Course Description

425.615 - Understanding Public Attitudes for the Communication of Climate and Energy Policy

The enormous gains in environmental protection achieved in the latter half of the 20th century in the United States can primarily be credited to legal policy instruments that targeted point-source pollution through legislation such as the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act. However, that successful framework has been ill-equipped to handle the myriad sources of greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change, and passing new national climate change legislation has remained frustratingly out of reach. To meet these challenges, citizens will need to make both political and consumer decisions about climate change and energy. Public attitudes influence what is believed to be politically possible in passing new legislation, and consumer decisions contribute to as much as 40% of national emissions. These conditions have generated renewed interests in low-cost, non-regulatory “soft policy” approaches based on social science to inform public decision-making and behavior change. Communication? whether in the form of information provision, participatory decision-making, or social marketing ?is among the foremost of these strategies. This course will introduce you to a growing literature on the use of social science research in informing and evaluating climate change and energy policies. Understanding some of the terms and concepts used in social science research will help you critically evaluate research commissioned by the organizations for which you work, or even just survey toplines reported by the media. The course will challenge you not only to think about the varied communication factors that influence human decision-making and behavior, but to use that information in designing and evaluating programs. Offered onsite, at least once every two years.