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Cross-Cultural Insights into Climate Change Skepticism

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  • 1 McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
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With an eye toward developing more effective climate change education, social scientists have attempted to diagnose the reasons for lingering public skepticism of anthropogenic climate change. But rarely is the question addressed with the benefit of cross-cultural research. Geographer Simon Donner has demonstrated the utility of such an approach: drawing on a vast ethnographic and historical record, it is possible to surmise to what extent anthropogenic climate change skepticism stems from panhuman cognitive habits versus culturally and historically specific circumstances, with deep consequences back at home for climate education and citizen–climatologist dialogue. While building from this method, this article departs from Donner's reading of the ethnographic record as demonstrating a cross-culturally pervasive human intuition that the weather is beyond human influence, arguing instead for the role of culturally specific commitments such as the distinction between nature and society, “just world” belief, faith in progress, and system justification. Various climate change communication strategies based upon these alternate reasons for skepticism are suggested, and ultimately it is argued that the ideologically fraught nature of these beliefs takes the matter beyond the realm of “science education” into the arena of democratic dialogue.

CORRESPONDING AUTHOR: Peter Rudiak-Gould, McGill University, Department of Anthropology, Room 718, Leacock Building, 855 Sherbrooke Street West, Montreal, QC H3A 2T7, Canada, E-mail: peter.rudiak-gould@mail.mcgill.ca; peterrg@gmail.com

With an eye toward developing more effective climate change education, social scientists have attempted to diagnose the reasons for lingering public skepticism of anthropogenic climate change. But rarely is the question addressed with the benefit of cross-cultural research. Geographer Simon Donner has demonstrated the utility of such an approach: drawing on a vast ethnographic and historical record, it is possible to surmise to what extent anthropogenic climate change skepticism stems from panhuman cognitive habits versus culturally and historically specific circumstances, with deep consequences back at home for climate education and citizen–climatologist dialogue. While building from this method, this article departs from Donner's reading of the ethnographic record as demonstrating a cross-culturally pervasive human intuition that the weather is beyond human influence, arguing instead for the role of culturally specific commitments such as the distinction between nature and society, “just world” belief, faith in progress, and system justification. Various climate change communication strategies based upon these alternate reasons for skepticism are suggested, and ultimately it is argued that the ideologically fraught nature of these beliefs takes the matter beyond the realm of “science education” into the arena of democratic dialogue.

CORRESPONDING AUTHOR: Peter Rudiak-Gould, McGill University, Department of Anthropology, Room 718, Leacock Building, 855 Sherbrooke Street West, Montreal, QC H3A 2T7, Canada, E-mail: peter.rudiak-gould@mail.mcgill.ca; peterrg@gmail.com
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