How Culture Shapes the Climate Change Debate

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February 13th Evening Event (Organized by Beedie NetImpact Chapter)

Scientists have documented the processes and impacts by which human activity is changing the climate. And yet surveys show that the Americans are still divided on this issue.  In the past U.S. election, climate change was a wedge issue on a par with abortion. Why is this so? Why do such large numbers of Americans reject the consensus of the scientific community? To answer this question, we must examine how people’s opinions on this and other complex scientific issues are based on their prior ideological preferences, personal experience, and values—all of which are heavily influenced by their referent groups and their individual psychology. Physical scientists may set the parameters for understanding the technical aspects of the climate debate, but they do not have the final word on whether society accepts or even understands their conclusions. We must acknowledge that the debate over climate change, like almost all environmental issues, is a debate over culture, worldviews, and ideology. In this way, it has become enmeshed in the so-called culture wars, much like other “cultural” issues that divide the electorate (abortion, gun control, health care, and evolution).

Andrew (Andy) Hoffman is the Holcim (US) Professor of Sustainable Enterprise at the University of Michigan; where he studies the processes by which environmental issues both emerge and evolve as social, political and managerial issues and the corporate responses that have emerged as a result of those pressures, particularly around the issue of climate change.  He has published over 100 articles/book chapters, as well as 14 books, which have been translated into five languages. He also writes about the role of academic scholars in public and political discourse.  His work has been covered in numerous media outlets, including the New York Times, Scientific American, Time, the Wall Street Journal, National Geographic, Atlantic and National Public Radio.