Paper No. 5
Presentation Time: 9:00 AM
TEACHING CLIMATE CHANGE: IS THERE A COMMUNICATION PROBLEM?
We live in a time when climate-change science intersects with politics and public opinion, following political options, is highly polarized: at one end, there are people who are skeptical about anthropogenic contribution to current global warming trend of climate, and at the other end, we find “green” activists, actively involved in saving the planet from increased concentration of greenhouse gases, mainly CO2, produced by human activities. Climate change is no longer ‘a problem’ waiting for ‘a solution’. It is an environmental, cultural and political phenomenon which is reshaping the way we think about ourselves, our society and humanity’s place on Earth. Teaching the topic of global climate change will have to illustrate both the scientific complexities and uncertainties, and the difficulties that people and nations have in formulating rational policies addressing the many of facets of a changing climate on Earth. Climate-change science, like any active field of research, has some major gaps in understanding. Yet the political stakes have grown so high in this field, and the public discourse has become so heated, that climate researchers find it hard to talk openly about those gaps. The relatively small group of scientist who deny humanity's influence on climate will try to use any perceived flaw in the evidence to discredit the entire picture. So how can researchers honestly describe the uncertainty in their work without it being misconstrued? It seems that a communication problem may exist. The climate-research community would do well to use a diverse set of voices when communicating with policy-makers and the public. And the public, including our students, needs to be better educated to be able to winnow myths from facts and scientific evidence from political propaganda. Following the ideas of cultural theory and lately, cultural cognition, individual perception of risk linked to climate change may be used to classify individuals as “fatalists”, “hierarchists”, “individualists”, and “egalitarians”. These categories imply two variables, the degree of social regulation and the degree of social contact. Finally, teaching climate change needs to also consider the “just world” belief when it tries to communicate to students important messages about possible anthropogenic climate catastrophes.