Preparing for Climate Change, Series – Boston Review Books

International Journal of Climate Change Strategies and Management

ISSN: 1756-8692

Article publication date: 8 November 2011




Manolas, E. (2011), "Preparing for Climate Change, Series – Boston Review Books", International Journal of Climate Change Strategies and Management, Vol. 3 No. 4.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Preparing for Climate Change, Series – Boston Review Books

Preparing for Climate Change, Series – Boston Review Books

Article Type: Books and resources From: International Journal of Climate Change Strategies and Management, Volume 3, Issue 4

Michael D. Mastrandrea and Stephen H. SchneiderThe MIT PressCambridge, MA2010104 pp. (13×19 cm, hard cover)$14.95ISBN 978-0-262-01488-5

Keywords: Global warming, Cimate change, Changing society

This is a concise introductory book on the problem of global climate change. It can be easily carried anywhere. The book provides a further reading list. All of the resources recommended are accompanied by a summary of their contents. As the contents of this book have already been summarized by other reviewers (Walker, 2010; Creelman, 2011; Nriagu, 2011) this review will avoid doing the same. This review will concentrate on how the book can best be used to educate and motivate the audience it is written for – the general public – to adopt appropriate behaviors to combat climate change. However, references to the content of the book will be made throughout this note whenever these are important in illustrating the recommendations put forward.

It should be emphasized that this work is written by renowned scientists in the field of climate change. Michael Mastrandrea is Deputy Director, Science at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group II, and Assistant Consulting Professor at the Stanford University Woods Institute for the Environment. Stephen Schneider was Melvin and Joan Lane Professor for Interdisciplinary Environmental Studies and Professor of Biology at Stanford University. Also, Schneider was Coordinating Lead Author and part of the Synthesis Report writing team for the 2007 IPCC Fourth Assessment Report. Also, in 2007, Schneider and his IPCC colleagues were awarded a joint Nobel Prize.

The positions and achievements of the authors of the book inspire trust in what is communicated in the book. Such trust is much needed (Patchen, 2006) in order to convince a generally aware (although not necessarily adequately knowledgeable) but still reluctant to act general reader (Sundblad, 2008; Downing, 2008; Kuckartz, 2009; Sharples, 2010). Engaging civil society is a difficult but most important task:

Civil society can play at least two critical roles in climate change governance: (1) it can mobilize to push for policy changes at any level of government, and (2) it may enact behavioral changes consistent with needed mitigation and adaptation strategies […] For communication to achieve these objectives is no small order. It is difficult enough to communicate the unwieldy problem of global climate change to various lay publics; it is extraordinarily difficult to overcome the lethargy, habits of thought and action, and institutional arrangements that underlie current emissions generating behaviors (Moser, 2009).

In this book the authors communicate their message clearly and succinctly always illustrating terms and issues with easy to understand examples. After reading the book the reader cannot claim that he does not understand the issue, the causes, the impacts of climate change to the planet and one’s life, the possible solutions. According to Moser (2009), persuading the public of climate science involves three important tasks:

First, scientists and educators must continue to convey the state of the science and how the confidence in scientific understanding of climate change has grown over time. Second, they must never overstate the scientific confidence with which aspects of climate change are known. But to retain credibility while conveying confidence, communicators should lead with what is most certain, and discuss remaining uncertainties in light of what is well understood.

All of the above three criteria are met in Preparing for Climate Change. It must also be pointed out that this book is informed by a strong sense of humanity and justice. At the same time, the moderate tone or the acknowledgement of the uncertainty regarding predictions of future change should not mean that the authors do not recognize the urgency of advance preparations in dealing with climate change (Walker, 2010; Nriagu, 2011).

Although knowledge on climate change is important, nevertheless, such knowledge may not necessarily lead people to take action to counter such change: “The effect of information on behavior depends on the way in which it is understood and interpreted and the social context in which the individual is embedded” (Patchen, 2006). Communication, which may eventually foster greater civic engagement, may take place in small groups through existing networks and forums. Such forums allow communicators and indeed all participants to help people stay engaged on tasks, understand difficult issues and change habits and behaviors. Student groups in university classrooms, neighborhood-based eco-teams, science cafes and church-based discussion and support groups are well suited to promote greater civic engagement. The size, organization and contents of the book allows it be used for more effective communication with the public on climate change issues (Moser, 2009).

Some suitable methods may be the following: following explanation of a concept used in the book, e.g. exposure, sensitivity or adaptive capacity, it would be important to discuss the larger argument the authors are trying to make, and the ways the concept fits into it. Effective participation would also mean reflecting on the concept in a way that provides evidence of careful, critical thought through the use of observations from personal experiences, raising questions about the concept, providing additional examples of the concept or extend a point that struck them as particularly interesting (Bartley, 2004).

Another technique, called explication du texte, can be used to engage people in reading and interpreting texts. Using Mastrandrea’s and Schneider’s book, the instructor, either ahead of time (recommended) or at the beginning of the class, may ask participants to do the following: “find one or two quotations from the text you found particularly significant and be prepared to justify your choice”. Or, “find one quotation you especially liked and one you disliked”. Or “identify the passage which you think best illustrates the major thesis of the chapter or book, and explain why”. These passages are then read aloud and discussed. Lively interaction then becomes possible because different participants not only select different quotations but they also interpret them differently. For especially ambiguous passages, the participants could be divided into small groups of three or four and struggle with discovering the main point of the message. As a final step a few groups could be invited to report their reflections giving everyone the chance to react to differing interpretations (Frederick, 1993).

Another idea is to ask participants to compare and contrast views or to list pros and cons of a position. A technique which is well suited for such comparisons is to draw a “T”. Then the left- and right-hand sides of the cross bar are labeled with the opposing positions (or “Pro” and “Con”). The next step for the participants would be to list on the relevant side of the vertical line ideas which support these positions. When a satisfactory number of ideas have been listed, the activity concludes with a discussion of which position is most appropriate. The topic of reducing carbon dioxide emissions is most suitable for such an exercise (Paulson and Faust, 2011).

Another idea is to use position papers. In position papers learners are asked to write a comparative analysis of two readings. The position paper offers learners the chance to more deeply involve themselves with issues and ideas that they find interesting. Position papers also offer the instructor a chance to assess learner analytical skills and provide constructive feedback. Some components which should be included in a position paper are an explanation of the main arguments found in each reading, including, an examination of how the two different readings may be seen as opposing or/and complimentary, an opinion about the relevance or usefulness of each writer’s analysis and conclusions, a suggestion about questions which the two readings raise (Latta, 2007). Except Mastrandrea’s and Schneider’s book, the book which could be used for this activity is Emanuel’s (2007) What We Know about Climate Change, a book, which it should be noted, Mastrandrea and Schneider include in the further reading list of their own book. What We Know about Climate Change is also “A Boston Review Book” and has almost the same length as Mastrandrea’s and Schneider’s book.

It is important to close this note by emphasizing the power of interpersonal and small-group dialogue on changing attitudes and behaviors:

In such small settings, the power of social norms, accountability, identity, and personal ties is brought to bear on the barriers and resistance to change. They also allow individuals to be acknowledged and appreciated for their efforts, to unfurl the influence of role models, and to provide very immediate positive feedback on and social support for one’s actions (Moser, 2009).

The techniques discussed above may be most suitable in encouraging the achievement of such noble goals.

Evangelos ManolasDepartment of Forestry and Management of the Environment and Natural Resources, Democritus University of Thrace, Orestiada, Greece


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