Blog Post 2—gathering deeper knowledge from scholarly sources

After undertaking extensive secondary research using more mainstream media news sources, I came to be extremely interested in the different opinions people have formed around the issue of climate change, and the question of what factors operate to shape the views of any given person regarding the extent to which climate change is driven by human influence. As such, in collecting scholarly sources, I endeavoured to  find some which discussed in more detail this aspect of the climate change debate.

The first scholarly source I found was ‘How Culture Shapes the Climate Change Debate’, a book by Andrew J. Hoffman, the Professor of Sustainable Enterprise at the University of Michigan. Hoffman, throughout the book, argues strongly for the idea that opinions on climate change are shaped for the most part by people’s cultural values, rather than their knowledge, going as far to suggest that “…cultural identity can overpower scientific reasoning” (Hoffman 2015, p. 4), and that even if you provide people with scientific facts and evidence, they will view that knowledge through a cultural lens, choosing the parts which fit with their existing views and discarding the rest. Whilst Hoffman provides an extensive list of reputable sources to back up his statements and claims, it would still appear that he is presenting quite an extreme view of the extent to which cultural values shape perception. I feel that there is a level of bias present, although it is greatly reduced in contrast to the secondary sources I read last week, because Hoffman does present both sides of the argument, he just appears to favour one side in his selection of evidence.

The second scholarly source I found was ‘Knowledge as a Driver of Public Perceptions About Climate Change Reassessed’, a journal article by Jing Shi, Vivianne H.M. Visschers, and Michael Siegrist, all from the Consumer Behavior Group, Institute for Environmental Decisions (IED) in Zurich; and Joseph Arvai, from the School of Natural Resources & Environment, and the Ross School of Business, both at the University of Michigan. These authors present a much more balanced view of the issue than Hoffman, arguing that whilst cultural values do play a role in shaping people’s opinions on climate change, people will also use scientific and general knowledge to inform their views, effectively collating relevant scientific information and viewing it alongside their cultural values to inform a more wholistic picture of the issue. The overall argument throughout this source is based on a new scientific study carried out across six countries which tested the factors which influence people’s views on climate change in a much more reliable manner than previous studies. Whilst the article is based on this study, it also makes an effort to mention and comment on a number of other studies, increasing reliability and demonstrating in a concrete manner the reasons why the current study would appear superior. Further increasing the reliability of the source is the fact that there are a number of authors, generating three different opinions which have been collated into this single source. These authors come from a wide range of disciplines, including Shi, Visschers and Siegrist, who appear to have a psychology background, suggesting that they are in fact more qualified to comment on the factors that influence an individual’s position on the climate change debate than a climate change specialist.

In summary, overall, I think that both arguments have merit, it is just that one presents a more extreme view than the other, bringing into question its reliability and accuracy. Reading these two sources has opened my eyes to a new aspect of the climate change debate, one which I will continue to look into further.

  1. Arvai, J., Shi, J., Siegrist, M., Visschers, V.H.M. 2016, ‘Knowledge as a Driver of Public Perceptions About Climate Change Reassessed’, Nature Climate Change, vol. 6, no. 8, pp. 759–762.
  2. Hoffman, H.J. 2015, How Culture Shapes the Climate Change Debate, Stanford University Press, California.

Emilie Glasson

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