Why Experts and Advocates Clash Over Sustainability Problems





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Published on Sep 28, 2015

Lecture presented at UC Santa Barbara's Science of Science Communication conference, May 13-14 2015. More information:


Given their scale, complexity, and intractability, even those experts and environmentalists arguing for actions to address major sustainability problems like climate change often disagree about what the problems mean for society and what should be done. These disagreements reflect differing values, social identities, intellectual traditions, and visions of the "good society." They are embedded in contrasting views of nature, risk, progress, the economy, politics, and technology. In this presentation, drawing on a recently published paper, I discuss three major discourses that shape differing assumptions among experts and advocates about the root causes of sustainability problems and their solutions. In doing so, I assess the role of philanthropists, public intellectuals, journalists, filmmakers, and educators in creating, challenging, and transcending contrasting perspectives.

Related publications:

Nisbet, M.C. & Fahy, D. (2015). The Need for Knowledge-based Journalism in Politicized Science Debates.Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 658, 223-234.

Nisbet, M.C. (2014). Disruptive Ideas: Public Intellectuals and their Arguments for Action on Climate Change. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews Climate Change, 5, 809–823.

Nisbet, M.C. (2013). Nature’s Prophet: Bill McKibben as Journalist, Public Intellectual, and Activist. Joan Shorenstein Center for Press, Politics, and Public Policy. Discussion Paper Series, D-78 March. Cambridge, MA: Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.

Nisbet, M.C. (2011). Climate Shift: Clear Vision for the Next Decade of Public Debate. Washington, DC: American University, School of Communication.

Nisbet, M.C. (2015, May 11). Ecomodernists Spark Rhetorical Heat. Chronicle of Higher Education Review.

Nisbet, M.C. (2015, May 4). A Call for Greater Diversity of Thought in Environmental Studies Courses. The Conversation.


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