Mike Gallagher, CMF Editorial Correspondent
While climate change, or its oft-controversial synonym global warming, is a phenomenon that is of vital importance to those interested in the protection and preservation of the Great Lakes, experts say they have come to realize there must be a cultural, ideological and social consensus before significant efforts are made to combat it.
“The issue of climate change is no longer about climate change,” says Andrew J. Hoffman, the University of Michigan’s Erb Institute director, the Holcim Professor of Sustainable Enterprise, and professor at the Ross School of Business.
“It has become a battleground over deeper ideological issues such as trust in science, faith in the market and desire for government regulation. Only by engaging the debate on these levels will social consensus ever match the scientific consensus that already exists.”
Hoffman shared his research, theories and thoughts on climate change with the Council of Michigan Foundation’s (CMF) Green and Blue Network at a meeting held recently at the Ross School of Business in Ann Arbor.
The Green and Blue Network is a CMF affinity group whose foundation members come together to learn from experts and each other about leading environmental issues, how to make more effective and intentional environmental grants and impact environmental policy.
Also presenting on the topic “Taking Culture into Account When Funding Climate Change Work” was David Allan, a professor at U of M’s School of Natural Resources & Environment and also CMF’s Scholar-in-Residence.
The event was moderated by foundation and Green and Blue Network leaders Tom Porter, president of the Porter Family Foundation and Tom Cook, executive director of the Cook Family Foundation.
Hoffman noted that while in his scholarly vernacular and research climate change is synonymous with global warming, it is the latter terminology that often elicits quick, sometimes angry reactions as to its believablity among many nations, universities, scientists and citizens throughout Michigan, the U.S. and internationally.
“Also, when we think about the future, we often think of environmental problems like climate change, ecosystem destruction and water scarcity in terms of smokestacks, burning forests and polar bears. I try to see their cultural and institutional roots.
“Climate change is not a ‘pollution’ issue. Although the U.S. Supreme Court decided in 2007 that greenhouse gases were legally an air pollutant, in a cultural sense, they are something far different.
“The reduction of greenhouse gases is not the same as the reduction of sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, or particulates. These forms of pollution are man-made, they are harmful and they are the unintended waste products of industrial production,” counseled Hoffman.
Overall, said Hoffman, the challenge becomes one of framing complex scientific issues in a language that a lay and highly politicized audience can hear.
“This becomes increasingly challenging when we address some inherently non-intuitive and complex aspects of climate modeling that are hard to explain… Unless scientists can accurately convey the nature of climate modeling, others in the social debate will alter their claims to fit their cultural or cognitive perceptions or satisfy their political interests.”
Tactics that foundation leaders and others can use to better communicate on the issue of climate change, advised Hoffman:
- Know your audience
- Ask the right scientific questions
- Recognize the power of language and understand climate change means different things to different people.
- Employ events as leverage for change
- And move beyond just using data and models; tell stories of real people and its impact upon them.
Presenting research data on the climate change issue, Professor Allan said new scientific reports such as the National Climate Assessment, Midwest Regional Assessment and Great Lakes Integrated Sciences and Assessment Center reports all provide evidence – and the effects - of its negative and positive existence:
“Global temperatures have increased over the past 100 years and the rate of increase is accelerating; average precipitation is increasing; agricultural yields may benefit from longer growing seasons with increasing CO2 emissions, though droughts may adversely impact those yields,” said Allan.
“We’re facing many changes. For example, forest composition is changing; the urban environment is at risk from extreme heat events and flooding; hot summers will increase energy demands; the ice cover on lakes is declining which may benefit shipping; and lake levels may not change much.
“Mitigation of these events – especially the need to create adaptation strategies – will become more important,” he added.
Also giving presentations at the meeting about their respective environmental engagement organizations were Lisa Wozniak, executive director of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters Education Fund and Monica Patel, policy specialist at Ann Arbor’s Ecology Center, a regional leader that works for a safe and healthy environment where people live, work and play.
Patel shared with the group the work that her organization is involved in called 350.org, “an international campaign that’s building a movement to unite the world around solutions to the climate crisis. We have received support from the foundation community...and that has allowed us to have a significant impact on this issue."
“350.org is building a global movement to solve the climate crisis with online campaigns, grassroots organizing and mass public actions led from the bottom up by thousands of volunteer organizers in over 188 countries,” said Patel.
Attendee Tom Baird, a trustee of The Hal & Jean Glassen Memorial Foundation, praised the presentations of Hoffman, Allan, Wozniak and Patel. “This is one of the most important discussions I’ve ever heard… It’s applicable to so many things we are involved with.”
John M. Erb, president of the Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation, agreed. “It is amazing how much research on this issue has been done by and shared between U of M and Michigan State University. This issue affects us all around the state and the world for that matter.” Green and Blue Network leader Porter said foundations can play a critical role in educating others to get involved in the climate change/global warming issue.
“We need to get people aware of this issue,” noted Porter, comparing the urgency to an earlier cause to educate young people about the dangers of cigarette smoking and then involving them to get their parents to quit that habit.
Porter’s advice for fellow foundation leaders interested in moving the climate change dialogue along: “What ever piece of this important issue you want to take a bite on, bite it! Support more research. Hold forums. Support public policy changes."
“Also, you can give the rest of your money to U of M,” laughed the well-known U of M grad and supporter.
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Related Resource: You can read Andrew J. Hoffman's article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review called "Climate Science as Culture War".