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Globalwarming: The Psychology of Long Term Risk

Beyond its objective basis in natural science, understanding, discussion, and resolution of the policy issue labeled “global warming” also depends on the way it is framed by various groups (Haas, 1992), and ultimately, viewed by members of the general public. Accordingly, there are several prisms, not entirely independent, through which to consider the global warming problem.

In public discussion, natural scientists tend to frame the issue through the answers to questions like “what is the probability that global mean temperature will increase by 3 ?C by 2100?” Based in part on the resulting scientific picture, economists pose additional questions like “what is the cost to the national economy of reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 10% by year 2010?” Policy makers are attentive to both these frames of reference (and others) but consider further issues like “howwill climate change and emissions mitigation affect the major constituencies of my political party?”

It would be a mistake to assume that physical scientists and economists ask the basic questions while policy makers and others simply absorb the answers before developing additional questions. Over time, each group frames the issue with an eye toward responding to the questions raised by the other groups (Funtowicz and Ravetz, 1992). But experts in particular often seem to ask and answer such questions almost independent of the views of the general public. This disconnection must be of concern to anyone seriously interested in solving the global warming problem. At least with regard to democracies, it is unlikely that a stealth solution, developed and implemented without broad public engagement, could be imposed.

Globalwarming: The Psychology of Long Term Risk