Warm spring weather and global warming: If only scientists could be so persuasive
Warm spring weather can help convince Americans that global warming is happening and a problem. But scientists must change the way they talk about this subject. They must leave their ivory towers and learn to speak about climate change in a language that people understand.
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As this work enters the public discourse, there is the great need for more sociological, cultural, and cognitive research so that scientists can understand why people may either reject or accept what science “experts” say about problems and solutions.Skip to next paragraph
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Universities need to train emerging and seasoned scholars in the skills of communicating science to the public and policy makers. We need to develop a new generation of scholars for whom the role of public intellectual is not an anachronism.
Without such changes, the climate change debate devolves into a “logic schism” where the ideological extremes dominate the conversation and the space for solutions disappears into a rhetorical shouting match.
We’re already seeing this. Surveys have shown that the percentage of conservatives and Republicans who believe that the effects of global warming have already begun to happen declined from roughly 50 percent in 2001 to about 30 percent in 2010, while the corresponding percentage of liberals and Democrats increased from roughly 60 percent in 2001 to about 70 percent in 2010.
Overall, belief in climate change has declined in the American public from roughly 75 percent to 55 percent between 2008 and 2011, with a recent rebound to 62 percent in the fall of 2011, the Brookings Institution survey finds. One noted reason for the rebound was personal experiences with warmer fall and winter temperatures.
What we need are universities eagerly producing academics along the model of the late Carl Sagan, who popularized the study of the universe with his 1980 TV series “Cosmos” and his novel “Contact,” which was turned into a movie of the same name. America could use thousands of these Sagans, people knowledgeable about science who will share their knowledge in newspapers, on the Internet, in the local Kiwanis club, bowling league, and town-hall meeting.
There is simply too much at stake for knowledgeable scientists to sit on the sidelines, writing a few more arcane scholarly articles to satisfy their tenure and promotion committees.
Andrew Hoffman is the Holcim (US) professor of sustainable enterprise, with joint appointments at the Ross School of Business and the School of Natural Resources & Environment at the University of Michigan. He is also the director of the Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise. A longer version of this essay first appeared in the blog of the Network for Business Sustainability.