Making the Assignment Instructions More Accessible
for Students with Potential Learning Disabilities


Public Anthropology’s Community Action Website Project helps to provide students with key skills they need to be successful in their future careers: critical thinking, effective communication, and active citizenship. The Project encourages (1) critical thinking regarding a social issue of concern, (2) a sharing of ideas among students with different perspectives, and (3) improved writing skills.



Given the frequent polarization between “us” and “them” in many countries, the anthropological effort to communicate across differences is more vital today than ever.   Rather than trying to obliterate differences, anthropology, at its best, allows communities to flourish – not because everyone in the community thinks of behaves alike, but because they appreciate their differences with one another and have learned to work together on projects of shared interest despite their differences. (For additional information on civil conversations, readers might refer to this link.)

Students are challenged to apply this anthropological skill to the heated disputes today surrounding climate change.  This involves:

1. CONDUCTING FIELDWORK:  Just as you might do if you were an anthropologist studying a group half a world away living a different way of life, this project encourages you to understand the perspectives of those who disagree with you about climate change.

a. Can you understand why they disagree with you?  Can you find common ground with those who hold different views than you?

2. UNDERSTANDING THE CULTURAL CONTEXTS THAT SHAPE PEOPLE’S BEHAVIOR:  The data on opinion formation (see below) suggest that people’s opinions are often formed within groups, not by themselves as individuals.  It is not necessarily a rational process.

a. Try to understand why people, in a group possessing different views than you regarding climate change, hold the views they do? To what degree do these views reflect certain group values? 


a. Frame your paper as a letter to a set of people who disagree with you on climate change in a way that will, hopefully, draw them toward a shared understanding on certain issues that will allow you to collectively work together on a shared project regarding climate change.

b. It is critical to recognize that your letter cannot simply be a rational, intellectual argument defending your own position.  As the background readings make clear,  you need to consider the other group’s perspectives emotionally as well as intellectually in framing your letter.



1. READ the background material below.

2. You will be required to write to a person or group from the opposing perspective that holds a particular view that you disagree with and that you would like to discuss the issue with. You can decide on which perspective you would like to write your letter about from reading the information presented below.

3. You will then write a letter to a fellow student whose views differ from yours on climate change.

  1. Before you do, you will be required to list the point of disagreement that you are focusing on in your letter that you wish to find common ground on with the individual who disagrees with you.
  2. In addition you will have to list which tools (from the list presented below) you will use to soften the polarization between the two of you to seek common ground and a basis for addressing the problem together.
  3. Since we live in democracies in North America, mobilizing for change means you need to bring together people of diverse interests. How might you frame your letter to draw this other student, and others like him, toward addressing a common problem that concerns both of you.
  4. What solution to the problem do you think you might work on together?

4. The letter should be at least 400 words long.


a. How specific has the author been in listing at least two ways that the people she or he is addressing differ from the author’s own view on climate change? Are the differences real and substantial?

b. The clarity of the author’s letter: Is it simple and easily understood.

c. Does the author convey her or his message in an emotional as well as rational way – such as through telling a brief personal story or through a few anecdotes – that would likely hold the attention of the those who disagree with you. Do you make use make use of some of the ideas in the background readings that discuss how to talk effectively with people who disagree with you?

d. Critically, how effective does the author’s letter seem? Do you think it will draw people with whom the author disagrees with on the topic to find common ground with you so that the you and those that disagree with you can collectively work together on a climate change project that benefits the broader community?



The following background readings are to help you develop (a) your own position and (2) how you will frame your letter to draw people, who disagree with you, into finding common ground to address an issue related to climate change.

Varying Views on Climate Change:

Everyone agrees there have been significant changes in climate over the past several thousand years – from the last major ice age that ran from roughly 26,000 to 13,000 years ago to the excessively cold years of 1650, 1770, and 1850. Everyone also agrees there have been recent changes in global weather patterns – especially increased temperatures. Reflecting on the 2018 summer’s global heat wave, the Economist writes: “Heatwaves bring problems, especially in the developing world. Crops are ravaged, food spoils and workers become less productive. Studies have linked rising temperatures to violent crime and civil strife. And heat can kill on its own. In 2003 more than 70,000 Europeans may have died as a direct result of an infernal summer.” (

Where people disagree, sometimes heatedly, is on three issues:

1. Is human behavior and especially industrialization a key factor (or the key factor) in the rise in temperature over the past century?

