Monthly Archives: June 2010

Being happy with what we can do?

The next two articles I’m writing about reminded me of a case I heard about last year (reported here: Australia is host to the first case of ‘climate change delusion’, where a 17 year old boy in Melbourne “refused to drink water because he ‘felt guilty’ about the effect it would have on the environment”. The boy thought that “due to climate change, his own water consumption could lead within days to the deaths of millions of people.” This is very sad and, as one could probably guess, was seized upon by both CC camps (as evidence of CC’s lunacy, or as evidence of increasing health/psychological effects of CC).

On a personal note – sometimes the enormity of the changes needed overwhelm me and I (temporarily) think that nothing I do could make an iota of difference. Maybe it’s time to give ourselves a break? With that in mind, here are two views, relatively rare for their topics, about celebrating what small positives there are, and about juggling priorities.

Gwynne Dyer is a prolific Canadian journalist based in London and I found an article of his on the site Just Earth ( The July 2009 article is called Climate Change: Two Cheers for Two Degrees. In it, Dyer talks about how, for example, the US and India both have the agendas of their people to take into account in the unique ways they are dealing with CC changes. The US Congress, he says, “is a wholly owned subsidiary of the fossil fuel industries” and as such can’t do a backflip on Bush’s rejection of the Kyoto protocol. Similarly, India can’t “ignore the resentment felt by most Indians when their country is asked to cut its greenhouse gas emissions and slow its own development” when they didn’t create the problem.

He goes on to say that it’s practically a miracle that the 18 largest carbon emitters have agreed on the 2 degrees ‘no rise’ of earth’s temperature (since 1900). Eight of these countries decided to cut emissions by 80% by 2050, but wouldn’t set interim targets for 2020 as requested by five rapidly developing nations. However Dyer says that 2 degree agreement would have been “seen as fantasy only eighteen months ago”, and that although it definitely isn’t enough, that’s how the slow-moving world of politics works and that we should give hurrahs for this milestone. IPCC chairman Rajendra K. Pachauri said, “It certainly doesn’t give you a roadmap on how you should get there but at least they’ve defined the destination.”

The other view I wanted to examine was an article from Environment and Energy Daily (accessed through Stanford Law faculty because it wasn’t free.,%20Economic%20Downturn/) about House Members in the US seeking new paradigms to address CC. Basically what it means is that with economic downturn, natural resources under threat may not get the same protection from CC and development. Conservation groups will have to look for new income sources as gifts decline, reduce spending and build CC adaptation into plans they’re making for conservation of areas/species.

But the part that really caught my attention was reference to wildlife and areas that are ALL under threat. Barton Thompson, director of an environment institute at Stanford University, suggests that the government should “prioritise resources, which could mean making the hard choice to dismiss some species.” Is this the ultimate in damage control? Deciding that the battle’s lost for most threatened species and concentrating our efforts on only some? It was a hard thing to think about. I thought that that kind of thinking might be a very last resort, but maybe I’m too idealistic. Thompson says that most conservation laws “do not give wiggle room for agencies to consider what is feasible”, requiring them to work on saving ALL threatened species.

I wonder what kind of prioritising is going to be necessary in future, or whether it will help. A loss of the world’s fragile biodiversity has been feared for many years and for many reasons other than CC.


Yanks and Danes – their public engagement strategies.

Yep, you know me by now: but I do apologise for another long post. This one’s about public engagement.

I wanted to talk about a post I found on Mathew Nisbet’s blog about CC denialists/fighters attending town meetings, an increasingly popular forum for community engagement. It’s called On climate bill, advocacy groups target town hall meetings ( As Nisbet writes, “deliberative forums and town hall-type meetings are one of the major innovations in science communication and engagement… research shows a range of positive outcomes both for lay participants and organizers”. And as we all can remember from lectures and tutorials, the most passionate people are often the most vocal (guilty as charged, peoples..). Turns out, this is the same for these town meetings. Apparently the American Petroleum Institute AND the greenies are getting individuals to these meetings to loudly put their opinions across. Nisbet calls for a very structured set-up as well as careful selection of participants at deliberative meetings, as they influence the goals of the session. I feel like there’s a link here between citizens mobilised by big interest groups (API for example), as [well, not pawns so much as] impassioned believers who may have been better off coming to the meeting and making up their own minds.. almost like they’re representatives of the companies/pharma/media who rush in to fill gaps in anyone’s head who might have just come for information.

