Monday, July 30, 2012

Bridging Climate Change: Science and Psychology

Two articles in the last couple of weeks present important aspects of the climate change issue. The first is Bill McKibben's piece in Rolling Stone Magazine, "Global Warming's Terrifying New Math: Three simple numbers that add up to global catastrophe - and that make clear who the real enemy is." (July 19, 2012), and the second is David Robert's article, "Why climate change doesn’t spark moral outrage, and how it could." (July 27, 2012) in Grist.

McKibben points to very sobering statistics and the dire consequences regarding the global temperature rise, the fossil fuel still in the ground and planned for extraction its implications for all life on the planet. McKibben also points to making the fossil fuel industry accountable by putting a price on carbon. As he says:

"There's only one problem: Putting a price on carbon would reduce the profitability of the fossil-fuel industry. After all, the answer to the question "How high should the price of carbon be?" is "High enough to keep those carbon reserves that would take us past two degrees safely in the ground." The higher the price on carbon, the more of those reserves would be worthless. The fight, in the end, is about whether the industry will succeed in its fight to keep its special pollution break alive past the point of climate catastrophe, or whether, in the economists' parlance, we'll make them internalize those externalities."

On the psychological side, Roberts investigates why the climate issue has failed to gain substantial traction. Roberts alludes to a paper in Nature Climate Change called “Climate change and moral judgment,” by Ezra Markowitz and Azim Shariff, of the University of Oregon Psychology and Environmental Studies departments. Among the reasons cited for why climate change hasn't gained traction: climate's abstract aspect, its difficulty to understand, and its unintentional consequences. Some of the strategies for more effective communication about climate change include: using existing moral values that appeal to a wider audience, emphasizing the burdens instead the benefits for future generations, and highlighting positive social norms and the importance of peer pressure.

There's much to digest in these two articles. Both do a good job of bridging the science, psychology and strategies for solving this critical issue.