S219 Geoscience Literacy and Public Policy in Oregon

Sunday, 10 January 2016
Hall E ( New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center)
Sydney E.P. Brahmavar, Mississippi State University, Portland, Oregon

Anthropogenic climate change is as divisive as it is important. The issue is highly complex and often difficult to understand, but there is a overall scientific consensus that it is happening. This is compounded by an overall misunderstanding about what scientific consensus actually means, e.g. that 97% is considered extremely high, as high as the amount of scientists that believe smoking causes cancer. People without scientific knowledge may think that 97% means that there is still some doubt, and cling to that in the face of such a monumental problem (Fischer, 2014). Climate policy is often thought of as a global problem, but in the last decade, we have seen an abysmal response from Washington D.C. to scientific reports such as the IPCC and Kyoto protocol. Washington is gridlocked by an increasingly more partisan Congress. Subsequently climate policy has become the responsibility of state and local governments, where partisan concerns can be set aside and policies can be discussed and implemented. Policy positions are still widely believed to be driven by party affiliation, but I hypothesize that in the Oregon legislature, policy decisions are more strongly correlated with the legislators' overall climate literacy than their party affiliation.

Legislators will be surveyed and asked ten questions about their knowledge and understanding of anthropogenic climate change, whether or not they have read the five latest scientific reports detailing our current and future climate, where they read this information (directly from the publisher, from a journalistic source, et cetera) and how they voted on the five most recent climate related bills in the Oregon legislature. All stated voting records will be compared to the public voting record.

The data will be a crucial resource for Oregon voters, activist groups, and may help shift the focus from partisan banter to a respectful and educational discussion. Clarifying that policy decisions are based on scientific reporting and not on how they were interpreted through a journalistic prism is an important distinction. This information will be important to activists, to voters and to legislators to determine the climate literacy level of all 90 members of the Oregon House and Senate, what information informs their positions and how they have voted as a result.


Fischer, D., Scientific American, 2014: Climate Risks as Conclusive as Link between Smoking and Lung Cancer. [http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/climate-risks-as-conclusive-as-link-between-smoking-and-lung-cancer/.]

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