The Climate Change Debate: A Greater and More Varied Voice from the Social Sciences
28 Pages Posted: 3 Oct 2011
Date Written: September 1, 2011
As the debate on climate change in North America and Europe has heated up, the full voice of the social sciences, for the most part, has not been heard. Indeed, the relatively small representation of academic scholarship in this debate has come predominately from the physical sciences in defining the problem, and from one narrow branch of social science – neo-classical economics – in generating solutions. Both disciplines focus heavily on the quantitative and “rational” treatments of the climate change issue, rather than on its more qualitative and less rational dimensions. In this paper, we will provide a brief overview of the ways in which a broader array of social sciences can inform the debate over the problem of climate change, and, more importantly help refine solutions. We then summarize these benefits by offering a modified model of problem and solution assessment in risk and science communication; one that moves beyond their present focus on the “rational weigher” or “irrational weigher” models for describing social responses to scientific information. We expand upon the “cultural evaluator” model in which individuals do not engage in expected-utility “weighing” of information; but rather use affective and related faculties of perception to discern the nature of the problem and what stance they should adopt toward a particular risk. Affective features, in turn, depend directly on cultural outlooks and commitments. This cultural evaluator model offers several adjustments to current approaches to climate change problem definition and solutions, particularly around the array of communication strategies to be used.
Keywords: climate change, social consensus, cultural evaluator model
JEL Classification: M10, M14, K32
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation