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The latest issue of the journal New Theology Review considers the contribution of Christian religious ethics to climate change action. The article by James Mastelar on Christian worldviews is of particular interest as it’s framed by the well-known work of Dan Kahan (Cultural Cognition Project at Yale University) on the importance of worldviews. Here’s the abstract:
“ In light of new data presented in the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which emphasizes the increasingly important and urgent need for a global response to the ecological and climate crisis, what role can Christian ethics, religious leaders, and people of faith play in responding to the climate challenge? While understanding scientific data on climate change is incredibly important for interpreting the “signs of the times,” most people approach everyday life in terms of the deeply held values and beliefs—the stories that orient and guide human decision-making. This article notes both the value and limits of scientific literacy, while highlighting the importance of narratives, worldviews, and religion in motivating communities to take action on climate change.”
At the Vatican — "Sustainable Humanity, Sustainable Nature: Our Responsibility"Climate Change Impacts in the United States, the Ogalala Lakota Plan
As spring struggles to come to the Hudson Valley, we are busy preparing for the upcoming Climate, Cities and Behavior symposium, offered in partnership with the Kresge Foundation. It is by invitation only and will convene local government representatives and service providers from around the country to address how they can be most effective at helping municipalities take action on climate change.
In October, we will have our sixth annual Climate, Buildings and Behavior symposium. Its theme will be “The Well-Behaved Building: Developing Community, Well-Being and Resilience in Buildings.”
We are not holding a Climate, Mind and Behavior symposium this year but we anticipate holding one next year. In the meantime, we are exploring new programs and new ways to convene conversations and extend our reach online. As these plans develop, we’ll share them with you.
As you’ll see below, we have two very serious pieces for you and then a fun one. The first is a review of how values impact communication concerning climate change.
The second describes Mindy Fullilove’s book on urban climate inequalities, which can be acute since low-income neighborhoods are often located in the parts of a city that are most exposed to extreme climate events and have the least resources to deal with them.
But save some time for the third piece, a delightful video about teaching scientists to communicate better. M*A*S*H fans will get to see Alan Alda working with scientists to make their talks more effective -- something all of us who are trying to reach out on climate change need to do.
It’s my belief that the message of profound interconnectivity at the heart of the world’s wisdom traditions is seeping back into the collective consciousness, and it’s my hope that this is happening fast enough to make the difference we need. As always, we feel deep gratitude for all you do every day on behalf of the planet and the multitude of peoples and beings on it. But as hard as you work for the benefit of all, remember to care for yourself as well!
John K. McIlwain
Director, Climate, Mind, and Behavior
This month we offer links to three resources, as is our practice. The first two are quite practical: tips from ClimateAccess on communicating about energy and decoding the new IPCC report, and a great TEDx talk by sociologist Jeni Cross on common sense suggestions for using social norms to affect behavior. By the way, as you listen to Cross, note her point about how “you don’t have to change attitudes to change behaviors.” In fact, as we’ve discussed at CMB symposia, research shows that if you change behaviors, say by using social norms, attitudes and beliefs often follow.
The third resource is a paper by James Mastelar in the New Theology Review on Christian worldviews and ethics regarding climate change action. As we’ve also discussed at CMB symposia, religious views can be powerful drivers of action for people of all faiths. From the Buddhist perspective, for instance, each of us is deeply interconnected with all beings, with the result that harm to others -- humans, animals, plants, -- harms us as much or more. In other words, caring for our planet is caring for ourselves and our families.
Here is a question for you: do you agree with the comments in the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) that governments have another 15 years to engage in serious climate mitigation actions? AR5 suggests this is “good news.” Is there another 15 years for action and is that “good news,” or is it an excuse to defer and deflect? Let us know your thoughts.
Amid all there is to trouble us, please enjoy the onset of spring (at least for those of us in the upper parts of the Northern Hemisphere). There is great joy in the return of leaves to the trees, the flowering of the daffodils, the chance to turn the soil in the garden and the return of our migrating birds -- precious gifts of our lovely, small planet.
Thanks, as always for being part of our CMB family and for all the great work you are doing.
John K. McIlwain
Director, Climate, Mind, and Behavior
A new open-access article in the journal WIREs Climate Change offers the first comprehensive overview of research on human values in the context of climate change engagement. The authors review both peer-reviewed research and civil society publications to highlight some key issues and suggest communication strategies. They find that coupling “values around security or freedom with self-transcending values like concern for the welfare of others is one possible way of resolving the tension between the social marketing and ‘common cause’ approaches to campaigning and making best use of the available academic evidence.” And, in the context of crafting an engagement strategy, “if attempts to engage the public more effectively on climate change are to utilize insights from research on human values, these insights would be best applied in more participatory, group level, situations. In fact, there is evidence that deliberative processes themselves promote more altruistic evaluations of environmental issues like climate change.”
ClimateAccess is a rich resource for practitioners working on communicating climate and environmental messages to support related behavior change programs. The project and its website offer many ways for practitioners to connect and learn from each other and from relevant research. They’ve just released a new one-pager in the popular Tips & Tools section outlining best practices for clean energy communication, for example, “use present language” and “tap into a sense of pride.” In the great Resources trove, there is a timely and useful guide to reading and talking about the IPCC report. The guide is a primer on the IPCC and its reports in general, with topics like “What an IPCC report is” (assessment of current knowledge, produced by hundreds of scientists voluntarily) and “What an IPCC report is not” (original research, policy proclamations). There are also short, clear explanations describing what "uncertainty" and "confidence" mean in the report.
“Resilience” irks Mindy Fullilove, professor of social psychology at Columbia University. She’s concerned that the trendy buzzword shrouds continued complicity in the marginalization and de facto segregation of communities of color in our cities. Saying a community is “resilient” can be coded, meaning they can handle it, so it’s OK. "It's OK for them to work two-three jobs, with terrible transportation, no safety net, no health care," she writes. But clearly, it’s not OK. In her recent book Urban Alchemy, and in blog posts around her Main Street NJ project, Fullilove digs deep to expose the reality of main streets across her home state of New Jersey, and lays out nine steps to addressing inequality in what she calls “the sorted-out city.” It’s a rigorous approach to building hope and change in communities torn by retrenched segregation and violence.
In her powerful (and hugely popular) TEDx talk, sociologist Jeni Cross reminds us how important social norms and expectations are for supporting environmental (or other) behavior change. In the fast-paced, engaging presentation she highlights some of the most basic, common sense mistakes practitioners make when engaging the public. For instance, a poster depicting how much litter is generated at a bus stop actually encourages people to litter since that is what everyone else seems to be doing. She gives some great pointers on effective communication and engagement strategies derived from research. Importantly, she reminds us that “you don’t have to change attitudes to change behavior,” underlining how vital social science insights are to behavior change efforts on the ground.
We’ve all sat through deadly boring, impenetrable, confusing talks given by smart, engaged researchers that left us wondering how the delivery went so wrong. The Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University is doing a great public service by helping scientists and other researchers communicate with clarity. It gives workshops for researchers all over the country, using improvisational theater games to help them connect with audiences outside their disciplines. “The goal of teaching scientists improv is not to turn them into actors,” the Center’s webpage says, “but to free them to talk about their work more spontaneously and directly, to pay dynamic attention to their listeners and to connect personally with their audience.” Testimonials and some great before- and after- video clips attest to the success of the workshops, which Alan Alda leads.