Changing how we do climate change

Andrew HoffmanThe bad news about climate change is that major proposals to deal with it are on hold, a victim of both political paralysis and partisan posturing. The better news is that this lull offers an opportunity to revive the issue by rethinking how it is framed – and by whom.

In recent years, the debate about climate change, including its causes and solutions, has become so heated that it’s become hard for anyone to speak above the din. Quite frankly, we need to get the extreme voices — those who present this debate in simplistic black and white, all-or-nothing   terms – out of the space and replace them with the large mass of people who occupy the middle and who are ready to debate the issue in its full complexity.

Who might help lead such an effort?  Moderate voices from the political right are in a unique position to help advance a more reasoned discussion.  And who might help them do so? My colleagues in the social sciences need to move off the ivory sidelines and use their skills and discipline to help people understand the deeper issues at play. I know — many of my peers believe that the proper role of social scientists is to build a body of academic research and let others deal with the public debate.  Theorizing from the ivory tower may normally be socially benign, but in this case (as in several others), the lack of a scholarly voice in the social debate is damaging to society.  Our absence cedes the space to more extreme voices that are founded on emotion and fear rather than on reason and analysis.

Let’s not waste time on the climate deniers, who flatly reject the science and have organized with the objective of challenging any steps towards accepting the existence of climate change or mitigating its effects. They will not move from their position.  But by focusing on the truly climate skeptical — who are asking serious questions and are open to discuss new information as it arises — we can skip the name calling by both sides and allow reasoned logic to help us move toward conclusions that are both appropriate and meaningful.

MIT Sloan School of Management Visiting Professor Andrew Hoffman is the Associate Director of the Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise.

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