Joan mentioned the Danish Board of Technology as interesting links for risk communication. They have a wealth of information and publications on their website ( but one of the things I was most interested in were their techniques for engaging with the public and surveying information. This list ( details these techniques, which I have condensed below. I have also included quotes about what some of them entail:

–          interdisciplinary workgroups

–          interviews

–          café seminar

–          citizens’ summit, jury and hearing

  • “The purpose of the summit is to gain a clear picture of citizens’ attitudes towards specific political priorities and possible courses of action. Citizens are asked to consider specific choices, but at the same time there is room for debate and the formulation of ideas, and politicians can thus gain invaluable advice and become inspired by citizens’ ideas and proposed solutions… Politicians receive informed feedback that is rooted in information about and discussion of the topic. Even though the politicians are not bound by the voting results, the summit provides a clear indication, which involves a commitment.”
  • Note: the citizens participating are either selected by their involvement with the issues, or randomly (like traditional juries). The method is very structured (but seems flexible) and well thought out (

–          hearings for parliament

–          voting conference

–          consensus conference

  • “Participants… do not have any special prior knowledge or qualifications as regards the subject area. Citizens contribute by making their views known in the form of visions, concerns, values, holistic appraisal and everyday experiences. The consensus conference method is based on the premise that technological assessment cannot be limited to the legislative domain.”
  • “The consensus conference and its citizens’ panel participate in a process in which daily life and the emotional and experience-based views of “ordinary people” play a central role in technological assessment… Together they can assess how a given technology should be used and set out any preferences for its development. They can also question the need for a given technology. Citizens can comment on and express their views regarding aspects of the technology which experts, politicians and interested parties may have overlooked.”

–          workshops (future workshops, perspective workshops, scenario workshops)

–          ‘future search’ conferences and panels

–          Danish participatory models

  • “…democratic perspective that assumes it is both possible and necessary to establish a dialogue with citizens about technology politics. In consensus conferences, the citizens have the role of a citizen panel, which will set the agenda for the conference. In scenario workshops, a group of citizens interacts with other actors to exchange knowledge and experience, develop common visions and produce a plan of action. The focus of both methods is to create a framework for dialogue among policy-makers, experts and ordinary citizens. Both methods are also characterised by their ability to create new knowledge.” (

I’m sorry for that length – but as the first spot I’ve seen that has such comprehensive public engagement strategies, I thought you would be also boggled (in a good way) to read about them!

From there, I checked out an article ( in the journal Science and Public Policy 1999, about these consensus conferences. I was actually searching papers for tangible results of the above methods. The conferences focus on limiting the scope of the conference’s task: “very often it is a matter of local decision-making closely connected to the everyday life of the involved users”. The rest of the article details successes of specific conferences in shaping Danish legislation and communities – as well as uptake of the method by other countries. The method seems to have very strong connections with a cultural attitude of ‘lifelong learning’, enlightenment (as opposed to ‘just’ education), and creating active and engaged citizens. To be honest – it sounds like a utopia to me – particularly compared to some of the horror stories we have been discovering this semester.

Another resource I found from the Danish Board of Technology was a publication about climate change: Climate agreement and developing countries, addressed to the Danish government ( One focus was protecting poorer, more vulnerable countries despite the prevailing rich/poor country gap in people’s heads (about who should have to make changes, based on who created the problem). They argue that humanitarian crises need to be averted, and that preventing them is cheaper also. The other part that they focused on was protecting and securing indigenous peoples’ ‘lifestyle rights’ (my words) that will be challenged because of CC. Again, as in the communication strategies above, there was a distinct emphasis on passing down legislation for local government to give it a sense of urgency and feeling that it’s “valid at a local level”.

One last thing from the Danes – they are conducting a survey on CC, about what people think about globalisation and the distribution of responsibility between industrialised and developing countries, instead of the usual ‘would you be willing to make personal sacrifices to change your climate impact?’ surveys (which have been done exhaustively). Some quotes:

“The structure of negotiations of the climate summit must be described as mostly top-down national policies that are not necessarily in tune with the citizens that have to live with climate change and the climate policy… There are no questions, for example, about views on issues of a more principle kind regarding globalization, like the distribution of responsibility between industrialised and developing countries, related to the efforts of avoiding global warming. Citizens from selected countries (ideally one country from each continent) will participate in the formulation of questions and information material that will be put together to form the background of the citizens’ discussions. Scientific experts, political decision makers and a diverse range of other involved agents will be relevantly contributing to the formulation of questions and information material as well.”

