Energy Policy

5: The Climate Citizen

Cartoon of the Copenhagen Climate Summit suggesting that efforts to reduce climate change might make the world a better place based on a 'hoax'
What if? Cartoon of the Copenhagen Climate Summit suggesting that efforts to reduce climate change might make the world a better place, based on a 'hoax'. Presenter has a slide that says "Energy Independence, Preserve Rainforests, Sustainability, Green Jobs, Livable Cities, Renewables, Clean Water/air, Healthy Children, Etc". An audience member stands up and asks, "What if it's a big hoax, and we create a better world for nothing?"
Cartoon by Joel Pett run in USA Today right before the Copenhagen Climate Summit in 2009.
Credit: Joel Pett. "What if it’s all a big hoax, and we create a better world for nothing!” USA Today. December 13, 2009.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) synthesizes the work of thousands of professional climate scientists and publishes their consensus findings every five years or so. With virtually no dissent amongst the contributing scientists, the IPCC concludes that climate change is happening as a result of human activity, that it is getting worse, and that it will continue to worsen in the future. The facts are clear and incontrovertible. In October 2018, the IPCC released this Special Report about the likelihood of containing warming to 1.5C with the commitments under the Paris Climate Agreement, sounding an alarm that more action is required, particularly in the next few decades and the most recent full report - AR6, released in 2022 - provides further evidence that humans have impacted the climate and that we are on a path toward an increasingly estabilized future.

Why is it then that, if there is no disagreement amongst the experts, that a majority of Americans remain unsure if human activity is the cause of climate change? Why do many people think that climate scientists disagree about climate change? Why do so many people trust politicians and radio talk show hosts more than climate scientists as reliable sources of information on climate science?  And, frankly, how and why has something as incontrovertible as climate science become such a political hot potato?

This lesson will explore these questions. As we think about our prospects for climate action, at all scales of governance, but perhaps most notably at the local scale, understanding the underlying belief systems informing our citizens is key to effectively framing the conversation around climate change responses. Let's look at climate change skeptics and deniers, ardent climate change believers, and middle-of-the-road climate change pragmatists and think about what kinds of mitigation and adaptation measures may appeal to these disparate groups.  If we are to have any hope of solving this crisis, we need to understand how to successfully engage with people whose understanding of the science is misguided or inaccurate and whose ideological beliefs perhaps conflict with our own.  We're all in this together, whether we like it or not.

About this Lesson

By the end of this lesson, you should be able to:

  • describe the difference between climate skeptics, deniers, centrists, concerned, and alarmists;
  • understand the concept of manufactured doubt about climate change.

What is due this week?

This lesson will take us one week to complete. You are responsible for this lesson content, external assigned readings, and lesson activities. Please refer to Canvas for deliverables and due dates.


If you have questions, please feel free to post them to the "Have a question about the lesson?" discussion forum in Canvas. While you are there, feel free to post your own responses if you, too, are able to help a classmate.