Events & Media



"Citizen Engagement (and Disengagement) in Response to Climate Change"

Adam Seth Levine
Assistant Professor, Department of Government
Cornell University

October 22, 2015
11:30 a.m. - 12:45 p.m.
Bren 1414

Co-hosted by the Center for Social Solutions to Environmental Problems,
the Psychology, Environment, and Public Policy (PEPP) Seminar,

and Hahrie Han, Anton Vonk Chair, Environmental Politics, UCSB

"Professor Levine will demonstrate the counterintuitive idea that messages making climate change personal can backfire by demotivating people who instead begin worrying about their own situation. Don't miss this talk or you'll risk repeating the mistake as you try to motivate people to take action on environmental issues!"

— Bren School Professor Sarah Anderson

It is commonly argued that people are more motivated to become politically active when issues are personally important to them. If that’s the case, then it follows that rhetoric that personalizes an issue – that is, communicates how it will personally affect them – should foster political action. In this project, Reuben Kline (Assistant Professor of Political Science at Stony Brook) and I re-examine this claim. We argue that personalizing rhetoric can actually have a demobilizing effect by leading people to focus on personal problems that they are or could soon be facing. The result is that they are less likely to believe that they can afford to devote cognitive and other scarce resources to politics. We test this claim in the realm of climate change, using a large-scale field experiment and a survey experiment with a diverse national sample.

Adam Seth Levine is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Government at Cornell, along with being a faculty affiliate of Cornell's Center for the Study of Inequality and an affiliate of ideas42 in New York. He studies political and civic engagement, and especially how various forms of communication can either encourage or hinder such engagement. In 2015, he published American Insecurity: Why Our Economic Fears Lead to Political Inaction, with Princeton University Press. This book examines why we haven’t seen much evidence of large-scale political pressure to stem growing economic insecurity in the United States. The book posits a new argument about the distinctly communicative barriers to generating broad citizen engagement on these issues. Adam is currently working on a variety of other projects also related to engagement and communication on topics such as climate change, organizational credibility, same-sex marriage, campaign finance, income inequality, and health care. In 2011 he won the E. E. Schattschneider Prize for the best dissertation in the study of American government. This prize is the highest dissertation award in his field and is given annually by the American Political Science Association.

NOTE: Community colloquia are generally talks of broad interest geared toward a diverse, sophisticated audience. Their purpose is not only to enhance knowledge and understanding, but also to bring people together and promote interaction that will strengthen the community.


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