Yesterday, I attended a series of incredibly thoughtful and valuable presentations here at BECC. To start, Andrew Hoffman from the University of Michigan, and a public intellectual (by way of the NYTimes article in 2010 on cultural barriers to action on climate change) spoke about how to understand and address the climate change issue in the United States as a cultural issue. His sociological perspective offered concrete and research proven insights into how the general public reacts to climate change science.
Hoffman talked about the worldviews that each of us hold and how the issue of climate change either jives with or threatens that world view. Climate change and the proposed necessary solutions are framed as needing greater government oversight, distrusting the market, and overestimating risk. What Hoffman proposed is that these solutions are difficult for conservatives to accept, and therefore accepting the problem and this assumed solution creates impossible contradictions culturally, emotionally, and intellectually. His solution is that we move beyond the data and model and use broker frames or alternative viewpoints and overlapping interests to engage people. It means using appropriate language, not politicized language; and it means using the right messengers.
Our lesson in how to talk about climate issues continued with a Spotlight panel on Conservative Thinking on Energy and Climate Change. Moderated by Stanford University professor Jim Sweeney, the Spotlight included presentations by Drexel Kleber on conservative values that allow conservatives to really own the energy issue; Connie Roser-Renouf from George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communication on survey and polling data on attitudes and perceptions of conservatives; and Alex Bozmoski from the Energy and Enterprise Initiative on ways to engage today’s evolving Republican party.
The larger lessons I drew from these presentations on engaging the “elephant in the room” (pun very much intended), is that instead of indirect engagement, we must engage directly with those that have not been included in the solution-making for our climate change. Imagine: If someone proposed a solution to a problem that flew in the face of everything you held dear and worked for, and everyone else started applauding. If one had time and resources, one could come up with a counter solution. But left with only a reaction without the opportunity to dialogue, we, in the public, are more apt to interpret the response as a sweeping denial of the problem or its importance. As more of the general public comes to question the forces behind our droughts, disasters, and fluctuating temperatures, we need to let them play a role in framing the discussion.
One of the common themes throughout yesterday’s talks was about community. Community is the common value among both sides of the aisle and beyond. Yesterday’s proposals stressed the importance of community-based, community-led solutions that focused not on stopping global climate change, but focused on resilient and strong communities.
Now, I always knew that the CERTs (MN Clean Energy Resource Teams) model was special and unique, but yesterday brought it home even further. The community-based and -focused approach by CERTs is precisely what engages our communities as a whole to act in accordance with our collective values. I spoke with Drexel afterwards and described some of this work, and I told him…but it takes a long time. It’s taken years and years. His response was that it does seem like a long time, but he also said that it’s very short in the grand scheme of things.
What I enjoy about BECC is that it’s a convening where the technical, the community-based, the sociological, and the psychological approaches all get to sit together. It’s about getting in the same room, Drexel (or Alex) said, and that we needed more opportunities like this one. For many BECCers, the Conservative Thinking panel was eye-opening and really mind-altering. I began to see the deep commonalities that lie hidden beneath today’s perception of a deep divide.
And maybe that’s the bigger work and movement of BECC. It’s, in some ways, an unconventional convening. (People are usually impressed with how fun it is…) It’s really about bringing new folks and fields to the table, new perspectives and ideas. It’s about building a better future by having more people at the table.
[Note: This is my personal blog and reflects only my personal views.]