The Social Sciences and Climate Change: structuring the sources of distrust

Professor Andy Hoffman, Stephen M. Ross School of Business and School of Natural Resources & Environment, University of Michigan

Co-presented with the Sydney Business School and the Sydney Network on Climate Change and Society

20 March

The debate around climate change has moved beyond carbon dioxide levels and climate models and is increasingly about values, culture, worldviews and ideology. Can the social sciences like psychology, sociology, anthropology and political science, offer a clear and concise framework for understanding why people reject the scientific consensus? While physical scientists explore the mechanics and implications of anthropogenic climate change, social scientists explore the cultural reasons why people support or reject their scientific conclusions.

Scientists do not hold the definitive final word in the public debate on this issue. There is a constituency beyond scientific experts, and the processes by which this constituency understands and assesses the science of climate change goes far beyond its technical merits and a simple assessment of scientific models. Beliefs about God, the role of government, trust in the market, the value of nature and faith in science are just some of the deeply held beliefs, worldviews and values that social scientists can examine.

Image for Andy Hoffman lecture

Andy Hoffman is the Holcim (US) Professor of Sustainable Enterprise at the University of Michigan. Within this role, Andy also serves as Director of the Frederick A. and Barbara M. Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise.

Professor Hoffman has written extensively about corporate responses to climate change; how the interconnected networks of NGOs and corporations influence change processes; and the underlying cultural values that are engaged when these barriers are overcome. His research uses a sociological perspective to understand the cultural and institutional aspects of environmental issues for organizations. In particular, he focuses on the processes by which environmental issues both emerge and evolve as social, political and managerial issues.

He has published over a dozen books, which have been translated into five languages. His work has been covered in numerous media outlets, including the New York Times, Scientific American, Time, the Wall Street Journal and National Public Radio. He has served on research committees for the National Academies of Science, the Johnson Foundation, the Climate Group, the China Council for International Cooperation on Environment and Development and the Environmental Defense Fund.