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NPR Story- Belief In Climate Change Hinges On Worldview  

This post was editted by Phuoc Huynh on Dec, 2016
NPR article describes experiments that demonstrate that people's acceptance of climate change depends on the nature of the solution proposed for handling it.

This discussion started on the CLN listserv with this link from Mark McCaffrey on February 23, 2010 3:57 PM PST

From Rebecca Lindsey on February 24, 2010 8:13 AM PST

This NPR article describes research, perhaps not new, but extremely relevant---experiments that demonstrate that people's acceptance of the scientific facts of climate change (which we might hope would be evaluated objectively) depends on the nature of the solution proposed for handling it.

But while the communication scientist in me appreciates the insight this research provides, the science communicator in me groans. The strategies for effective communication suggested to me by this line of research aren't possible for our team (NASA's Earth Observatory, of which I am the editor). The "worldview" effect suggests (1) that we should always pair our discussion of "facts" with "solutions," and (2) that we should vary the type of solution presented to the audience so as to appeal to different world views.

But NASA isn't involved in the "solutions" aspect of the science, and writing about that is outside our purview. As far as the "messenger effect," I can't quite wrap my head around where a government agency would fit into the "messengers who are like/unlike" the audience, but I suspect the agency would be perceived more as the latter.

Research such as this really makes me question the contribution a Website like the EO is making toward the broader goal of helping people learn about Earth system and climate science. The article concludes:

"The goal has to be to create an environment that allows them to be open-minded." And Kahan says you can't do that just by publishing more scientific data.

If that is true, can sites like the Earth Observatory, covering only the science of climate change, really hope to contribute to climate literacy among "individualists" or other audiences whose world views predispose them to disbelief? Do we just accept that such audiences are lost to us?

I appreciate the discussions and information shared through CLN, even when it forces me to confront tough questions. Thanks to all who post and share with this group.

Rebecca Lindsey, Sigma Space
Editor, NASA's Earth Observatory

From David McConville February 24, 2010 8:26:45 AM PST


I believe the complication arises when we attempt to oversimplify the role of any of our efforts. Climate change is a complex topic, and human responses to it are even more so. We are all discovering that his requires an incredibly nuanced understanding and appreciation of different terrains of knowledge in order to appreciate the various perspectives from which it must be addressed.

Earth Observatory is performing a critical service that addresses the "Collective Systems" quadrant in the diagram. We must recognize that the empirical science and communication is essential, as are solutions-oriented and social science approaches that are attempting to both solve the problems and help different audiences understand them via careful tactics.

I'm confused by your statement that "NASA isn't involved in the "solutions" aspect of the science" - it seems that Ames has been increasingly involved with this in the Greenspace Initiative: - could you not connect this with the science of global change in the public communications?


From Rebecca Lindsey on February 24, 2010 8:56 AM PST

Thanks for the diagram describing ways to view the EO's efforts into the broader context. As for the Greenspace initiative at NASA Ames, I am chagrined to admit I was unaware of their level of commitment to developing clean technologies in CA. That certainly seems like a promising avenue for framing messages for those whose world views place a high value on technological innovations.

Best regards,

From Mark McCaffrey on February 24, 2010 8:58:52 AM PST


In theory, of course, science is neutral-- reporting observations, testing theory-- but of course, in society it's more complicated than that. It was interesting in the article that the individualists seemed to like the positives of nanotechnology and nuclear (new business opportunities! nuclear is carbon free!) while the communalists focused more on the potential harm to the commons. That's no doubt why many politicians frame the climate issue almost exclusively in "the new energy economy" frame: new opportunities. (Like the cartoon says: "What if it's all a big hoax and we create a better world for nothing?"

In terms of NASA not being able to help weave in solutions-- perhaps we can help. For example, we're funded through NASA's Global Climate Change Education program to develop modules around climate literacy, of course highlighting NASA science and data. But we're also finding in education a "best practice" that is emerging is integrating solutions with the science, which teachers are doing on an ad hoc basis already to avoid overwhelming students with doom and gloom.

