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Global Climate Change


Global Climate Change Global Climate Change: Science, Technology, and Society Is the Earth warming at an overly alarming rate? To what extent do human social systems ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Global Climate Change

Global Climate Change
  • Is the Earth warming at an overly alarming rate?
  • To what extent do human social systems affect the
    rate of global warming?
  • Are rapid changes necessary to avoid catastrophic
    geological conditions?
  • By addressing these questions, which seemingly
    are unrelated to social problems, we can learn
    how sociology becomes involved in the
    intersection of science, technology, and human

  • Recall our definition of a social problem
  • the cause is social,
  • the problem seriously harms a large number of
    persons in the society,
  • the problem threatens the well-being of society,
  • the problem is wrong and must be changed.

  • What if there is considerable disagreement within
    a society about the extent to which any of these
    conditions is true?
  • If strong disagreements exist regarding any of
    these four criteria of a social problem, then
    society might suffer a more macro-level social
  • society might be too slow in bringing about
    needed changes,
  • the quality of discourse about the problem might
    in itself create social problems.

  • Therefore, sociology becomes intrinsically
    involved in addressing the intersection of
    science, technology, and society to the extent
    that it seeks to
  • reduce the amount of time involved in gaining
    adoption of mainly beneficial new technologies
    (i.e., a huge debate in itself See SOC 415),
  • improve the quality of public discourse regarding
    the definition of social problems.

This lecture addresses primarily the second
questionregarding the quality of public
discourse about a potential social problem. A
previous lecture provided a brief summary of
sociological work on gaining the adoption of new
technologies (i.e., Adoption and Diffusion).
We will discuss the quality of public discourse
about potential social problems within the
context of debates about global climate
change. Consider the following points of debate
regarding global climate change.
Global Warming
Global Warming Myths and Facts Source
Environmental Defense http//www.environmentaldef
Global Warming
MYTH The science of global warming is too
uncertain to act on. FACT There is no debate
among scientists about the basic facts of global
warming. The most respected scientific bodies
have stated unequivocally that global warming is
occurring, and people are causing it by burning
fossil fuels (like coal, oil and natural gas) and
cutting down forests.
Global Warming
MYTH Even if global warming is a problem,
addressing it will hurt American industry and
workers. FACT A well designed trading program
will harness American ingenuity to
decrease heat-trapping pollution
cost-effectively, jumpstarting a new carbon
economy. Claims that fighting global warming
will cripple the economy and cost hundreds of
thousands of jobs are unfounded. In fact,
companies that are already reducing their
heat-trapping emissions have discovered that
cutting pollution can save money.
Global Warming
MYTH Water vapor is the most important, abundant
greenhouse gas. So if were going to control a
greenhouse gas, why dont we control it instead
of carbon dioxide (CO2)? FACT Although water
vapor traps more heat than CO2, because of the
relationships among CO2, water vapor and climate,
to fight global warming nations must focus on
controlling CO2. Atmospheric levels of CO2 are
determined by how much coal, natural gas and oil
we burn and how many trees we cut down, as well
as by natural processes like plant growth.
Atmospheric levels of water vapor, on the other
hand, cannot be directly controlled by people
rather, they are determined by temperatures.
Global Warming
MYTH Global warming and extra CO2 will actually
be beneficial  they reduce cold-related deaths
and stimulate crop growth. FACT Any beneficial
effects will be far outweighed by damage and
disruption. Even a warming in just the middle
range of scientific projections would have
devastating impacts on many sectors of the
economy. Rising seas would inundate coastal
communities, contaminate water supplies with salt
and increase.
Global Warming
MYTH Global warming is just part of a natural
cycle. The Arctic has warmed up in the past.
FACT The global warming we are experiencing is
not natural. People are causing it. People are
causing global warming by burning fossil fuels
(like oil, coal and natural gas) and cutting down
forests. Scientists have shown that these
activities are pumping far more CO2 into the
atmosphere than was ever released in hundreds of
thousands of years. This buildup of CO2 is the
biggest cause of global warming.
Global Warming
MYTH We can adapt to climate change
civilization has survived droughts and
temperature shifts before. FACT Although humans
as a whole have survived the vagaries of drought,
stretches of warmth and cold and more, entire
societies have collapsed from dramatic climatic
shifts. The current warming of our climate will
bring major hardships and economic dislocations
 untold human suffering, especially for our
children and grandchildren. We are already seeing
significant costs from today's global warming
which is caused by greenhouse gas pollution.
Climate has changed in the past and human
societies have survived, but today six billion
people depend on interconnected ecosystems and
complex technological infrastructure.
Global Warming
MYTH Global warming cant be happening because
some glaciers and ice sheets are growing, not
shrinking. FACT In most parts of the world, the
retreat of glaciers has been dramatic. The best
available scientific data indicate that
Greenland's massive ice sheet is
shrinking. Between 1961 and 1997, the worlds
glaciers lost 890 cubic miles of ice. The
consensus among scientists is that rising air
temperatures are the most important factor behind
the retreat of glaciers on a global scale over
long time periods. Some glaciers in western
Norway, Iceland and New Zealand have been
expanding during the past few decades. That
expansion is a result of regional increases in
storm frequency and snowfall rather than colder
temperatures  not at all incompatible with a
global warming trend.
Global Warming
MYTH Accurate weather predictions a few days in
advance are hard to come by. Why on earth should
we have confidence in climate projections decades
from now? FACT Climate prediction is
fundamentally different from weather prediction,
just as climate is different from weather.
Todays climate models can now reproduce the
observed global average climates over the past
century and beyond. Such findings have reinforced
scientists confidence in the capacity of models
to produce reliable projections of future
Global Warming
MYTH As the ozone hole shrinks, global warming
will no longer be a problem. FACT Global
warming and the ozone hole are two different
problems. The ozone hole is a thinning of the
stratosphere's ozone layer, which is roughly 9 to
31 miles above the earth's surface. The depletion
of the ozone is due to man-made chemicals like
chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). A thinner ozone layer
lets more harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation to
reach the earth's surface. Global warming, on
the other hand, is the increase in the earth's
average temperature due to the buildup of CO2 and
other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere from
human activities.
The preceding slides presented some points of
view as myths and other points of view as
facts. Obviously, sociology cannot weigh in on
this debate. The veracity of myths and facts
about global climate change must be addressed
with the physical sciences. Sociologists can,
however, address the debate itself.
First, sociologists must address the need for
societies to change in response to changing
environmental conditions. If the perspective of
Environmental Defense is correct, then society
needs to move rapidly to institute corrective
measures. We addressed this issue in a previous
  • Second, sociologists must address the quality of
    public discourse regarding potential social
  • Abrasive and disrespectful public discourse can
    create problems in itself.
  • Poor quality discourse can affect the ability of
    society to make rational decisions.
  • We will address the topic of science
    communication and the quality of public discourse.

