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Lisa Zaval and James F. M. Cornwell
In recent years, scientists have identified cognitive processes that short-circuit our deliberative faculties. In the domain of climate change in particular, a number of psychological barriers and biases may disrupt typical discourse and reflection and may even prevent those who are aware of climate change from taking action to mitigate or reduce its impact. These processes include the use of heuristic versions of calculation-based decisions to reduce processing load, which can make climate change judgments responsive to situational factors in the immediate decision context. Recent research in the decision sciences provides insight into how common biases in judgment inhibit rational deliberation about climate change, which may lead to the gap between society’s recognition of environmental problems and society’s frequent failure to address them appropriately. These insights involve the finite nature of human attention and cognitive resources, the complex interactions of personal experience and emotion, the challenges that uncertainty and risk place on behavior, and the profoundly social nature of human action. Understanding these barriers and systematic biases have led to a set of potential interventions, which demonstrate how practitioners can put research insights into practice in order to address a variety of sustainability challenges. One important direction for these interventions involves changing the decision context in ways that account for decision bias (e.g., using green defaults) and triggering more adaptive decisions as a result.
Michael A. Cacciatore
Biofuels are produced from biomass, which is any organic matter that can be burned or otherwise used to produce heat or energy. While not a new technology—biofuels have been around for well over 100 years—they are experiencing something of a renaissance in the United States and other countries across the globe. Today, biofuels have become the single most common alternative energy source in the U.S. transportation sector with billions of gallons of the fuel produced annually.
The expansion of the bio-based economy in recent years has been intertwined with mounting concerns about environmental pollution and the accumulation of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the earth’s atmosphere. In the United States, for example, biofuels mandates have been championed as key to solving not only the country’s increasing energy demand problems and reliance on foreign oil, but also growing fears about global climate change.
Of course, the use of biomass and biofuels to combat global climate change has been highly controversial. While proponents argue that biofuels burn cleaner than gasoline, research has suggested that any reductions in CO2 emissions are offset by land use considerations and the energy required in the biofuels-production process. How publics perceive of climate change as a problem and the use of biomass and biofuels as potential solutions will go a long way toward determining the policies that government’s implement to address this issue.
Tarla Rai Peterson and Cristi C. Horton
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Climate Science. Please check back later for the full article.
Transitioning to renewable energy systems requires changing the ways people interact with energy as well as technological change. This shift involves social changes that include modifications in norms, policies, and governance. Multiple sociopolitical factors shape the likelihood that solar energy will emerge as a significant component in energy systems around the world. Climate change communication has emerged as a strategic effort to encourage innovation that enables at least transitions, and perhaps transformation of current energy systems to include substantial deployment of solar installations and other renewable energy resources. Understanding how communication may contribute to integration of more solar power into energy systems, can be enhanced by examining current public awareness of and engagement with solar energy, as well as other low carbon energy resources. Climate change communication can contribute to research, development, and deployment of solar energy installations, especially to the degree that communicators enable strategic alignment of climate change mitigation and solar energy with existing interests and preferences, ranging from interests of elites who perceive mitigation policies as potential threats to their political influence and financial profit makers who fear that mitigation policies threaten their basic wellbeing. Climate change communicators have the unenviable task of helping both of these groups imagine and participate in transitioning energy systems to greater reliance on renewable energy resources. How this can be accomplished is illustrated by examples of differential development of solar energy. These cases illustrate that neither the endowment of natural resources nor the material energy needs of a location fully explain decisions about energy development. Indeed, sociopolitical dimensions such as culture, economics, and governance play important roles that may be catalyzed by strategic communication to generate options that simultaneously address diverse needs and desires.
Carbon capture and storage (CCS) has emerged as a potential strategy for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. It involves the capture of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from large point source emitters, such as coal-fired power plants. The CO2 is transported to a storage location, where it is isolated from the atmosphere in stable underground reservoirs. CCS technology has been particularly intriguing to countries that utilize fossil fuels for energy production and are seeking ways to reduce their GHG emissions. While there has been an increase in technological development and research in CCS, some members of the public, industry, and policymakers regard the technology as controversial. Some proponents see CCS as a climate change mitigation technology that will be essential to reducing CO2 emissions. Others view CCS as an environmentally risky, complex, and expensive technology that is resource-intensive, promotes the continued extraction of fossil fuels, and competes with renewable energy investments.
