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date: 24 August 2017

Communicating About Climate Change and Solar Energy

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.