What happens when scientists want to convey
complex and potentially controversial information
to the public? The paradox of science is that
if scientists say nothing, then the public wants
to know more. If scientists seek to explain
their findings, then they are blamed for being
Also, because all science if flawed, and because
all technology is flawed, then when scientists
report findings they are required to report
limitations or flaws. Then, because negative
information always carries disproportionate
weight in influencing initial opinions, then
science communication unavoidably creates public
  • Given this dilemma, scientists can pursue one of
    seven approaches to communicating with the
  • Say nothing (just get the numbers right).
  • Tell them the numbers (no explanation).
  • Explain the numbers.
  • Explain negligible risk.
  • Cost-Benefit analysis.
  • Listen to concerns, but rely upon expert opinion.
  • Partner with the public.

The rationality of public decision
making. Formal rationality (means to an
end). Thick rational choice (utilitarian
goal). Thin rational choice (social
goal). Bounded rationality (lack of complete
knowledge). Substantive rationality (expression
of values in themselves).
Question To the extent that the public relies
upon substantive rationality, to what extent
should democratic governments rely upon public
opinion in forming technology-related
policies? The precautionary principle (i.e.,
risk no harm) and public policy.
Studies in anthropology and political science
conducted originally under the title Cultural
Theory and more recently within the Culture
Cognition Project have identified two key
dimensions of peoples affiliation with society
grid and group.
Grid refers to the way in which people associate
social and environmental harms to transgressions
of societal norms. We are in trouble because we
have not followed the rules. Group refers the
way in which people associate social and
environmental harms with inefficiencies in
societal norms. We are in trouble because we
have the wrong rules.
  • The extent to which a person conforms with grid
    and group help define their approach to
    addressing social problems.
  • High grid, high group hierarchy/traditionalism.
  • We have the right rules and all we need to do is
    follow them.
  • High grid, low group fatalism.
  • We have the right rules, but we cannot or will
    not follow them.

  • The extent to which a person conforms with grid
    and group help define their approach to
    addressing social problems.
  • Low grid, high group collectivism/egalitarianism.
  • We need to improve the rules and follow them.
  • Low grid, low group individualism.
  • We do not need a lot of rules and it is best to
    encourage individual freedoms.

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  • Culture theory can help policy experts identify
    sources of conflict (i.e., culture wars) and
    potential solutions to conflict.
  • Potential solutions rely upon the ability of
    policy experts to bridge conflicting
  • Examples
  • Global pollution controls.
  • Agricultural production priorities.