One exciting, progressive aspect of this survey is that they will be including all types of media in their results – radio, podcasts, papers, documentaries – that will be translated into a couple of languages. This fits in interestingly with the readings we do about the media’s involvement about risk communication, and their filling voids with sometimes inappropriate or alarmist rhetoric. It would appear that sometimes the accurate and substance-filled journalism makes it to a world stage for positive impact.

The methodology of the survey is exhaustively outlined here:

Some comparisons to Mother’s Milk, and risk of a different kind.

“The scientific reality”, Heather McGray, a senior associate with the Climate and Energy Program at the World Resources Institute, said, “is that climate change is real and the costs of dealing with it will be substantial…On the other hand, there is the political reality.” Such are the comments in an article about debates ahead of the approaching Copenhagen December CC meeting (New York Times: Many debates are focusing around developing and developed countries’ targets and who will agree to what. This ‘who’ and ‘how much’ have real consequences for developing countries’ agreements.

However, another part of the pre-Copenhagen debate has focused on the ‘absurdly low’ cost estimates of CC adaptation for low- and middle-income nations. Researcher Martin Parry says, “Much of the continent [Africa] has little or no infrastructure in place to ‘adapt and very high levels of vulnerability to climate change.” This focus on cost while there’s debate about countries agreeing to participate seems understandable but strange – if there is serious doubt about participants in the protocol (or ones to come), will costing at this stage be as important as people think? This makes me think of the comparison of the ‘made-in-Canada’ approach being ineffective compared to a global strategy unifying nations in the ‘war’ against CC.

An educated public? This review of a book called Slow Death by Rubber Duck ( presents an unusual format for a CC and risk article. The book talks about the supposed ‘gatekeepers’ of safety and risk management, and documents many failings – maybe it’s a less theoretical read than Mothers’ Milk? They also “urge people to get involved – to push government to be more responsible in its regulatory duties”. I have not read the book but I am interested in this last part: I feel that if the book really does advocate this, then the authors Smith and Lourie must have a lot of faith in an educated public. How refreshing!

Are there risks of another kind – lack of progression and perception of being slow to catch up? The Southern Cross Climate Coalition (SCCC) thinks ‘yes’. The SCCC is a conglomeration of organisations in environment, social services, research and union industries. In this article ( from the Australian Conservation Foundation, the SCCC presents Australia’s lack of a clean energy industry as a risk of “being left behind as one of the developed world’s most carbon polluting and inefficient economies.” They also use the idea of job creation as a motivator to creating cleaner energy in Australia, and say that strong leadership legislating for heavier emissions targets is essential for creating these jobs. ACTU president Sharan Burrow says, “We need strong policies implemented as quickly as possible to drive investment so we can begin the economic and environmental transformation.”

This article made me think about how risks aren’t just health, medical, environmental. As humans with our unending need for acceptance in groups, our political and economic choices can determine this acceptance, and I had never thought about the world’s perception of our nation as a situation that would have any element of risk. In the statement, the SCCC emphasises the links between energy, jobs, vulnerable and/or poor Australians likely to be affected by CC, and economic prosperity. I really liked this linkage in the article because of the human angle the SCCC remembers to include. It’s not just a problem for politicians. And the risk isn’t just to them when the ‘public’ is angry about power shortages or job losses or seas washing away our houses..

Trust and beliefs of the public.

I wanted to blog about a media release I was sent, from the Australasian Science magazine (, but the article is in print only). It’s called Science Is Under Threat, written by Dr Doug Edmeades (a widely published and peer reviewed NZ agricultural scientist). Some excerpts follow:

‘As the New Zealand government seeks a fresh direction for science, a prominent adviser on agricultural science says: “Science faces several contemporary challenges and it is the responsibility of scientists to regain the public’s trust” [Dr Doug Edmeades]…
Edmeades contends that the solutions lie squarely in the hands of scientists themselves. “Without increased efforts from scientists to improve scientific literacy, we leave the public vulnerable to all sorts of dogma-driven ideas and concepts and to every new-age fashion,” he says.
“We scientists are the cause of our own demise – most are not good communicators in the public domain and when we do speak we often speak over the head of our audience. From the public’s point of view we can appear arrogant, reinforcing a public perception that we think we are a superior breed and would like to be ‘a law unto ourselves’.”
“We can do public relations exercises for our institutions, but we scientists no longer adequately defend the values of truth, objectivity and impartiality.” In return, Dr Edmeades asks that “our profession is accepted as crucial for the ongoing development and welfare of society”.’

