Climate change moves into the psyche
For obvious reasons, this magazine’s audience has an emotional and material connection to the moods of Mother Nature. You are among the most attentive weather watchers in the world. And, you are students of climate. In this issue, we recognize that fact by printing Blake Hurst’s take on the 2012 drought: Raining nonsense during a drought, page 8. Immediately following that essay, we have reprinted a story from our archives. First printed in 1937, it’s by the U.S. Weather Bureau’s J.B. Kincer, and talks about the drought of 1936 and long-term weather. The reprint is intended to give perspective to the climate debate. Climate debate isn’t new, and monumental weather events such as droughts, floods and hurricanes tend to stir opinions.
Since its release in August, I’ve been mulling over a paper from Andrew J. Hoffman a professor of sustainable enterprise at the University of Michigan.
Hoffman begins by saying that while there may be debate in the public, there is consensus among scientists, and therefore, man-made global climate change is a fact. He tries to unravel why, in the face of this agreed-upon fact, there could be people who don’t accept anthropomorphic climate change as settled science. Hoffman writes:
Climate change has become enmeshed in the so-called culture wars. Acceptance of the scientific consensus is now seen as an alignment with liberal views consistent with other “cultural” issues that divide the country (abortion, gun control, health care, and evolution). This partisan divide on climate change was not the case in the 1990s. It is a recent phenomenon, following in the wake of the 1997 Kyoto Treaty that threatened the material interests of powerful economic and political interests, particularly members of the fossil fuel industry.
That’s one perspective of the public opinion shift. Another way to look a diverging view of the man-made climate change theory is the unwinding of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Public opinion was swayed with the release of internal IPPC e-mails that cast some doubt on the organization.
Meanwhile, in the Aug. 15 edition of the Journal Nature, law and psychology professor Dan Kahan reminded us that individually, it makes little difference if we adhere to any position about climate change.
“For members of the public, being right or wrong about climate-change science will have no impact. Nothing they do as individual consumers or as individual voters will meaningfully affect the risks posed by climate change. Yet the impact of taking a position that conflicts with their cultural group could be disastrous.”
Perhaps. But a united group of climate change activists on these shores won’t do much to curb Indian and Chinese coal consumption—unless they put down those iPhones. That seems unlikely.
Both Hoffman and Kahan call for increased input from psychologists and social scientists as public debate on climate change progresses. It’s the only way to unconvince and reconvince those who don’t believe that climate change is caused by human activity or, if they’re agnostic about what’s causing climate change, don’t adhere to the solutions on offer.
Let’s read between the lines. The next state of climate debate will continue as a cultural debate, as Hoffman put it. That means there isn’t a right or wrong answer, only political-identity inflamed opinion.
Where does that leave an honest weather watcher who is trying to figure out the growing season? The proper attitude is wary. Climate will affect you in two ways. There is the reactionary reality: rules made as the cultural debate on climate change settles out are likely to affect how your farm operates.
So, you should engage in the community that ends up making rules about how you farm.
The second way climate will affect you is obvious: If there is a long-term change afoot for one of the biggest factors of your business, it’s a good idea to see just how the big climatic forecast is shaping up and plan accordingly for your operation.
Then, of course, you can factor in all your experience of the 10-day long-term forecasts you’ve heard and remember sometimes it’s better to glance west every now and then and see for yourself what’s going on in the sky.