Brain power

Climate models should include social and political attitudes

Originally posted on The Horizons Tracker.

Social and political attitudes seem to have an inevitable impact on the climate policy ambitions of a nation and so one would think that they would be a key aspect of climate change models, yet research1 from the University of California, Davis suggests that is rarely the case.

The research simulated around 100,000 possible future policy and emissions trajectories to try and identify relevant variables within the climate-social system that could have an impact on climate change over the coming century.

The study finds that public perceptions, both on the science of climate change and the cost and effectiveness of climate mitigation methods are key to shaping the nature of institutional responses and therefore play a key role in the degree to which climate will change in the next century.

“Small changes in some variables, like the responsiveness of the political system or the level of public support for climate policy, can sometimes trigger a cascade of feedbacks that result in a tipping point and drastically change the emissions trajectory over the century,” the researchers explain. “We’re trying to understand what it is about these fundamental socio-political-technical systems that determine emissions.”

An external factor

There is inevitably considerable uncertainty around the long-term changes in emissions and what their climate impact might be.  The authors note, however, that most climate models regard policy as an external factor, despite its huge importance.

The researchers modeled around 100,000 different future pathways of both climate policy and greenhouse gas emissions.  Their model aimed to connect data across a range of social, technical, and political fields to include a range of scenarios, such as public support, social perceptions of climate change, and the introduction of carbon pricing.

The results show that our perceptions, and the social groups we form, along with both the technological improvements in climate mitigation technology and the general responsiveness of our institutions are the key drivers of future emissions, with these factors far more important than our actions as individuals.

While the research is not intended to be prescriptive, it does hope to highlight the importance of the social-political-technical system in influencing future emissions and remind policymakers and modelers alike of the importance of looking at things holistically.

“Understanding how societies respond to environmental change, and how policy arises from social and political systems, is a key question in sustainability science,” the researchers conclude. “We see this as pushing that research, and also being useful for climate adaptation and impacts planning.”

Article source: Climate Models Should Include Social And Political Attitudes.

Header image source: Fabrice Florin on Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0.


  1. Moore, F. C., Lacasse, K., Mach, K. J., Shin, Y. A., Gross, L. J., & Beckage, B. (2022). Determinants of emissions pathways in the coupled climate–social system. Nature, 603(7899), 103-111.
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Adi Gaskell

I'm an old school liberal with a love of self organizing systems. I hold a masters degree in IT, specializing in artificial intelligence and enjoy exploring the edge of organizational behavior. I specialize in finding the many great things that are happening in the world, and helping organizations apply these changes to their own environments. I also blog for some of the biggest sites in the industry, including Forbes, Social Business News, Social Media Today and, whilst also covering the latest trends in the social business world on my own website. I have also delivered talks on the subject for the likes of the NUJ, the Guardian, Stevenage Bioscience and CMI, whilst also appearing on shows such as BBC Radio 5 Live and Calgary Today.

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