2020 Great Plains Conference: April 9-10, 2020, Lincoln, Neb.
Human activities are increasing CO2 in the atmosphere, producing global climate change. Although questions remain about the speed, complexity, and consequences of climate change, on the main point the science is settled. We know about greenhouse gases, rising average temperatures, increased coastal flooding, retreating glaciers, more frequent severe weather events, and other consequences that will upset and transform daily life. Yet rather than engaging in a productive debate about how to address this issue, our national conversation has devolved into a culture war in which one side denies the very existence of climate change while scientists have well documented this phenomenon.
Agriculture is our region’s largest industry, so we are intimately connected to the land and climate, with both short-term weather patterns and longer-term climate conditions affecting our daily decisions. Farmers and ranchers are, in a sense, first responders to the consequences of climate change already occurring. Indigenous communities, such as those along the Missouri River, are also disproportionately vulnerable to these changes. The Great Plains, long a region of weather extremes, will likely experience massive environmental impacts from future climate change with significant societal implications.
How did climate change become such a divisive issue? How does culture—meaning the beliefs, values, social practices, language, and attitudes by which we organize daily life—affect our understanding of climate change and limit or advance our possibilities for addressing it? Why have some embraced climate change denial and tried to delegitimize climate science? Can literature, art, history, politics, economics, psychology, language, and other social science and humanities disciplines bring to the discussion new and constructive ways of communicating? These questions motivate “Climate Change and Culture in the Great Plains.”
Thirty years ago, in 1990, the Center hosted a conference called “Climate Change on the Great Plains,” which was described as “Looking Back from the Twenty-First Century at Impacts of Climate Change on the Great Plains.” We return to that topic three decades later.
Scientists track climate change, but people will have to decide what to do about it. How can we focus national and regional attention on the key issues? This conference will examine the connection between climate change and culture through the Center for Great Plains Studies’ unique regional and interdisciplinary lens.
Andrew Hoffman is the author of How Culture Shapes the Climate Change Debate, one of 16 books and over 100 articles/book chapters he has written. In this work, he focuses on how environmental issues emerge and evolve under the influence of social and political ideas and the underlying cultural values that are engaged when people debate these issues. He is Professor of Sustainable Enterprise at the University of Michigan in the Stephen M. Ross School of Business and the School for Environment & Sustainability.
“Hoffman’s book is a much-needed analysis of how humans process information—and how that messy mix of reason, emotion, and cultural influence shapes and reinforces our views on global climate change.” —Anthony Leiserowitz, Director, Yale Project on Climate Change Communication.
Jessica Thompson’s research involves improving climate change communication through social science. She led a National Science Foundation project on building place-based climate change education tools for the U.S. National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Thompson is an expert on the social and cultural foundations for effective promotion of environmental policy with an interdisciplinary approach involving history, culture, government, and media. She is Associate Professor at Northern Michigan University and the founder of the Northern Climate Network. She also spent five years in the Human Dimensions of Natural Resources department at Colorado State University.
Daniel Wildcat writes on indigenous knowledge, technology, environment, and education. He is co-director of the Haskell Environmental Research Studies Center. A Yuchi member of the Muscogee Nation of Oklahoma, Wildcat recently formed the American Indian and Alaska Native Climate Change Working Group, a tribal-college-centered network of individuals and organizations working on climate change issues. In 2008, he helped organize the Planning for Seven Generations climate change conference sponsored by the National Center for Atmospheric Research. He is the author of Red Alert! Saving the Planet with Indigenous Knowledge and Professor at Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kan.