Archive for the ‘Public Opinion’ Category
There is a story in the New Yorker this week about geoengineering research that could help avert the worst effects of climate change. Scientists around the world are looking into ways to alter the composition of the atmosphere in order to reflect sunlight back into space, extract existing CO2 from the atmosphere, or other schemes to offset the expected rise in temperature through the rest of the century and beyond. Some of the schemes — such as pumping sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere to deflect the sun’s rays — are based on relatively well established science. Other ideas seem, well, more fanciful:
There have been proposals to send mirrors, sunshades, and parasols into space. Recently, the scientific entrepreneur Nathan Myhrvold, whose company Intellectual Ventures has invested in several geoengineering ideas, said that we could cool the earth by stirring the seas. He has proposed deploying a million plastic tubes, each about a hundred metres long, to roil the water, which would help it trap more CO2.
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The Harvard physicist Russell Seitz wants to create what amounts to a giant oceanic bubble bath: bubbles trap air, which brightens them enough to reflect sunlight away from the surface of the earth. Another tactic would require maintaining a fine spray of seawater—the world’s biggest fountain—which would mix with salt to help clouds block sunlight.
The part of me that always seeks to maximize my sources of amusement would LOVE to live in a planet surrounded by mirrors, shades and parasols, with giant bubble baths, fountains and drink-stirrers sprouting from the oceans. But my enthusiasm for these geoengineering schemes is tempered by the fact that, as Trinity College engineering professor Hugh Hunt says, “If we have to use these tools, it means something on this planet has gone seriously wrong.’’
In a study of the 2003 anti-Iraq War global protests, Bennet, Breunig, and Givens (2008) argue that changes in social identity processes are leading individuals to seek less binding and more flexible relationships with organizations that provide support on issues that matter to them personally. This model of activism stands in contrast to the 1960s-70s era model, in which concerned citizens identified strongly with one issue and organization.
Single-issue organizations are still being formed today, of course, but our relationships to them are becoming looser and less hierarchical. Bennett and colleagues argue that these loose ties, along with a heavy reliance on online media for political information, account for the speed with which anti-war activists were able to organize back in 2003. It’s likely that these massive, multi-nation gatherings could not have been organized with the same speed and degree of coordination without the information technologies we have at our disposal today.
A communication-centered explanation of the difficulty to reform Wall Street so far would depend largely on which view of public opinion and the nature of the public sphere (indeed, which view of democracy) you adopt. University of Pennsylvania Provost and communication researcher Vincent Price (2008) usefully describes four models of the public sphere that could potentially apply to the U.S. at various points in the debate over financial reform and other issues:
The Competitive Elitism model: Under this model, the participation of citizens is limited to expressing their opinion through the ballot box. Otherwise, public opinion and decision-making is left to policy-makers, bureaucrats, experts and other elites. Public opinion becomes a matter of elites trying to convince each other of the rightness of their policy positions. As Walter Lippmann (1922) argued, the role of experts under this model is to explain complex issues to decision-makers and to manufacture consent from the public.