Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Study Tries to Bring Human Behaviour into Climate Change Projections

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Study Tries to Bring Human Behaviour into Climate Change Projections

Article excerpt

Social learning could slow global warming: study


Climate change can seem like a problem too vast for everyday people to influence, but research using computer models suggests that public attitudes and social learning can have a measurable impact on global warming.

"It feels like it's a bit of a hopeful study, in that it is possible for this change to happen," said Madhur Anand of the University of Guelph. "It's a big challenge and a lot of things have to change."

Mathematical models of how climate responds to different levels of greenhouse gases are a mainstay of climate science. Those models, however, don't take into account how humans respond to those changes.

That's a potential feedback left out of calculations.

"Just as human behaviour influences climate trends, climate change in turn influences human behaviour," says the study published in the journal PLOS Computational Biology.

Anand and her colleagues are among the first to try to bring human behaviour into climate change projections.

Their model was adapted from previous work in the social sciences and simplifies what are complex processes. Anand said it reveals how different factors shape behaviour.

"That's something you can do in a model," she said. "You change each parameter one at a time, or in tandem, and then you can look and see ... some things really affect ... the temperatures and some don't as much."

The model assumes that people learn from each other and change their behaviour accordingly. The rate of behaviour change depends on the rate of "social learning" -- the number and kind of public interactions people have on an issue -- as well as on social norms, perceived risk and costs to avoid that risk.

None of those factors makes enough of a difference on its own, said Anand.

"We found that we need a combination of different social processes coming together to help mitigate climate change. …

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