2. While the ability to predict specific weather conditions in specific parts of the globe remains uncertain, do we have enough data to take concrete steps that will likely lessen a further increase in global temperatures?

3. Should we take such steps, even if they are expensive, even if we are uncertain, if they might address the problem?

The Problem is this:

Ever wonder why [people hold to certain opinions] in the face of . . . evidence to the contrary? New findings from researchers at UC Berkeley suggest that feedback, rather than hard evidence, boosts people’s sense of certainty when learning new things or trying to tell right from wrong.

Developmental psychologists have found that people’s beliefs are more likely to be reinforced by the positive or negative reactions they receive in response to an opinion, task or interaction, than by logic, reasoning and scientific data.

Their findings, published today in the online issue of the journal Open Mind, shed new light on how people handle information that challenges their worldview, and how certain learning habits can limit one’s intellectual horizons. (

PLEASE NOTE: The following material will provide you with the information you need to write your letter. You need not investigate the various links, footnotes, and references provided unless you are interested in learning more about particular points raised. You may, if you wish, consult other sources as well.

It is very important to not get "lost" in the data. Be sure to write your letter in a well-organized manner that will clearly make the points you wish to make to draw those who disagree with you toward common ground so that you can collectively address one or more issues together regarding climate change.


The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA):

Is Earth's Climate Changing? Earth's climate is always changing . . . Earth's temperature has gone up about one-degree Fahrenheit in the last 100 years. This may not seem like much. But small changes in Earth's temperature can have big effects.

Some effects are already happening. Warming of Earth's climate has caused some snow and ice to melt. The warming also has caused oceans to rise. And it has changed the timing of when certain plants grow.

What Is Causing Earth's Climate to Change? Many things can cause climate to change all on its own. Earth's distance from the sun can change. The sun can send out more or less energy. Oceans can change. When a volcano erupts, it can change our climate.

Most scientists say that humans can change climate too. People drive cars. People heat and cool their houses. People cook food. All those things take energy. One way we get energy is by burning coal, oil and gas. Burning these things puts gases into the air. The gases cause the air to heat up. This can change the climate of a place. It also can change Earth's climate.

The Limitations of Climate Models by Fabio Bergamin:

How accurate is the latest generation of climate models? Climate physicist Reto Knutti from ETH Zurich has compared them with old models and draws a . . . conclusion: while climate modelling has made substantial progress in recent years, we also need to be aware of its limitations . . .

One would assume that the longer scientists concentrate on the climate, the more accurate the results of the model calculations should become and hence the projections of the individual models should converge. According to Knutti, however, this assumption might well be true in the long run, but not in the short term. After all, the more complex a model becomes, the more processes are factored into it and, unfortunately, the greater the uncertainty becomes in the short term . . .

The problem with the new, short-term projections: the shorter the timescale, the smaller the influence of the manmade trend and the greater that of variable weather phenomena. Especially in the mid-latitudes we live in, the weather phenomena vary greatly and the climate change caused by humans is obscured by them. Therefore, as the researchers write in their study, it is difficult to make short and medium-term climate predictions, however good the models are.

Background of The Issue (Procon.Org)

Temperatures on earth have increased approximately 1.8°F since the early 20th century. [1] Over this time period, atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) have notably increased. [2][3] Both sides in the debate surrounding global climate change agree on these points.

The pro side argues rising levels of atmospheric greenhouse gases are a direct result of human activities such as burning fossil fuels, and that these increases are causing significant and increasingly severe climate changes including global warming, loss of sea ice, sea level rise, stronger storms, and more droughts. They contend that immediate international action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is necessary to prevent dire climate changes.