So, for instance, in talking about how the sun drives the Earth system, it's a great place to break out the solar oven and bake cookies and have discussions about radiative forcing, solar design, seasonal and regional issues with solar energy, etc.

Or in focusing on how "Life on Earth Depends On, Is Shaped By, and Affects Climate," we can not only talk about the carbon cycle (and global observing systems from NASA, NOAA et al that measure carbon flux) but we can also emphasize how all our food, directly or indirectly, and all the fossil fuels we consume come from "out of thin air" via photosynthesis... and then we can talk about "solutions" like bio-char which not only sequester carbon but improve soil quality and ground water quality.

I'm not convinced NASA can't talk about solutions. Obviously no agency (or project funded by an agency) can be politicking/advocating for a particular policy or lobbying for a particular bill. But we can be advocates for good, solid scientific understanding, whole systems, holistic, transdisciplinary critical thinking, which some world views will simply never resonate with.


From Lin Chambers on February 24, 2010 9:15:37 AM PST

I heard this story yesterday, and thought it really left the listener hanging. If “The goal has to be to create an environment that allows them to be open-minded." And Kahan says you can't do that just by publishing more scientific data. “ OK – how do you create an environment that allows people to be open-minded?!?! That seems like a key question for education in general. Does anyone know how?

Dr. Lin Chambers - Project Scientist
NASA Global Climate Change Education Project (GCCE)

From Mark McCaffrey on February 24, 2010 9:40:36 AM PST


It seems to me, we're doing something right with young people who are on the whole much more open-minded in terms of acceptance of life styles and environmental awareness. It may in part be due to teachers, but television (MTV, etc.) and YouTube, etc. likely have a strong influence on them, too.

The Ocean Project's survey which included teenagers (something most polls don't do) found teens super aware of global warming/climate issues and believing in personal responsibility toward protecting the environment-- much higher than any other age groups. And requiring students to have some degree of scientific competency in order to pass/graduate may be a motivator for some.

The survey found teens are increasingly the opinion leaders around environmental issues in the household. (73% of adults said their children were more environmentally aware than they were.) Whether the teens will loose their idealism and awareness remains to be seen.

But, unlike other nations in the developing world where students are keen to become scientists or work with technology, few students in the US or Europe pursue studies or careers in STEM-related arenas.


From Scott Brophy on February 24, 2010 9:44:25 AM PST

As a newer member of this group who is coming from a slightly different field than many of you, I wanted to mention that Lin’s question is exactly what has been rattling around my head since yesterday. Wish there were a very short answer to what thinkers such as Plato and John Dewey thought was the single most important question in political philosophy and education. A group I have worked with since the mid 1990’s, Critical Thinking International, has been empirically engaged with that question in roughly 30 countries since the break-up of the Soviet Union, assisting in educational reform in emerging democracies. We used to joke that if it worked in Central Asia and Eastern Europe, we might give it a try in declining democracies. That is what I am working on now, with energy education in particular.

100,000 teachers and 2,000,000 students later, the short answer is that it is as much about HOW we teach as it is about WHAT we teach. And reaching them while they are still quite young.

I am afraid I would bore you all to tears and bring us too far afield of this lists main purpose by even beginning to describe the way the question is framed and what the possible answers might be to this perennial conundrum, at least until I can think of something short and pithy. I could try if anyone is interested, but the difficulty is staying productively focused on climate literacy while doing so. Would love to hear if anyone else finds Lin’s question compelling, or has any thoughts about it.

Sorry if this an odd way to introduce myself to those of you I have not met, but Lin hit a raw nerve.

From Doug Cohen on February 24, 2010 10:29:48 AM PST

Lin, Scott, All, and especially other new or somewhat Newcomers:

You are Welcome, You Are Invited ! to mix it up...Don't be shy to bring it on, it is an All Hands on Deck moment for the field. And as Tamara spoke to yesterday, we will soon have an additional e-Forum to continue the extensive exchanges and post materials. Just FYI, these last 2 weeks are equal to the hottest periods of action in the CL Network life-cycle.

