Promoting systems thinking helps in Climate Change Communications, but how to do it?

PNAS April 13, 2019

Our findings indicate that across the political spectrum, systems thinking may facilitate an ecological ethic or value system that humans should preserve and protect the natural world rather than exploit it. This, in turn, may strengthen proclimate views and understanding of climate change (e.g., that global warming is happening, is human-caused, etc.). The findings contribute to systems thinking theory and indicate the importance of promoting systems thinking to support proclimate science beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors across political lines.


From the conclusion

Scholars argue that “a systems thinking mindset is malleable and can be enhanced by a variety of kinds of interventions: both intensive educational training and more subtle framing manipulations” (ref. 8, p. 754). Despite this, however, calls for empirical research on the effects of systems thinking in applied settings have not been adequately answered (33738). Further, more research is needed on which core systems thinking skills should be acquired and how they can be enhanced through learning and teaching strategies (39).

More research is also needed on how to encourage systems thinking in climate change communication and to assess the extent to which these approaches can support the adoption of beliefs aligned with the conclusions of climate science. For example, the public is generally unaware of the complex and multifaceted process by which natural resources are used (e.g., energy use) because these systems are typically invisible to people (40). Similarly, basic misconceptions of global climate change and its causes (e.g., greenhouse gas emissions, energy consumption, deforestation) are also common (41). This lack of awareness and knowledge poses barriers to public engagement because many people do not understand how resource consumption influences the sustainability of natural systems (94243). Communication that makes invisible systems visible and describes the interrelation between human action, the natural environment, and other domains such as public health and the economy (including the cobenefits of a sustainable natural environment) may help to promote systems thinking and an ecological worldview, and thus, proclimate views and behavior (44).

To address environmental issues such as climate change, “we need populations equipped to conceptualize dynamic and complex problems, to work with transformational change, and to innovate solutions to emerging threats and disturbances” (ref. 2, p. 1). Climate change is a serious threat to ecosystems and human populations and represents one of the most complex systems problems society faces (3645). This study finds that systems thinking can encourage the adoption of an ecological worldview, which in turn can foster acceptance and understanding of climate change across people with different political views.