Reading this article made me think about what we are learning from Mother’s Milk about risk communication and vacuums of information. I don’t know, in my baby-stages of understanding, that I’d agree with Dr Edmeades about scientists being responsible for public trust issues, nor solving them. I felt that in that first comment, he seems to subscribe to the view that “if the public is uneducated about science, they will make bad decisions, and how could they possibly make bad decisions if they know about science?”

I would definitely agree with his second quote – and don’t we all, since we are doing this course? But I think that his idea in the second part conflicts with the first! I feel like he’s saying “if the public know about science, how could they help but agree with us [scientists]?, because they’d know that we know better, we aren’t just trying to be superior”.

That said, I am sure that his views perhaps aren’t so black and white as represented (or assumed to be) here – and given my stance on people’s beliefs in “new-age fashion” like homeopathy, I completely agree with some of them! One of the funniest comedies I have ever seen I will link for you – it’s not so much about risk communication or trust though. This comedian is called Dara and the relevant part of the comedy special is here: The whole special is here and is sooo worth watching:

Just as an aside, this article about more whooping cough cases in Australia ( gives a glimpse of the real-world risk controversy that doctors end up fighting, for real, in hospitals. I was quite impressed with the way the article handled different points of view by balancing the no-vaccination camp beliefs with doctors’ worries about serious misinformation. As you can guess, I’m firmly in the pro-vaccination camp..

Human responsibilities in CC – emissions and consumption.

I want to write about human behaviour and CC – I think it’s clear that for the purposes of this blog I have unequivocally accepted that CC is anthropogenic. This is a little look at history, old technology and the industrial revolution and how it’s shaped CC, not only through emissions but our psychology.

In a nutshell: when WWII was over, the highly efficient factories used to pumping out materials for the war effort had nothing left to do, the powers that be decided to keep these factories and processes in use to fuel American consumption. Since people had become accustomed to ‘tightening their belts’ and living on very little, a strategy was required to sell individual consumerism to Americans. This is a really scary story that, when I first understood it, tears a huge hole in our [societally inculcated] ideas about buying, marketing and propaganda.

Edward Bernays, Freud’s nephew (yes, that Freud), was hired by the government as the first PR man, ever. In this absolutely essential watch, The Century of Self (, part one here), he speaks, among other things, about how actors and actresses were hired, with reluctance by the actors, to say that they had to express their personalities by dressing and owning different things from other people. And so, consumption via individual expression was created. Created! It’s not natural. And marketing has been feeding us that line since. Bernays even says on film that ‘propaganda’ was what he was hired for, but that the term was actually changed to ‘public relations’ because propaganda had negative connotations for Americans (Nazi propaganda etc.).

Anyway, Victor Lebow ( was a retail analyst and the president of Victor Lebow Inc. when he published his opinion on consumption in America. A quote from the Journal of Retailing in 1955 (Spring) follows. Note: there is some controversy about whether Lebow was advocating this stance (as it reads), or merely remarking on what had taken on a life of its own.

Our enormously productive economy demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfactions, our ego satisfactions, in consumption. The measure of social status, of social acceptance, of prestige, is now to be found in our consumptive patterns. The very meaning and significance of our lives today expressed in consumptive terms. … These commodities and services must be offered to the consumer with a special urgency. We require not only “forced draft” consumption, but “expensive” consumption as well. We need things consumed, burned up, worn out, replaced, and discarded at an ever increasing pace. We need to have people eat, drink, dress, ride, live, with ever more complicated and, therefore, constantly more expensive consumption. The home power tools and the whole “do-it-yourself” movement are excellent examples of “expensive” consumption.

Scary! Now we see reports, like a time-skip ahead, of how we are ‘eating’ the planet to destruction directly because of consumption (not food) and the inexorable march of ‘more more more’ goods (not just electricity and fuel!). This article from New Scientist is an elegant, if worrying, example: The gist of the article is that we are consuming resources in our quest for goods, at a rate much higher than what the earth can support – and the reason we’re getting away with this never-ending economic growth is that other countries lag in this respect. We use their surplus while they don’t.