Two observations and i hope to soon be back with a longer (not yet completed) post drafted during last weeks debate:

Having just returned from AAAS Climate Lit in Informal Science education meeting, the dominant themes were about communications and positioning messages across audiences and linking science and solutions. One outcome was the agreement in one of the breakout groups of the power and benefit of of visual analogies to teach, present and provoke both understanding and stir up emotional connectedness to the urgency of activating the collective, social masses and equipping Americans to be climate literate citizens.

To Lin's Question,and supporting Scott's observing accompnaying his arrival, about the 'How' dimension of education... the beginning of my response comes from my work as a specialist in the emerging practices of social architecture, where both an understanding of learning Design and then a suite of skills known as Facilitative Leadership goes a long way to create conditions of a highly interactive learning lab, a collaboratory. [See the Art of Hosting for an introduction to just some of these tools and ideas: ,

A key competency in this territory, back to Lin's observation is strengthened by the values set of the teachers, leaders designers when they make moves to support the emergence of cognitive diversity in the group or classroom. And works best when the skills are transferred to the participants to increase the Process Tolerance for managing complexity in the community.

Standing by...

From David McConville on February 24, 2010 11:15:12 AM PST


Picking up on Scott's statement that "it is as much about HOW we teach as it is about WHAT we teach" as well as Doug's emphasis on facilitation of design processes:

I have spent much of the past few years exploring ways of using immersive, interactive scientific visualization tools to provide a "big picture" overview of global change issues (the topic of the International Workshop on Visualization of Climate Change last year) as well as strategies for engaging communities in design thinking about solutions. Here's a quick summary of some of the lessons I've learned from my experiences (though none of them should be taken in isolation). I've mentioned a few of these previously, so please forgive any redundancy:

1) Engage multiple intelligences: Andy Revkin has said numerous times that he feels words aren't working well enough. People need to experience these issues to really grasp the scope of the problem. For instance, they can be helped to comprehend how these phenomena occur beyond the range of our unaided senses through the use of false color and time-lapse imagery as demonstrations. Visual communication modes and scenario development can lead to enhanced affective engagement, but this requires taking production values (and budgets) for multimedia experiences much more seriously.

2) Context is everything: Climate change issues need to be presented with the "big picture" of global changes, starting with the cosmic/global view and working to the specifics. This works for school children as well as politicians, and I've seen many folks have serious epiphanies about complex issues that have otherwise eluded them by seeing their broader context.

3) Make relationships/conditions explicit: Instead of approaching these issues as collections of quantitative information, help participants to appreciate the extraordinary celestial and terrestrial ecological relationships and conditions that support life. We have long taken many of these for granted with materialist culture as "externalities" - we need to make them visible and stop pretending that an "infinite growth" economy is sustainable.

4) Focus on solutions: People need inspiring examples of what can be done. Whether this is the success of Montreal protocol (a political solution) or examples of how communities are addressing these challenges, people need to comprehend that it is possible to address these problems with the right tools. Not all solutions are created equal, so it's essential that participants can discern approaches that are commensurate with the scale of the problems. This requires more focus on leverage points and "trimtabs" within complex systems to maximize the impact of efforts.

5) Develop facilitation and design thinking skills: We need to help engaged audiences understand design thinking and facilitation. There are a few groups focused on this (for instance, see ), but this needs to be much more thoroughly developed for educators. Understanding design thinking and how to understand and apply ecological principles will be a major component of "citizen science" in the 21st century.

6) Recognize multiple perspectives: Different approaches are necessary and will resonate with different audiences. Worldviews strongly shape perceptions - which are in turn influenced by cosmologies. We're not all living in the same reality, so establishing a baseline of conversation is critical.

After Copenhagen it is finally apparent that climate change will not be addressed purely on a political level. We need to equip communities with tools and understanding for working through their processes to design the world they want to live in. The science education community could be well-positioned to take on this task, and it is not dissimilar to what happened in the decade after Sputnik. But instead of getting US citizens to turn to the stars, we need to help them understand and apply the ecological principles of our home planet. But given the complexity and transdisciplinary nature of this challenge, it remains to be seen how readily this challenge will be taken up.


attachments: Transformation_Learning.png

From Lynne Cherry on February 24, 2010 12:03:32 PM PST

Hello All,
This is a very interesting conversation. Since I speak to thousands of
young people every year I realized awhile ago
that what this study says is true-- if people are too overwhelmed with
a problem they tend to shut down. If kids see that
solutions are possible, they are more likely to take action than if
they feel that their actions make no difference.

