Sunday, July 29, 2012

The super wicked problem...  

I have long since forsaken the naive hope of convincing farmers about the threat of global warming. In a world of "alternative information systems" such as .net websites with black backgrounds, too many fonts and lots of exclamation points, we all can have our own facts.

Climate change is an issue that is now beyond coherent discussion, especially in the public relam, but certainly even among friends. We've learned to just not go there.

How shall we ever address this?  Some suggestions are popping up.
One lesson to be learned here is that environmental issues can no longer speak for themselves.  Unlike the images of urban haze from the 1960s, stories of anxious polar bears or dried up waterbeds fail to generate public mobilization on climate change issues.  In fact, a study by Sol Hart and Erik Nisbet suggests that increasing public knowledge about climate change does not lead to greater support of climate policies.  Merely transmitting information about environmental repercussions—no matter the degree of impact on the human or natural environment—is not enough to persuade the population of the public who is already disengaged or dismissive about climate change. 
Instead, Hart and Nisbet’s study points to the important role of social cues in interpreting climate news.  Participants in the study were more receptive to and persuaded by a story about climate change effects when the community involved was socially similar to their own (in this case, farmers in up-state New York verses farmers in France).  The public, on both sides of the political fence, are more likely to rally behind an environmental cause when they can personally relate to the people or places in question, suggesting that localizing climate change in terms of impacts and policy action is an important path forward. 
There is significant opportunity for the climate change movement to adopt new media strategies in order to reach larger populations of the public.  Integrating social cues and increasing the relevancy of climate stories is one encouraging method.  Others include introducing climate change issues under existing frameworks, such as public health or the moral responsibility to protect innocents, as was the case in campaigns against smoking and Big Tobacco.  These strategies can help untangle the super-wicked problems of climate change so that the movement can generate alliances with people across political ideology and social identity. [More]
It could be that we'll be unlucky and see increased incidence of climatic extremes like this drought, and availability bias will swing public opinion toward acceptance of scientific opinion, even as that opinion continues to be buttressed by converted skeptics.

My own preferred response is to create the case that whatever decision we in ag make we are literally betting the farm. Aaron and I are betting this year is not the outlier we believe. Events like this will plague his growing career more so than my history. If we are wrong, we'll take the consequences, and we'll leave others free to choose their own path. But if asked, we will explain our reasons.

And how making no decision is a decision.

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