I checked out the footprint calculator they linked to in the article – it shows you how many ‘earths’ we would need if we went by your personal consumption of food/goods/electricity/transport etc. – and realised I’d done it before. Have a go: I did it again and ended up with 1.9 earths to sustain a world full of Sarahs (though I can’t remember what my previous result was). To drag this topic back to our study, I was thinking of how this related to Michelle’s post about psychology and teaching the public about CC. It also related, for me, to the feeling that many people have (and me) about the seeming impossibility of personal action helping the world recover from CC.

I really liked the end of the footprint calculator for this exact reason. The creators have given tangible ‘you could change this’ actions for people to try, and shown the direct change (albeit in numbers) that these actions could precipitate. It seemed to make little changes more manageable, and more importantly, actually mean something for our climate. Hopefully if we can get a message out there with small changes meaning actual change, “only when the brown stuff really hits the fan will we finally start to do something” (as researcher Marc Pratarelli of Colorado State University says). It also linked back in to the Hot Air Symposium – about there being a large cohort of people not denying CC or it being anthropogenic, but sitting, waiting, for someone else to start doing something.

I guess I’m as guilty of that as others, but small changes are on the way for me. Energy efficient bulbs, not leaving appliances on standby, recycling, containers instead of plastic bags, reusable shopping bags, riding my bike, worm farming scraps, buying local food.. but there’s so much more I can do and it won’t hurt me to do it. I don’t think my brain believes it can make a difference, but my conscience demands I try.

Faceless, non-threatening CC? No, check these human rights issues. Part III.

Earlier this year saw the Lancet publish a hugely important (and reported on) report about the health implications of CC. unfortunately this report isn’t available free on the net, but the printed copies are available still. Their website links to a paid version (

There was an interesting article from the Guardian about how women play an understated goal in CC aims and policy ( The author was looking at the [small] proportion and influence of women in policy/research conferences, as targets for greener purchasing choices, as important educators of children to greener behaviours, as the larger proportion of poor people in the world – which means that they will be the largest proportion of those who will be affected by CC when health, food, temperature and so on, changes for the worse. Women are a powerful lobby for targeting, I believe, as are many vocal minorities, and I think that connecting with a group membership is a great way to get people on board. Oxfam’s Sisters of the Planet is an active initiative showing this:

As a connection between new tech and famine – NASA reported on a new tool to help predict and warn about this. It’s a worldwide Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWS NET), “that uses NASA data to classify food insecurity levels and alert authorities to predicted crises”. The numbers used in the article inherently aim more at our analytical system, without giving many ‘affect triggers’, but are still staggering to read about. This it the article here: Maybe if we can slow CC, there will be less need for tech like this?

Two personal examples for Americans (of faces put on CC) follow: a confronting ad about a congressman who voted no to a green bill ( and an article about how certain US states will be differentially affected by CC (and how their representatives are responding): I think coverage like this personalises CC in a great way – to get people thinking about their risk and also that the consequences aren’t just hotter days or higher seas – there are so many more effects.

I’d like to end with looking at the forced evacuation of island people, because of rising seas. Last year The Australian had an article about the refugees created by CC, which is a great read, despite the glaring grammar error in the title: Not only are islanders already losing their homes, but even if this hasn’t happened yet, many are losing farmland, foraging locations and space. NZ’s stance on CC refugees is also mentioned in an IPS () article: And the dramatic, but non-person ‘evidence’ of all this? Photos:

Hopefully more faces of CC can motivate behaviour change from those of us not facing real risk yet – by tapping into our ‘affective’ circuitry. The Hot Air delegates mentioned using real people as a new way to communicate CC, and it seems this directly mirrors Slovic’s take on effective communication of risk and decisions about large, complicated, analytical situations.

Faceless, non-threatening CC? No, check these human rights issues. Part II.

