Abstract

http://ssrn.com/abstract=306983
 
 

References (25)



 


 



Cloudy Skies: Assessing Public Understanding of Global Warming


John Sterman


Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Sloan School of Management

Linda Booth Sweeney


Harvard University - Graduate School of Education

May 2002

MIT Sloan Working Paper No. 4361-02

Abstract:     
Surveys show most Americans believe global warming is real. But many advocate delaying action until there is more evidence that warming is harmful. The stock and flow structure of the climate, however, means "wait and see" policies guarantee further warming. Atmospheric CO 2 concentration is now higher than any time in the last 420,000 years, and growing faster than any time in the past 20,000 years. The high concentration of CO 2 and other greenhouse gases (GHGs) generates significant radiative forcing that contributes to warming. To reduce radiative forcing and the human contribution to warming, GHG concentrations must fall. To reduce GHG concentrations, emissions must fall below the rate at which GHGs are removed from the atmosphere. Anthropogenic CO 2 emissions are now roughly double the removal rate, and the removal rate is projected to fall as natural carbon sinks saturate. Emissions must therefore fall by more than half even to stabilize CO 2 at present record levels. Such reductions greatly exceed the Kyoto targets, while the Bush administration's Clear Skies Initiative calls for continued emissions growth. Does the public understand these physical facts? We report experiments assessing people's intuitive understanding of climate change. We presented highly educated graduate students with descriptions of greenhouse warming drawn from the IPCC?s nontechnical reports. Subjects were then asked to identify the likely response to various scenarios for CO 2 emissions or concentrations. The tasks require no mathematics, only an understanding of stocks and flows and basic facts about climate change. Overall performance was poor. Subjects often select trajectories that violate conservation of matter. Many believe temperature responds immediately to changes in CO 2 emissions or concentrations. Still more believe that stabilizing emissions near current rates would stabilize the climate, when in fact emissions would continue to exceed removal, increasing GHG concentrations and radiative forcing. Such beliefs support wait and see policies, but violate basic laws of physics. We discuss implications for education and public policy.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 40

working papers series


Download This Paper

Date posted: April 26, 2002  

Suggested Citation

Sterman, John and Booth Sweeney, Linda, Cloudy Skies: Assessing Public Understanding of Global Warming (May 2002). MIT Sloan Working Paper No. 4361-02. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=306983 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.306983

Contact Information

John Sterman (Contact Author)
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Sloan School of Management ( email )
E62-436
Cambridge, MA 02139
United States
617-253-1951 (Phone)
HOME PAGE: http://jsterman.scripts.mit.edu/
Linda Booth Sweeney
Harvard University - Graduate School of Education ( email )
6 Appian Way
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
Feedback to SSRN


Paper statistics
Abstract Views: 4,725
Downloads: 435
Download Rank: 34,867
References:  25

© 2014 Social Science Electronic Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.  FAQ   Terms of Use   Privacy Policy   Copyright   Contact Us
This page was processed by apollo7 in 0.578 seconds