Many parents-- and this includes climate deniers-- will be totally
closed to believing the scientific facts or doing anything
about climate change -- if it means that they have to make a perceived
sacrifice or life-style change.

We can create a climate that allows them to be open-minded by focusing
on how science will help them with solutions and, perhaps
most of all because, in this country, making money is our patriotic
duty, we can focus on how reducing carbon, understanding the science,
and making simple life style changes saves money.

That is the focus of the Young Voices on Climate Change movie that I
've just finished today and that will be shown at the ACTC conference
in Florida on Friday... It features a group of middle school and high
school girls who save their school $39,000 the first year and $14, 000
the second year through simple energy saving actions. First, though,
the girls are steeped in scientific education, data, information-- and
what's important is that they use this data and information to convince
their school principal and then, the school board and then, the Miami
International Airport to reduce their carbon footprint.

The students take this message "learn science/reduce co2/ save money"
home to their parents. One of the parents is a businessman who,
inspired by his teenaged daughter, significantly reduces the carbon
footprint of an office building he owns in downtown Miami.

So, I think the answer is in packaging the science with how the
science leads to solutions to reduce co2 and how reducing co2 saves
money. I agree with you'all that is is a darn shame that concern about
the environment and future generations is not a big enough motivator
compared to the all-mighty dollar. But it is what it is and we have to
go from there.

Rebecca wrote that "the "worldview" effect suggests (1) that we should
always pair our discussion of "facts" with "solutions," and (2) that we
should vary the type of solution presented to the audience so as to
appeal to different world views". But rather than concluding that this
means that some audiences are lost to us, I think it is the reverse--
that it gives us information to help us reach those audiences.

for the Earth!

Lynne Cherry
Director/producer Young Voices on Climate Change

From Elaine Andrews on February 24, 2010 12:25:54 PM PST

Great discussion. These are "deep" questions. But there is a lot of study, research, and information to address these questions, at least in part. Many good sources have been cited in this email chain. I offered to put together essential points from the field of environmental education, and after that presentation (April??) will also suggest a few citations which some may find helpful (I'll identify citations that seem to relate best to people's interests, depending on which way the conversation goes). And I'd suggest that others in the group do the same for their area of expertise -- such as the wonderful papers updating visualization research and integrative approaches. These topics relate well to each other, but are often details of a specific aspect of a larger model. A productive outcome of this group would be to draw the map -- as complicated as it will be -- to help identify approaches relevant to each of us in our work roles, with enough detail within the approach, for professional development benefits.

Elaine Andrews, Director
UW Environmental Resources Center

From David McConville on March 9, 2010 7:07:59 PM PST


Speaking of worldviews, this was one of the major themes of the presentations I was giving during COP15:

In my experience, increasing reflexivity concerning the ways worldviews are structured is a necessary strategy for facilitating dialogues concerning how we perceive and understand planetary boundaries.


david mcconville
director, noospheric research division


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On the CLN phone call today I brought up two separate topics. One is that I am working on a TV documentary about Alec Loorz, the young man in my Young Voices on Climate Change movie short Kids vs Global warming. The movie will begin with Alec seeing An Inconvenient Truth and not knowing whether to believe Al Gore or not, he begins a quest to ascertain for himself whether climate change is real. He convinces his mother to take him to Scripps Institution of Oceanography where he meets climate scientists Dick Norris, Lisa S. and others who explain to him their different studies that give him a window through which he can see the Earth's climate history. Once he understands the dire consequences of global climate change, Alec embarks on another quest: to warn his community about how sea level rise would affect them.
I am struggling with how to make this a dynamic movie and, on today's phone call, I asked for suggestions for how to introduce tension into the movie-- just ideas. Since it has to be a documentary I'm somewhat limited by the footage I've already shot but I can shoot some additional footage.


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