The second paper ( of Slovic’s is called “If I look at the mass I will never act”: Psychic numbing and genocide, and seems strange for a CC blog post. However, it has some very relevant insights into not only CC risk communication but about how we see the effects of CC for humans also. This second paper uses the same analytical/experiential system divide to frame the idea of how we see crises. It’s actually about why we allow genocide and what, in our brains, separates us from the ‘human face’ of mass murder, to the point where we seem unable to care. Some quotes are below that I want to link back to CC:

“Most people are caring and will exert great effort to rescue individual victims whose needy plight comes to their attention. These same good people, however, often become numbly indifferent to the plight of individuals who are “one of many” in a much greater problem. Why does this occur? … One fundamental mechanism that may play a role in many, if not all, episodes of mass-murder neglect involves the capacity to experience affect, the positive and negative feelings that combine with reasoned analysis to guide our judgments, decisions, and actions. I shall draw from psychological research to show how the statistics of mass murder or genocide, no matter how large the numbers, fail to convey the true meaning of such atrocities. The reported numbers of deaths represent dry statistics, “human beings with the tears dried off,” that fail to spark emotion or feeling and thus fail to motivate action.

A large research literature in psychology documents the importance of affect in conveying meaning upon information and motivating behavior (Barrett & Salovey, 2002; Clark & Fiske, 1982; Forgas, 2000; Le Doux, 1996; Mowrer, 1960; Tomkins, 1962, 1963; Zajonc, 1980). Without affect, information lacks meaning and won’t be used in judgment and decision making (Loewenstein, Weber, Hsee, & Welch, 2001; Slovic, Finucane, Peters, & MacGregor, 2002).

As nature writer and conservationist Rick Bass (1996) observes in his plea to conserve the Yaak Valley in Montana, The numbers are important, and yet they are not everything. For whatever reasons, images often strike us more powerfully, more deeply than numbers. We seem unable to hold the emotions aroused by numbers for nearly as long as those of images. We quickly grow numb to the facts and the math.”

So, the question seems answered, of how we can communicate the real risk of not acting on CC. Give it a human face, make it connect with people’s affect, or feelings, and those feelings can interact with our logic about how CC will effect the world. It seems this could motivate our behaviours toward mitigation. I want to now look at the human face of CC that the media and research have already showed us.

Faceless, non-threatening CC? No, check these human rights issues. Part I.

Based on two readings I did of Paul Slovic’s, I want to discuss the human rights involved in CC with respect to risk communication (in three parts).

The first paper is called Risk as Analysis and Risk as Feelings: Some Thoughts about Affect, Reason, Risk, and Rationality, and can be found here: Some excerpts follow:

“Modern theories in cognitive psychology and neuroscience indicate that there are two fundamental ways in which human beings comprehend risk. The “analytic system” uses algorithms and normative rules, such as the probability calculus, formal logic, and risk assessment. It is relatively slow, effortful, and requires conscious control. The “experiential system” is intuitive, fast, mostly automatic, and not very accessible to conscious awareness. The experiential system enabled human beings to survive during their long period of evolution and remains today the most natural and most common way to respond to risk. It relies on images and associations, linked by experience to emotion and affect (a feeling that something is good or bad).”

Most formal risk analysis sees this system as irrational, but this view is changing. The two systems work together and at the same time, it would seem. Slovic says that “studies have demonstrated that analytic reasoning cannot be effective unless it is guided by emotion and affect. Rational decision making requires proper integration of both modes of thought.” It would seem to me that CC research and policy is largely based on the analytic system, whereas to really activate personal change and motivation of behaviour, the other system needs to be activated. This is the so-far ‘faceless’ part of CC risk. It also links back to Hot Air delegates’ feeling that people won’t act because their feelings of risk haven’t been ‘activated’.

“The earliest studies of risk perception also found that, whereas risk and benefit tend to be positively correlated in the world, they are negatively correlated in people’s minds (and judgments, Fischhoff et al., 1978)… [other studies found] that the inverse relationship between perceived risk and perceived benefit of an activity (e.g., using pesticides) was linked to the strength of positive or negative affect associated with that activity… Result implies that people base their judgments of an activity or a technology not only on what they think about it but also on how they feel about it.”

Essentially, affect happens first and then effects judgments of perceived risk and benefit. Slovic also speaks about the framing of statistics and numbers – which reminded me of our study last semester about using numbers to frame information and how they can mislead or simply confuse. This next quote reminds me of another blog post I made about marketing and ‘public relations’:

“There are two important ways that experiential thinking misguides us. One results from the deliberate manipulation of our affective reactions by those who wish to control our behaviors (advertising and marketing exemplify this manipulation).The other results from the natural limitations of the experiential system and the existence of stimuli in our environment that are simply not amenable to valid affective representation. … For example, the affective system seems designed to sensitize us to small changes in our environment (e.g., the difference between 0
and 1 deaths) at the cost of making us less able to appreciate and respond appropriately to larger changes further away from zero (e.g., the difference between 500 and 600 deaths).”