The con side argues human-generated greenhouse gas emissions are too small to substantially change the earth’s climate and that the planet is capable of absorbing those increases. They contend that warming over the 20th century resulted primarily from natural processes such as fluctuations in the sun's heat and ocean currents. They say the theory of human-caused global climate change is based on questionable measurements, faulty climate models, and misleading science . . .

The Heartland Institute argued against human-caused global warming in its 2013 NIPCC report which said that global warming since 1860 is the result of natural "cycles driven by ocean-atmosphere oscillations, or by solar variations." [4] . . .

According to a 2014 Pew Research Center poll, 40% of the US public believes global warming is caused by human activity, 35% believe that there is no solid evidence that global warming is occurring at all, and 18% believe global warming is occurring due to natural causes. [5] A Gallup poll taken in 2013 found that 78% of Democrats and 39% of Republicans believe that global warming is caused primarily by human activity - a 39 percentage point gap. [6] According to a 2015 survey by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communications, 63% of Americans believe global warming is happening, and 48% believe that human activity is primarily.

In Canada, the Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC) “found that while most Canadians believe climate change is real, their faith in the ability of science to shine a light on the issue is not uniform across the population. Only 28 per cent of those polled said the evidence for human-caused climate change is conclusive, with another 33 per cent describing the evidence as "solid." But from there the numbers start to slide — with 27 per cent saying there is some evidence, but it's not conclusive. The last 11 per cent claimed there is little to no evidence to suggest human-caused climate change is real. Asked "If the earth is warming, do you believe that cause is mostly . . .?," 70 per cent of those surveyed chose "human activity and industrial activity such as burning fossil fuels" — while the remaining 30 per cent chose "natural patterns in the Earth's environment." [7]

Pro Position

Overwhelming scientific consensus says human activity is primarily responsible for global climate change. The 2010 Anderegg study found that 97-98% of climate researchers publishing most actively in their field agree that human activity is primarily responsible for global climate change. The study also found that the expertise of researchers unconvinced of human-caused climate change is "substantially below" that of researchers who agree that human activity is primarily responsible for climate change. [8] The 2013 Cook review of 11,944 peer-reviewed studies on climate change found that only 78 studies (0.7%) explicitly rejected the position that humans are responsible for global warming. [9] A separate review of 13,950 peer-reviewed studies on climate change found only 24 that rejected human-caused global warming. [5] A survey by German Scientists Bray and Von Storch found that 83.5% of climate scientists believe human activity is causing "most of recent" global climate change. [10] A separate survey in 2011 also found that 84% of earth, space, atmospheric, oceanic, and hydrological scientists surveyed said that human-induced global warming is occurring. [11]

Con Position

More than one thousand scientists disagree that human activity is primarily responsible for global climate change. In 2010 Climate Depot released a report featuring more than 1,000 scientists, several of them former UN IPCC scientists, who disagreed that humans are primarily responsible for global climate change. [12] The Cook review [13] of 11,944 peer-reviewed studies found 66.4% of the studies had no stated position on anthropogenic global warming, and while 32.6% of the studies implied or stated that humans are contributing to climate change, only 65 papers (0.5%) explicitly stated "that humans are the primary cause of recent global warming." [14] A 2012 Purdue University survey found that 47% of climatologists challenge the idea that humans are primarily responsible for climate change and instead believe that climate change is caused by an equal combination of humans and the environment (37%), mostly by the environment (5%), or that there’s not enough information to say (5%). [15] In 2014 a group of 15 scientists dismissed the US National Climate Assessment as a "masterpiece of marketing," that was "grossly flawed," and called the NCA’s assertion of human-caused climate change "NOT true." [16]




1. Why We Are Poles Apart on Climate Change by Dan Kahan

Positions on climate change have come to signify the kind of person one is. People whose beliefs are at odds with those of the people with whom they share their basic cultural commitments risk being labelled as weird and obnoxious in the eyes of those on whom they depend for social and financial support. So, if the cost of having a view of climate change that does not conform with the scientific consensus is zero, and the cost of having a view that is at odds with members of one’s cultural community can be high, what is a rational person to do? In that situation, it is perfectly sensible for individuals to be guided by modes of reasoning that connect their beliefs to ones that predominate in their group . . .

