The COMPON Project: An Introduction

Contact Information

The Principal Investigator for The COMPON Project is:

Jeffrey Broadbent
Department of Sociology
University of Minnesota
broad001@umn.edu

The Compon project is modular; new national cases are always welcome but need own funding. Contact broad001@umn.edu. We will help you develop the research design and funding application for your national funding agencies or other sources.

This website is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Number 0827006. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

According to the dominant scientific consensus (DSC), global climate change (GCC) threatens all nations of the world with increasing risk of severe disasters. Reducing these risks requires the rapid decline (mitigation) of greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations in the global atmosphere. Absent a perfect cheap, non-polluting energy source, this mitigation can only be accomplished by reducing the sources (most prominently, the burning of fossil fuels) that produce GHGs and protecting the sinks (such as forests) that absorb them. But since fossil fuels are the energy basis of contemporary civilization, in practical terms, their removal will require profound social redesign--severe changes in most forms of production, consumption, and distribution in numerous nations and at a global scale. Such changes will gore many oxen, raising many points of resistance. While the vast majority of experts identify the major causes of GCC as human-induced, reactions by nations have ranged from acceptance and some degree of action to denial and inertia. Some nations have made a little progress in reducing or stabilizing their GHG outputs, while others have steadily increased. Overall, global atmospheric GHG concentrations are rising, following the "worst case" projections.

This global situation constitutes a natural experiment to answer the following questions: Why, in the face of high risk predicted by the vast majority of credible experts, has the world done so little to decrease the risk (by mitigating its causes)? Why have international agreements been so weak? The answer, it has become apparent, lies not so much in our failure to find the right international policy mechanisms (rules and institutions). More deeply, the answer lies in the diverse factors driving the mitigation responses of societies. Why have societies reacted with more or less effectiveness to the global call for mitigation? How have their reactions affected the possibilities for international agreements? And how, in the coming decades, will intensifying climate disasters affect these national and international processes? Regardless of one's stance on anthropogenic GCC, it is undeniable that these momentous questions will sway our world for long to come—and are worthy subjects of objective research.

The ongoing international research project—Comparing Climate Change Policy Networks (Compon, PI Jeffrey Broadbent)—is designed to address these questions, with its focus on the causes of societal reactions to CC and how these affect international negotiations. The project has developed a number of hypotheses about societal mitigation reactions that it will test through cross-societal comparison using the collected data and analysis. The initial determining cause of difference in societal mitigation efforts lies in the degree of acceptance and empowerment of the dominant scientific consensus (DSC). The reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have been the most powerful global purveyor of the DSC and provide a vital information flow network. Tracing the flow of information from the IPCC into and through the political systems of different countries, made visible by the network survey, and seeing how different organizations, coalitions and authorities frame and treat it, will provide the central indicator of the whole project.

Comparative analysis of different societies will indicate the causal factors causing the cross-case variation in their reception of IPCC and other scientific information. Some potential factors include: egalitarian stakeholder participation, culture of science and authority, demand profiles of strong interest groups, opportunities offered by political institutions, role of scientists as mediators, and network patterns of coalitions. Other factors include geophysical vulnerability, fossil fuel dependency, and levels of development and prosperity. To explain in a bit more detail, the causal hypotheses derive from both theory and observation. Theories of societal/political power, for instance, differ in their evaluation of the relative effectiveness of conflictual versus persuasive tactics by change agents. The latter indicates that "The more the political system provides venues for broadly representative and egalitarian stakeholder participation, the more the nation will mitigate CC." In contrast, a conflict-oriented hypothesis argues, "The more that national interest groups defend fossil fuel consumption, the less the nation will mitigate CC." Bringing in cultural theory, a resultant hypothesis states that "The more implicit the cultural acceptance of a rational-scientific worldview, the more the nation will mitigate CC." Combining cultural and persuasion theory yields "The more centrality CC scientists have in policy communications networks, the more the nation will mitigate CC." A paper by the PI describes 11 hypotheses in detail (available from author).

To collect the needed data for cross-societal comparison and hypothesis testing, the project has active academic research teams in 19 societies: US, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, China, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam, Indonesia, India, New Zealand, Sweden, Germany, United Kingdom, Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Switzerland. Other teams are in formation. Taken together, these cases vary in factors thought to cause differences in societal mitigation reactions, policies, and outcomes, as well as in their international stances on the issue. By comparing the factors driving the mitigation responses and trajectories of these societies, the Compon project will discern causal configurations leading to different mitigation efforts and outcomes.

In each case, the teams use identical methods to collect three types of data: media content analysis (newspapers and legislative reports); in-depth interviews; and quantitative network survey of (50 to 100) organizations engaged in the mitigation issue (governmental and public). The data cover both discourse (idea, stances, rationales) and action (coalitions, lobbying, movements, policy-engagement) in climate change politics. The analysis of networks among organizations and ideas, including flows of scientific information, political advice, trust, collaboration, and perceived influence, greatly enhances the capacity to compare case reactions and test hypotheses. The AAAS panel papers will present analyses of the media data, as that has been collected during the first stage of this on-going project. The papers show variation in how the national media have framed and presented climate change, and contextualize these findings in national politics, economics, culture and other factors.

The Compon project is modular; new societal cases are always welcome. The plan is to repeat the data collection at 5-year intervals to provide time-series data to study the third question—how will intensifying climate disasters affect societal and international efforts at mitigation? This database will become open for use by scholars around the world, administered by national training, research, and teaching centers on the social science of climate change. For further information, please explore our website, including a more detailed description, which can be found here.


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