âmedia industryâ is now apropos. Today, journalists have to entertain as well as inform, and climate stories are not always amenable to this treatment. He agreed with Moserâs observation that the media are not an educational institution. Reporters educate, he
24 FACILITATING CLIMATE CHANGE RESPONSES emphasized, but they are not educators, and the public should not expect the mass media or the mini-media to be educators. Ward anticipates that the revolution in mainstream media will result in a lot less investigative journalism. He concluded that how society will handle climate change will depend on how it handles journalism and other means of informing the public in a democratic system. DISCUSSION Much of the discussion focused on questions related to how greater lev- els of public concern and action might come to pass in response to climate change, considering the challenges to public understanding identified in the presentations. Andrews suggested that the conversation had evidenced an absence of positive ideas for framing climate change, for example, in terms of energy policy needs, economic development, and so forth. He noted that there are business allies for action on climate change. For example, the electric utility industry is seriously dividedâDuke Energy has come out for a carbon tax, for example. He said there is a need to get beyond the information deficit idea and the environmentalist model in which public understanding and action all follow from rational science. Moser suggested that it is important first to affirm the audience before presenting new ideas. People want to be âgood people,â so messages favor- ing climate responses should frame the responses as âwhat a good person does.â She said that Americans want to see the positive side of everything and suggested that, in Europe, it is easier to have a conversation focused on difficult societal changes and on an important role for government in overseeing and guiding them. She suggested the value of framing messages in terms of how to be a good person while facing the realities of climate change. Dunlap said that although positive framings, such as in terms of âgreenâ jobs, are being made, public opinion has not changed. He noted that companies positioning themselves as green are vilified by conservative think tanks as anticapitalist. Weber noted that people have multiple goals, including long-term and social goals, which may be activated as they make choices. Read pointed out that, in one study, telling people what a 9 cent/gallon tax on gasoline would be used for (to clean up the pollution caused by a gallon of gasoline) greatly increased willingness to pay. Miron Straf noted methodological issues with survey responses, which are influenced by question wording, but identified ways to get past them. For example, people can be asked to think aloud about survey questions. Deliberative polling can also be used. Moser said that some research has gone beyond self-reported subjective opinions, but little has yet integrated
2 PUBLIC UNDERSTANDING OF CLIMATE CHANGE deliberative processes with the goals of education. She suggested that if at- titudes and beliefs are to change, different tactics must be used, including well-led deliberative processes. Dunlap said there have been some examples of such approaches. Thomas Dietz pointed to some additional complexities in promoting greater public understanding. Recent analyses from the Stanford Energy Modeling Forum suggest that it is no longer possible to keep global warm- ing below 2 degrees Celsius, âunless we continue to pump out aerosols.â He said that because of the caveat about aerosols, it is incorrect to simply say that the 2 degree target has already been overshot. Moser suggested that no single message can adequately convey an understanding of climate change, noting the need to consider mitigation and adaptation together. She suggested that people would be more willing to hear such a complex mes- sage as part of a dialogue. Also, she emphasized that a message about the difficult challenges and great risks has to be paired with a message about the positive, constructive things that individuals, communities, and a nation can do. Without options for action, the conversation endsâenvironmental despair is a huge issue. Nicholas Pidgeon noted that the science of climate change impacts is increasingly using the language of uncertainty. He asked how one can separate the uncertainty about impacts from the much lesser uncertainty about whether climate change is happening. He said that research in politi- cal psychology shows that conservatives reject any presentation of the issue that includes mention of uncertainty and suggested that this audience needs a framing that has more certainty. Dunlap noted that for a climate contrar- ian, even 95 percent confidence is evidence of uncertainty. Cohen suggested that the climate deniers need to defend their certainty that climate change is not a danger and claimed that they are never asked to defend their beliefs. Ward added that climate scientist Stephen Schneider often said that scientists who speak with certainty are engaging in politi- cal rhetoric. Leiserowitz suggested that there are widely resonant frames available for talking about responses to climate change that address the uncertainty, such as making the analogy to buying insurance or gambling with the future. Leiserowitz concluded the discussion by noting that a lot has been said about the complexities, the barriers to changing behavior, and how the problem is difficult. On the more positive side, he said that researchers have not really applied themselves scientifically to this question. He said that with an empirical approach, a lot can be learned. He noted that even if people understand climate change, they may not change all their relevant behaviors. Different behaviors present different barriers, and analysis has to become more sophisticated. He agreed with Andrews that there has been tremendous change in the corporate world, which has been responding
26 FACILITATING CLIMATE CHANGE RESPONSES to the huge financial opportunities in solving the climate problem. Cities, states, the federal government, many civic and environmental groups, and religious groups also are engaging. He concluded by saying that nature bats last: there will be teachable moments to which scientists will need to respond.