This seems so very applicable to CC risk. Who understands the difference between a degree of difference for one day’s weather, compared to a rise of 2 degrees (at least) CC for the rest of time, for the whole world? What do the numbers mean? Give us a representation of what it means, people ask. I’m getting to this.. The last quote from Slovic’s paper really struck a chord in me from Mother’s Milk about how it matters to people how they die (dread) and whether they can give sandwiches every day to their kids – the ‘softer’ values:

“Elsewhere we have argued that analysis needs to be sensitive to the “softer” values underlying such qualities as dread, equity, controllability, etc. that underlie people’s concerns about risk, as well as to degrees of ignorance or scientific uncertainty.”

CC, SCOT and other undecipherable acronyms and initialisms.

This post is about technology and CC. I wanted to relate it to the Social Construction of Technology theory framework. I will start with tech interesting bits first:

Something I find interesting is the concept of the interaction of inventions that create emissions and CC efforts, when they try to offset CC in ways other than just reduction in use. Here’s an interesting example – the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies published a report ( detailing a proposal for helping developing countries by taxing international air travel. The premise is that people who are flying will be taxed a small amount per trip, and this money will go to developing (and usually low carbon-emitting) countries for CC adaptation measures. It was published in 2006, and in 2008 was republished with a note about local implementation in France as a success story (

I went looking online and found ways that tech and CC are interacting in another way – green blogs about technology (here’s one: I think that it’s encouraging that just because tech is driving emissions, it doesn’t just see ‘turn off standby mode’ as the only recourse to helping with the fight.

Here’s an example of an initiative to ‘green the roads’ that isn’t working out so well. This article in the NY Times ( explains how traded-in ‘clunker’ cars are making their way across the world via organised crime, and so are still being driven. Another thing – and this has been on my mind for months – an engineer friend and meteorologist friend of mine have done calculations that show that for the most part, trashing an inefficient car for a more efficient one takes many, many years to pay off. The emissions from destroying the old and making the new don’t balance out! Not to mention the destruction of the resources..

So to relate these (very small number of) technologies to the four features of the SCOT analysis:

1) Change and continuity: I see all of these examples of technologies as adaptations to CC – so the continuity, the continuation of the technology is right there – we already have these inventions. The change part of a lot of CC-related technology for me, would seem to be their new uses, or tacked-on functions (like blogs that now deal with CC and tech, instead of just tech). More uncommon new tech would often fall into the adaptation or geo-engineering (reversing it) categories. More on geo-engineering as a ‘change’ technology next blog.

2) Symmetry in analysing failed technology as well as successful, as well as seeing the function of a machine through social technical development (instead of the machine causing that): I would see the immediate relation of this to the third example, the clunker cars. There are social questions about whether it will actually be useful for CC aims. Also, I think that given the relatively high number of alternative energy inventions trialled, failures do seem to be reported by media. First to mind, the duck-like objects that can generate electricity to run desalination plants, from the rocking motion of rough water ( These were proposed for use in Australia’s Great Bight, but rejected because.. I can’t remember now. Seas too rough I think? It was years ago… Secondly, the wind farms that are rejected by communities for aesthetic reasons – social pressure nixes this particular clean energy solution ( rejection in Ireland; very vocal site with reasons about why not; [link broken] article in the The Australian where Peter Garrett has warned “that too many alternative energy proposals have been rejected because of opposition from ‘not in my back yard’ activists”).

3) Actor/structure: I think that there are so many inventions and possible technological solutions within CC that there’s no one hero/persona in CC technology. Any ideas about how this relates, fellow students?

4) Seamless web; looking at how tech is shaped and acquires meaning in social interactions: I like the first example to show how philanthropy (or guilt) could help wealthier people donate money to CC measures through their travel. The third seems to illustrate financial aspects and crime (an inescapable social consequence) as well as governmental influence. Another really interesting point about interaction of CC industry/tech changes and social structures is this new offering from New Scientist: Cap the rich to keep emissions targets fair ( It all seems to fit with my idea of how CC technologies will be taken up by the majority of developed societies, but heavily dependent on their ideas about how it fits in with their lives, the attitudes that causes this take-up of CC-related tech, and how it’s presented by scientists and government. No piece of tech is introduced magically, from a vacuum.