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Researcher says multiple voices needed in climate change policy

Look beyond scientific and economic framing of climate change, says Geography's Gwendolyn Blue

Gwendolyn Blue, associate professor in the Department of Geography, suggests that more views should be incorporated when looking at climate change, including those on equity, challenges to capitalism, indigenous rights and rights of non-human species. Photo by Riley Brandt

By Jennifer Allford
January 18, 2016

While scientists, environmentalists, politicians and industry groups get a lot of airtime talking about climate change, more voices have to be heard to create good public policy, says Gwendolyn Blue, associate professor in the Department of Geography.

"There is a range of different ways of thinking about climate change that are very important for public policy and often don't get enough attention," she says. "We need a kaleidoscope of perspectives."

As well as scientific and technical views, Blue suggests we should incorporate other ways of looking at climate change, including equity, challenges to capitalism, indigenous rights — even the rights of non-human species.

"The common assumption is we can solve climate change by either adding new technology or marketplace mechanisms like cap and trade or taxes," she says. "These are important, but limited, ways of thinking about how we might respond to climate change."

People outside scientific or technical circles are often considered ill-informed and their views discounted, she says, but a variety of perspectives is important to: "help us weigh options before we go down one path rather than another." More perspectives bring a broader understanding of the issue and contribute to better collective decisions.

"A range of concerned publics provide really interesting and important ways of thinking about climate change; the challenge is to link those into a policy process," she says. "I think we could craft better ways of understanding the relationship between science and publics and among diverse publics and public policy."

Blue's work explores different public voices; how they're often silenced and how to better bring them into the conversation about climate change.

"We need to invest more resources into our public dialogue," she says. And we need conversations that are "sophisticated, informed and nuanced" that include, but move beyond, scientific and economic framing of climate change.

“The challenge ultimately is to incorporate a range of different values into decision-making, not only those of scientific and economic elites,” she says. “The interpretive social sciences and humanities, although often overlooked in climate policy, can help us advance value-based decision-making.”

In Winter 2016, Blue will teach Science Nature Politics: Climate Change and the Anthropocene.

“In Alberta, climate change has become more of a public issue and I think that’s really important as we move forward after the climate talks in Paris,” she says. “We have a great ethical responsibility on our shoulders.”

The pressures of our growing global population are changing how we interact with each other, our systems and our limited natural resources. The University of Calgary’s Human Dynamics in a Changing World research strategy brings together multidisciplinary teams to understand these changes — to ensure our security, quality of life and the health of our ecosystems.