Effective communication about CCS begins with understanding the perceptions of the general public and individuals living in the communities where CCS projects are sited or proposed. Most people may never live near a CCS site, but may be concerned about risks, such as the cost of development, environmental impacts, and competition with renewable energy sources. Those who live near proposed or operational projects are likely to have a strong impact on the development and deployment of CCS. Individuals in locally affected communities may be more concerned about disruptions to sense of place, impact on jobs or economy, or effect on local health and environment. Effective communication about the risks and benefits of CCS has been recognized as a critical factor in the deployment of this technology.
In comparison to fossil fuels that emit greenhouse gases, nuclear power plants are a cleaner energy source that could help to mitigate the problems of climate change. Despite this, the general public often associates nuclear energy with risks that include nuclear accidents, nuclear waste contamination, nuclear weapons proliferation, and many others. People’s experience with the 1979 Three Mile Island incident in Pennsylvania and the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster in Ukraine have caused a sharp decline in public support for nuclear energy over the past few decades. In addition, media images of the 2011 Fukushima-Daichii nuclear accident are still fresh in the minds of the public. These now iconic media images and portrayals have perpetuated a perception of nuclear energy as a risky technology.
Against these backdrops, scientists, communication practitioners and other key stakeholders increasingly face an uphill struggle to communicate about nuclear energy as a possible strategy for addressing climate change. Though the general public may reluctantly accept nuclear energy for climate change mitigation, research suggests that messages emphasizing the benefits of nuclear power for energy security and economic growth appear to have greater impact on public acceptance of the technology. Furthermore, public perception of nuclear energy is shaped by a host of other factors such as trust in nuclear governing institutions, knowledge, political inclinations, geographical proximity, and socio-demographic variables. At the same time, nuclear experts and the general public differ in their perceptions of risk, in nature and strength, relative to nuclear energy. Understanding these key differences between the experts and the public, and how beliefs, values, and perceptions influence public acceptance of nuclear energy is necessary to formulate effective public communication and engagement strategies.
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Climate Science. Please check back later for the full article.
In debates surrounding policy options for mitigating emissions of greenhouse gasses (GHG), economists of various political stripes are near unanimous in their advocacy of putting a price on carbon emissions, whether through a tax or emissions trading program. Politically, however, few politicians have been brave enough to impose costs on emissions occurring within their own borders. This state of affairs, and the more recent diffusion of market-based instruments across political jurisdictions around the world raise new and important questions regarding how best to communicate the benefits of carbon taxes and cap-and-trade programs. How do advocates and opponents of carbon pricing frame their arguments around carbon pricing? How do experts, journalists, political leaders, and members of the public understand these policy instruments; and what specific approaches have been most successful in persuading policy makers and the public to support a price on carbon? In places that have yet to implement a carbon price, what can communication strategists learn from other jurisdictions that have successfully implemented a carbon price? In places where carbon taxes or emissions trading programs exist, how are the benefits of these policies best communicated to ensure the durability of carbon pricing policies over time?
The surge in unconventional oil and natural gas extraction by way of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) techniques—and the associated health, environmental, economic, and social impacts that have captured public interest—comes at a time of increased attention to the curtailment of fossil fuel use to address climate change. It is important to study public perception of unconventional energy development, as public support or opposition has important implications for research on climate change perception and communication.
Reviewing relevant research in this area reveals two overarching themes. First, many of the factors that shape public views on unconventional energy development also help influence climate change concern and awareness, including (a) psychological factors like political ideology; (b) characteristics of the information environment, including news media coverage; (c) characteristics of location, including proximity to areas of active development; and (d) moral and ethical considerations, including the geographic and temporal distribution of risks and benefits.
Second, efforts to highlight climate change as an energy development impact have increased in recent years. The extent to which natural gas (in particular) is considered a cleaner “bridge fuel” to a low-carbon future or a “dirty” fossil fuel that will hamper a transition to low-carbon energy sources will arguably serve as a valuable strategy for climate change engagement.
