Understanding Public Opinion on Climate Change: A Call for Research
Environmental Magazine doi:10.1080/00139157.2011.588555 (2011)
Although there is widespread agreement among scientists regarding the seriousness of anthropogenic global warming, such a consensus has not reached the general public. In fact, the proportion of Americans who accept the realities of climate change has decreased significantly over the last three years even while scientific evidence of the phenomenon has been strengthened.
Scientists often make the assumption that the public uses rational decision making, weighing the positives and negatives of an issue, to form an opinion. The rational choice model is not sufficient to understand public opinion regarding climate change, however, because it would solely attribute the lack of interest in climate change to a lack of knowledge about the phenomenon. For instance, the rational choice model does not explain why, among Republicans, higher levels of educational attainment are not correlated with increased acceptance of global warming.
Instead of the rational choice model, opinions on climate change are increasingly being formed by connecting information about the issue from trustworthy sources to preexisting beliefs and values. As the political environment has become more polarized decisions are being made less on a case by case analysis of costs and benefits. This is supported by the fact that opinions of Democrats and Independents regarding climate change have remained fairly constant while those of self-identified republicans have dropped significantly over the past three years.
This study by Marquart-Pyatt et al. demonstrates that the anemic public interest in climate change cannot solely be attributed to a lack of knowledge about the phenomenon. Instead, it is indicative of a polarized political climate where decisions are made more on political affiliation than rational choice. More research needs to be conducted in order to to understand the mechanism of public opinion.
Compared to global warming and climate change, ocean acidification is still a less familiar topic to the general public. Although there has been increasing coverage in the media, such as newspaper and magazines, about this ongoing environmental issue, many people are still not aware of its causes and consequences. Since people by nature tend to pay more attention to immediate and tangible effects of certain issue, we can safely guess that even fewer people truly understand that ocean acidification compromises the sustainability of ocean ecosystem, threatening the survival of our future generations. Given this lack of awareness, we can hardly expect any major policies or social movements coming up to tackle this problem. Therefore, I believe the first step to solving the problem of ocean acidification in long-run is to raise the public’s awareness about how it can reduce marine sustainability and lead to decline of well-being of human beings in the future.
So far, there has been an uneven distribution of information about ocean acidification among different groups of audience. Scientists who specialize in ocean chemistry may know how acidification can lead to less sustainable ocean ecosystem in every detail, whereas people living in the interior part of the country whose sore relation with the ocean is buying fish from the supermarket may not have even heard about ocean acidification at all. The problem is that scientists usually publish their papers on scientific journals such as Science magazine, whose target audience are other scientists. Only a small portion of the general public will read those journals and the contents are often too professional for layman to understand. This hinders information flow from scientists to the general public, results in less effective communication between them and reduces understanding about ocean acidification among the public.
Here, we can try to figure out the solution by reviewing how global warming and climate change have become so well-known to public. It is not difficult to realize that the popular media, politicians and education actually played a huge role in ensuring strong presence of the two issues among the public. Al Gole’s Inconvenience Truth presented global warming to the public in an impactful way. Mainstream media such as CNN and BBC regard climate change as a hot topic to draw the public’s attention. Global warming is included in most of the textbooks when talking about greenhouse effects. It is through these ways that the general public is kept in contact with the information about the two issues.
Similarly, I believe raising the public’s awareness about ocean acidification requires efforts from politicians, popular media and educational sectors. Scientists should take the responsibility to first make the policy makers fully aware of the problem of ocean acidification, so that they can possibly become strong advocates. Mainstream media should also focus more on sustainable ocean ecosystem and introduce ocean acidification as a serious environmental issue that will affect our future to the public. Besides, more knowledge about how ocean acidification may cause less sustainable ocean ecosystem can be included in textbooks to make the issue known to our young generation, building solid foundation for solving this problem in the future.
Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology doi:10.1016/j.jembe.2011.02.021 (2011)
The study by Thomas Wernberg at the University of Western Australia, and his colleagues have found that temperate Australia and its oceans have experienced faster than average rates of global warming. Observed impacts have been noted in southeastern Australia where the effects have been most pronounced. They studied temperate Australia in particular because of the high biodiversity in this area and previous records of faster than average temperature change. They were aiming to assess how this area would respond to further change in the future.
Decline of giant kelp (Macrocystis Pyrifera) and the range extension of a sea urchin species (Centrostephanus rodgersii) towards the south have occurred. This has been attributed to the strengthening of the East Australian Current and the warmer water it brings.
These impacts have been noted to be driven by temperature changes (increasing), but there is not enough data to draw conclusions on other causes (ocean acidification). These impacts may also be very sudden, as marine animals physiologically acclimating to the changes have masked some effects of the climate change. Adaptive strategies focusing more on locally based solutions may better ameliorate the negative impacts of a changing climate.
Sensitivity of ocean acidification to geoengineered climate stabilization
GEOPHYSICAL RESEARCH LETTERS, VOL. 36, L10706, doi 2009
Although climate stabilization through geoengineering is a means of slowing climate changes, it seems to be less viable for the other CO2 problem; climate engineering may increase the rate of ocean acidification.
In their study, Matthews and Caldeira from Concordia University and Carnegie Institution of Washington respectively, showed that the global carbon cycle can be affected by the strong relationship between global temperatures and the rate of CO2 uptake by carbon sinks. They represent this pair with an intermediate-complexity global model.
The notion that geoengineering will not mitigate ocean acidification was previously assumed, but this study confirmed the assumption. Second-order interactions between climate engineering, the global carbon budget, and ocean chemistry may slightly increase or decrease the rate of ocean acidification, depending on changes in terrestrial carbon sinks in the future. The study highlights the fact that changes in ocean chemistry are not only the direct result of pH influences, other factors play large roles in ocean acidification.