Climate Policy Trapped in the Echo Chamber

Dana R. Fisher, University of Maryland

A new study reveals that discussions of climate policy are distorted by “echo chambers” - where information and beliefs are amplified by repetition inside enclosed systems. Because their own beliefs are constantly reinforced and never challenged, legislators end up cherry-picking parts of climate science to amplify or undermine, reducing the impact of research.

According to a new article in Contexts magazine, “climate science is more beholden to politics than politics is to the actual science.” Legislators and other political actors such as nonprofit advocacy groups, business interests, and scientists and researchers all agitate for their own position on climate change to shape policy at the state and federal level. But in debates among actors with differing viewpoints, echo-chamber reinforcement guarantees that all parties will hold fast to their beliefs.  Political gridlock on climate change is the result, which in turn makes citizens less enthusiastic about pro-active climate policies. Fisher has detailed the public’s lack of concern in recent interviews for the Associated Press, The Washington Post, CBS News, and the Christian Science Monitor. To break down the walls of echo chambers, environmental activists must promote scientific literacy and facilitate discussion among policy actors with different ideological positions.

Dana R. Fisher is the Director of the Program for Society and the Environment and Professor of Sociology at the University of Maryland. Her research focuses on the relationship between environmentalism and democracy, as discussed in her SSN brief on “Community Environmental Projects as a Gateway to Greater Citizen Participation.” Fisher has collaborated with the U.S. Forest Service and a variety of local environmental stewardship groups in cities in the Northeast since 2007, and is currently collaborating with the DC Office of the State Superintendent of Education to evaluate the effects of the School Garden Program on students, families and communities in the District.

In a related January 2015 Spotlight, SSNers Aaron McCright and Riley Dunlap highlight how identifying as either a Republican or a Democrat relates to whether or not one believes in man-made climate change at all, regardless of the generally held acceptance that winters are getting warmer.

November 2015