We Perceive Environmental Risk in Ways that are Convenient for our Values

A  groundbreaking report offers an insightful take on how people interpret the science around climate change. As part of the Cultural Cognition Project at Yale Law School, Dan Kahan released a report  called “Cultural Cognition of Scientific Consensus.” In short, the report finds that people tend to perceive risk in ways that are pleasant to their values.

This makes a lot of sense. It means that individuals who are more individualistic will not be as easily convinced of environmental risks because increased environmental risks make it reasonable to curtail commercial activity. On the other side, “communitarians”, who resent commercial activity as an overly selfish endeavor, naturally feel that commercial activity should be regulated and therefore are more likely to perceive greater environmental risk associated with climate change.

So there we have it. A prime reason why climate change is so polarizing. The science itself may lean heavily one way; however, most individuals don’t interpret science by directly reading scientific articles or conducting primary research. We get our data from our friends. We read opinion pieces. We read other people’s interpretations of the science because the science itself is complex and lengthy. And so it is that our understanding of climate change is filtered through many lenses. That’s not going to change and that’s OK. It is impossible to expect everyone to be a scientific researcher.

Community Energy is starkly aware of environmental risks AND we see the value in commercial activity. So we need to find a way to thread the needle to get both individualists and communitarians on board to un-change climate change.

For the individualists out there, we need to show that with a little commercial restriction today, we can prevent much greater commercial restriction tomorrow. This concept is covered in detail in the Economics of Climate Change.