Climate Change Extension: Presenting the Science is Necessary But Insufficient

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Why Should We Consider How to Present Scientific Information?

To engage a wide spectrum of agricultural producers in the discussion of human-induced climate change and its mitigation.

What Did We Do?

Our initial Extension efforts on climate change in Kentucky were based on an information-deficit model, which assumes that citizens fail to accept climate change because they don’t understand the science.  However, social science research indicates that this topic has cultural significance for many agricultural producers, suggesting that presentation of sound scientific information alone is likely to be unpersuasive. Based on social science research, we redesigned our outreach efforts to emphasize: (1) more selective presentation of geophysical data; (2) positive messages as frequently as possible; and (3) messages that speak to core identities of citizens with diverse worldviews.

What Have We Learned?

Starting discussions on this sensitive topic are more successful if we make it clear to producers how much we appreciate their role in producing our food and, yes, in helping to reduce climate change.  For example, U.S. producers deserve to be congratulated for the dramatic improvements made in agricultural productivity over the decades, since this has resulted in substantial reductions in carbon emissions when expressed per unit of production (per bushel, per gallon of milk, etc).  We also point out practices they already do that help to reduce climate change, including energy-conservation measures and capturing biogas.

Future Plans

We plan to continue providing and refining our outreach on climate change, based on feedback from audiences and research from the social sciences.  While we recognize that our current efforts may not quickly result in increased action on climate-change mitigation, our approach is designed to build acceptance of climate change as a topic deserving of the engagement of a wide range of citizens.  Our working assumption is that promoting discussion on this highly divisive topic requires sensitivity to, and respect for, the diversity of worldviews held by Americans


Paul Vincelli, Provost’s Distinguished Service Professor, University of Kentucky;

Rebecca McCulley, Associate Professor, University of Kentucky

Judith Humble, L.C.S.W., Lexington, KY

Additional Information

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