Climate Change, Mental Health, and Policy

VOL 322 24 OCTOBER 2008

Risk Communication on Climate:
Mental Models and Mass Balance

Public confusion about the urgency of reductions in greenhouse
gas emissions results from a basic misconception.
John D. Sterman


“Nearly two-thirds of the participants asserted that atmospheric GHGs  can stabilize
even though emissions continuously exceed removal–analogous to arguing a bathtub
continuously filled faster than it drains will never overflow. Most believe that
stopping the growth of emissions stops the growth of GHG concentrations. The
erroneous belief that stabilizing emissions would quickly stabilize the climate
supports wait-and-see policies but violates basic laws of physics.”

” …climate scientists should partner with psychologists,
sociologists, and other social scientists to communicate the science  in ways that
foster hope and action rather than denial and despair.  Doing so does not require
scientists to abandon rigor or objectivity.  People of good faith can debate the
costs and benefits of policies to  mitigate the risks of climate change, but policy
should not be based  on mental models that violate fundamental physical principles.”


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