1 - Weather or climate change?  pp. 31-43

Weather or climate change?

By Ann Bostrom and Daniel Lashof

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Introduction

No sooner do we start experiencing the world than the world starts shaping our causal beliefs about it, by providing feedback on our actions, predisposing us to expect certain outcomes from particular actions, and thus to link causes to effects. It is only human to generalize and abstract stories from these. While specific actions and their specific consequences may be misremembered or forgotten (Brown, 1990; Koriat et al., 2000; Loftus et al., 1987), their cumulative legacy includes a set of general causal beliefs, or mental models, of how things work. Mental models are our inference engines, how we simulate sequences of events in our minds and predict their outcomes. Add to this vicarious experiences and adopted beliefs – the effects of science education, advertising, and other communications – and people can explain just about anything, including global warming, through the pre-existing lenses of their mental models.

When it comes to communicating climate change, awareness of our own mental models and those of the people we want to communicate with is key. Why? Because our mental models predispose us toward particular ways of thinking about a problem, its causes, effects, and its solutions. In other words, if we hold in our minds a mental model that wrongly captures what causes a problem, our response to the problem will be equally inappropriate. For example, a “heartburn” mental model of chest pains leads some people to take a digestive aid rather than seek timely medical care for heart attacks.

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