Guest Post By Kiminori Itoh ” What Is The Psychological Origin Of The Narrow View Of The IPCC? – Socio-Psychological Aspect Of The Climate Change.”

Guest Post By Kiminori Itoh who is  Professor in the Graduate School for Environment and Information Sciences, Yokohama National University, Yokohama, Japan.

I recently wrote an article in a Japanese physics journal for laymen (“Mentality of the global warming affair: socio-psychological aspect of climate change issue,” Parity, Vol. 27, No. 1, (2012) 90-93 (in Japanese unfortunately)) on the global warming issue from the view point of social psychology. In particular, I tried to characterize the psychological origin of the very simple idea that anthropogenic emission of CO2 is a main cause of climate changes and that the reduction of its emission can reduce the climate changes. The following is an excerpt of the relevant part translated in English.


I expressed the main point of the simplest global warming theory as model “A” in the figure at the top of the post. As the carbon dioxide concentration rises, greenhouse effect increases, and temperature rises. This resembles going down a river straight from the riverhead to the sea.

If the river has only one path, this view will be enough, but the reality is not so simple actually. For example, you can think about the Amazon. Many branches join, and are separated again to give complicated flows.

This situation is similar for climate change. Various factors affect the climate system in various ways to give different consequences. As a result, diverse climate changes are brought to each region. To think that the climate change is caused only by carbon dioxide, and to think that the global climate can be controlled by controlling carbon dioxide concentration are just like thinking that a large river originates from only one spring just because we know the spring.

There are numeral causes of the climatic variations, both natural and anthropogenic, according to the result of recent climate researches [1]. The changes of the atmosphere, the ocean, and the cloud are important as natural factors. It turned out that a regional and a global influence of the aerosols including soot are especially important as an example of anthropogenic factors. Moreover, cultivation and the land modification due to irrigation also have a big influence on regional climates. After all, it is necessary to represent the factors of the climatic variations by a lot of branches as shown by model “B”.

Moreover, in model “B”, several mouths of rivers were drawn to show that the global average temperature is not enough to evaluate the influence of the climate changes. The climate changes which affect our life are, in particular, extreme weathers and precipitation changes, and are not the average temperature itself. A rise in the sea level by expansion of sea water may be one of the few consequences caused by the global temperature change.

In this case, however, the everyday tide reaches to several meters, and the low pressure causes several dozen centimeters of sea level changes. Furthermore, influence of social factors such as ground subsidence are likely large. Thus, the influence of the average temperature will be much less remarkable than other factors.

Model “A” where only one cause is connected straightly to only one result is evidently too simple to show characteristics of the variations in the climate system. The problem is, rather, why such a simple diagram came to govern the view about the climate changes.

As a matter of fact, “simplification” is one of key features of the Western mentality according to recent studies of social psychology [2]. Therefore, it is my guess that the very simple picture of  climate change exactly has fit the Western mentality. Thus persons with a typical Western mentality tend to be fond of the simple global warming theory because it is psychologically comfortable for them.

Simplification and idealization are necessities in modern science. Thus, there is no wonder that the Western mentality has been suitable for constructing modern science [3]. However, such simplification and idealization sometimes do not work in the real world because of its complex nature. The climate change issue is, to my feeling, a typical example. The Eastern mentality which tends to view complex objects as they are may be suitable to deal with complicated issues such as environmental problems.

In this sense, recent ideas employed in Pielke et al. [4] ] and in The Hartwell paper [5] may be more Eastern rather than Western. In fact, Roger Pielke wrote in an e-mail to me “I agree; I have a more oriental mindset on the climate issue, which, in my view (and I assume yours) is what is really needed. The IPCC, in contrast, is almost an extreme view of a western mindset in that it is so 0ne-dimensional and linear.”

1) E.g., K. Itoh and T. Watanabe, “Lies and Traps in the Global Warming Affair,” (Nihon-Hyoron-Sha Publishing, 2007)
2) R. Nisbett, “The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently…and Why” (Free Press, 2003); R. Nisbett and T. Masuda, “Culture and Point of View,” Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci., 100, 11163-70 (2003)
3) J. Needham, “The Grand Titration: Science and Society in East and West.” (Allen & Unwin, 1979)
4) R. Pielke Sr. et al.: “Dealing with complexity and extreme events using a bottom-up, resource-based vulnerability perspective,” AGU Monograph on Complexity and Extreme Events in Geosciences, in press
5) G. Prins et al., The Hartwell Paper – A new direction for climate policy after the crash of 2009,


I recommend the readers to test your mentality using the figures in the work of Nisbett’s group. You can find how the mentalities of Western and Eastern have different characteristics. Thus, you will understand that the view of the IPCC is a typical example where the Western mentality fails to describe the reality by looking their world in too simple a way.

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