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60-Second Earth

Global Warming Beliefs

How we perceive the future of our Earth may depend on an individual's view of nature and on their own human nature. Christie Nicholson reports

[Below is the original script. But a few changes may have been made during the recording of this audio podcast.]

Here’s one of the confusing issues regarding global warming: After all the data we’ve collected so far how can we still have such wide variety in outlooks for our future?

Well Mark Maslin, director of the Environment Institute at the University College London and his colleague John Adams proposed one theory.

They believe that human opinion can be explained by how we respond to risk and uncertainty.

In reference to global warming beliefs, they combine four possible myths of nature with four myths of human nature. Myth is their term—you can also think of them as belief or opinion.

Here they are:

1) Nature is benign: Earth is predictable and robust, able to withstand or bounce back from any damage. This view corresponds with what they call individualists, entrepreneurial types who don’t necessarily believe in control or intervention from others. Maslin uses the example of self-made oil barons.

2) Nature is ephemeral: Earth is fragile and it is in danger of collapse. And this view is held by egalitarians, people who have strong democratic group loyalties but do not respect externally imposed rules. Radical environmentalists might fall into this category.

3) Nature is tolerant: Earth can handle some changes, but major excesses will send it reeling. This is a view held by hierarchists, people who know their place, and adhere to strong social structures. Scientists or soldiers might be examples.

4) Nature is capricious: Earth’s reactions are so unpredictable that we cannot predict nor accurately plan our future. This is the view of fatalists, those who feel they have little control over their lives.

From this framework, Maslin says we can tell which person is likely to believe which view of nature. And this is one way to look at why there are so many responses to the threat of global warming, despite us all having access to the same information.

—Christie Nicholson

Please note: these theories were explained with graphics in a book by Mark Maslin called, Global Warming: A Very Short Introduction.

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