Andrew J. Hoffman
Within the corporate sector, climate change represents an unfolding market shift, one that is driven by policy but also by pressures from a variety of market constituents such as consumers, suppliers, buyers, insurance companies, banks, and others. The shift takes place in both mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions and adaptation to the physical effects of a changing climate. It is manifest in shifts in market demand, cost of capital, operational efficiency, energy efficiency, access to raw materials within supply chains, and other issues of business concern. In fact, when viewed in this way, business leaders and stakeholders can be agnostic about the science of climate change and still see it as a business issue. In the face of a market shift, successful companies must innovate. And as in any market shift, the implications of addressing climate change are not uniform; the burden will not fall evenly. There are both risks and opportunities; there will be both winners and losers. Certain companies, industries, and sectors will be impacted more than others. This article will discuss the ways in which climate change poses market risk and the strategic responses that companies might adopt to respond to and mitigate that risk. This focus is critically important as the solutions to climate change must come from the market. The market is the most powerful institution on earth, and business is the most powerful entity within it. The market compels business to make the goods and services we rely upon: the clothes we wear, the food we eat, the forms of mobility we use, and the buildings we live and work in. If the market does not lead the way toward solutions for a carbon-neutral world, there will be no solutions.
John Wihbey and Bud Ward
The relationship between scientific experts and news media producers around issues of climate change has been a complicated and often contentious one, as the slow-moving and complex story has frequently challenged, and clashed with, journalistic norms of newsworthiness, speed, and narrative compression. Even as climate scientists have become more concerned by their evidence-based findings involving projected risks, doubts and confusion over communications addressing those risks have increased. Scientists increasingly have been called upon to speak more clearly and forcefully to the public through news media about evidence and risks—and to do so in the face of rapidly changing news media norms that only complicate those communications. Professional science and environment journalists—whose ranks have been thinned steadily by media industry financial pressures—have meanwhile come under more scrutiny in terms of their understanding; accuracy; and, at times, perceived bias.
A number of important organizations have recognized the need to educate and empower a broad range of scientists and journalists to be more effective at communicating about the complexities of climate science and about the societal and economic impacts of a warming climate. For example, organizations such as Climate Communication have been launched to support scientists in their dealings with media, while the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change itself has continued to focus on the communication of climate science. The Earth Journalism Network, Society of Environmental Journalists, Poynter Institute, and the International Center for Journalists have worked to build media capacity globally to cover climate change stories. Efforts at Stanford University, the University of Oxford, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University, and the University of Rhode Island sponsor programming and fellowships that in part help bolster journalism in this area. Through face-to-face workshops and online efforts, The Yale Project on Climate Change Communication has sought to link the media and science communities. Meanwhile, powerful, widely read sites and blogs such as “Dot Earth,” hosted by the New York Times, Climate Central, Real Climate, The Conversation, and Climate Progress have fostered professional dialogue, greater awareness of science, and called attention to reporting and communications issues.
Journalists and scientists have had ongoing conversations as part of the regular publication and reporting processes, and professional conferences and events bring the two communities together. Issues that continue to animate these discussions include conveying the degree to which climate science can be said to be “settled” and how to address uncertainty.
Through some of these capacity-building efforts, news media have become increasingly aware of audience dynamics including how citizens respond to pessimistic reports, or “doom and gloom,” versus solutions-oriented reports. Professional dialogue has also revolved around the ethical dimensions of conveying a story at the level of global importance. Still, with issues of climate change communication on display for more than two decades now, certain tensions and dynamics persist. Notably, journalists seek clarity from scientists, while climate change experts and advocates for and against taking climate action often continue to demand that journalists resist the temptation to oversimplify or hype the latest empirical findings, while at the same time urging that journalists do not underestimate potential climate risks.
Eric Chu and Todd Schenk
Cities are important venues for climate change communication, where global rhetoric, national directives, local priorities, and media discourses interact to advance mitigation, adaptation, and resilience outcomes on the ground. Urban decision makers are often directly accountable to their electorates, responsible for the tasks most relevant to advancing concrete action on climate change, and flexible in pursuing various public engagement programs. However, many cities are designing climate policies without robust downscaled climate projections or clear capacity and support mechanisms. They are often constrained by fragmented governance arrangements, limited resources, and jurisdictional boundaries. Furthermore, policies often fall short in responding to the disparate needs of heterogeneous urban populations. Despite these constraints, cities across the global North and South are innovating with various communication tools to facilitate public awareness, political engagement, context-specific understanding, and action around climate change. These tools range from traditional popular media to innovative participatory processes that acknowledge the interests of different stakeholders, facilitate engagement across institutional boundaries, and address persistent scientific uncertainty through information coproduction and knowledge reflexivity. By selectively employing these tools, local governments and their partners are able to translate climate science into actionable mitigation, adaptation, and resilience plans; prioritize decision making while taking into account the multiscaled nature of urban infrastructures and service provisions; and design adaptable and flexible communication processes that are socially equitable and inclusive over the long term.