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Sunday, 17 January 2016

Climate literacy

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I have been reading a powerful and important book called "Understanding Climate Change: Science, Policy, and Practice" by Sarah Burch and Sara Harris. It introduced me to the concept of climate literacy which seems to me to be a very useful one. As I understand the concept it is not only about having information on climate change, its causes, effects and consequences, but having an understanding sufficient to critically examine claims, assertions, speculations, and proposed responses. In other words a climate literate person is in a position to actively contribute to the ongoing debate and advocate action. It is regrettable that much discussion on this subject, apart from the scientific community, seems so far to have been ill-informed or partisan, or both.

Those who are climate literate know that we are now well beyond the stage of demonstrating human culpability in global warming. The issues to be confronted now are mitigation and adaptation. Can anything be done to reduce the rate of warming and bring it to a halt sooner? Given that warming will continue in the medium term, whatever action is taken, how may human societies protect themselves from its harmful effects? These are questions upon which scientists are uniquely qualified to advise and it behoves politicians to heed their advice.

In their book, Burch and Harris assert that "Tackling the climate change challenge requires the creation of a compelling vision of a desirable future, not just recapturing a mythical past or 'tinkering around the edges' of our current development path." This seems to me to be a rather profound insight as it speaks directly to what we know about human nature - people rarely change their behaviour in response to threat; they need to have a clear view of how they personally will be better off. A huge shift in cultural tectonics is needed but when has the world ever been better placed, given the ubiquity of modern communications, to achieve such a shift?

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