Cross-Disciplinary Climate Change Panel Prompts Discussion
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Dickinson professors across multiple disciplines provided input about knowledge and perception, using climate change as a case study in a panel discussion that took place on Monday, April 3.
The panel included Kristin Strock, assistant professor of environmental science, Toby Reiner, assistant professor of political science, Peter Leavitt, assistant professor of psychology and moderator Chauncey Maher, associate professor of philosophy. The event took place in Dana 110 and its primary aim was to discuss the facts of climate change and what is true in a time of alternate facts.
Strock first discussed some of the reasons she thinks there is such a large disconnect between science and political views. She examined how “scientist[s] come to their view of facts and opinions about climate change and how that might differ from the public perception of facts and opinions about climate change.” To exemplify the public perception of climate change, she used a quote from Scott Pruitt, the current administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. Pruitt recently said he “does not agree about human contributions to the global warming that we are seeing…the scientific community has tremendous disagreement about this issue.”
Strock then presented findings that showed two thirds of the 11,000 abstracts published on climate change have no opinion on whether or not humans are the cause of global warming. However, in the remaining thousands of studies that do have an opinion 97% agree that climate change is human made. The “tremendous disagreement” that Pruitt was referencing does not actually exist. The entire country is split on the issue. According to Strock, only 52% of Americans think that most climate scientist agree that the earth has been warming.
The next speaker of the night was Leavitt. He focused on the significance of social setting and how it influences the way humans think. As he described it, “the way that we see and view reality depends a lot on the social context that we are in.” Using the Allegory of the Cave by Plato, Leavitt showed how reality is simply not the same for everyone. His final point, before tying it all back to climate change, was that humans use cognitive frameworks to “quickly make sense of the world.”
Leavitt then showed a study that measures people’s perception of climate change. According to the results, almost 50% of people agree that global warming will cause harm in the future. However, when the question was switched to ‘do you think that global warming will harm you personally’ the numbers decreased nationally.
Next, Reiner provided insight into why certain people like Pruitt may reject the idea of climate change. He looked at two different ways countries should pay to help mitigate climate change. The first is to make those who are the richest pay for it. However, as Reiner points out, this then means that countries like Denmark, who have very high average household income would end up paying a lot to try to alleviate climate change. The second method, historical responsibility, would make countries that have caused the most acceleration towards climate change pay the most for alleviation efforts. In this case, the United States would pay the majority of the costs. According to Reiner, if Pruitt and other officials deny that climate change is human driven, then United States will not have to worry about trying to change anything.
Throughout the talk, Maher played devil’s advocate as he questioned the points of the panelists. At the end of Strock’s speech, he questioned if consensus was what is truly important when it comes to science. As Maher said, “just because a bunch of f*cking scientists said something does not make it true.” Strock responded with an agreement, stating that consensus does not matter in the scientific world, simply in the public sphere.
Strock concluded with the following statement, “I love that [this talk] brings together folks across disciplines to talk about such a pertinent issue. The solution to this issue has to cross disciplines as well so to have this conversation at Dickinson and to see students from all over the college engage on this issue is motivating.”