People acquire their scientific knowledge by consulting others who share their values and whom they therefore trust and understand. Usually, this strategy works just fine. We live in a science communication environment richly stocked with accessible, consequential facts. As a result, groups with different values routinely converge on the best evidence for, say, the value of adding fluoride to water, or the harmlessness of mobile-phone radiation. The trouble starts when this communication environment fills up with toxic partisan meanings — ones that effectively announce that ‘if you are one of us, believe this? otherwise, we’ll know you are one of them’. In that situation, ordinary individuals’ lives will go better if their perceptions of societal risk conform with those of their group.

2. Communicating Climate Change: Focus on the Framing, Not Just the Facts by Rose Hendricks

Kahan’s work shows that just because someone has scientific knowledge, he or she won’t necessarily hold science supported beliefs about controversial topics like global warming, private gun possession or fracking.

Instead, beliefs are shaped by the social groups people consider themselves to be a part of. We’re all simultaneously members of many social groups – based, for example, on political or religious affiliation, occupation or sexuality. If people are confronted with scientific evidence that seems to attack their group’s values, they’re likely to become defensive. They may consider the evidence they’ve encountered to be flawed and strengthen their conviction in their prior beliefs. . . .

A growing body of research suggests that instead of bombarding people with piles of evidence, science communicators can focus more on how they present it. The problem isn’t that people haven’t been given enough facts. It’s that they haven’t been given facts in the right ways.

One framing technique Kahan encourages is disentangling facts from people’s identities. . . [Talk] about things that are important to [your audience], such as fishing, flooding, farming, faith and the future. These issues that matter to the people with whom he’s communicating become an entry into discussing global warming . . .

Climate change messages can also be framed by focusing on different time periods. Social psychologists Matthew Baldwin and Joris Lammers asked people to read either a past-focused climate change message (like “Looking back to our nation’s past… there was less traffic on the road”) or a similar future-focused message (“Looking forward to our nation’s future… there is increasing traffic on the road”).

Researchers found that self-identified conservatives, who tend to resist climate change messages more than liberals, agreed that we should change how we interact with the planet more after reading the past-focused passage. Liberals, on the other hand, reported liking the future-focused frame better, but the frames had no influence on their environmental attitudes.

And the frames didn’t have to be words. Conservatives also shifted their beliefs to be more pro-environmental after seeing past-focused images (satellite images that progressed from the past to today) more than after seeing future-focused ones (satellite images that progressed from today into the future). Liberals showed no differences in their attitudes after seeing the two frames.

Many climate change messages focus on the potential future consequences of not addressing climate change now. This research on time-framing suggests that such a forward-looking message may in fact be unproductive for those who already tend to resist the idea.

There’s no one-size-fits-all frame for motivating people to care about climate change. Communicators need to know their audience and anticipate their reactions to different messages.

3. Arguing Politics with Friends? One Word Makes a Difference: New study offers insight into political conflict with friends, family & others


A soon-to-be-released study which will be published in the European Journal of Social Psychology offers an interesting, new perspective on this question. Yale University’s John Bargh, along with his colleagues, Jaime Napier, Julie Huang, and Andy Vonasch, found that a desire to feel safe is the motor that drives many political beliefs. And that making someone feel safe can actually change his or her political opinions.

Volunteers who participated in the study were divided into two groups and told to imagine a situation in which they had one of two superpowers. One group was told to imagine that they could fly on their own (without machinery). The other was to imagine that they could be completely physically safe. The group who pictured themselves flying felt more vulnerable, and when they then responded to questions about their political beliefs (determined by questions asked before and after the exercise), those who had expressed more conservative beliefs stayed attached to their conservative point of view, and those with more liberal attitudes moved closer to a conservative perspective. On the other hand, those who felt safer — that is, those in the group that imagined being completely physically safe — became more closely aligned with a more liberal position.

These findings matched earlier studies by Professor Bargh and his colleagues. In one nationwide study, participants were first reminded about the threat of the flu virus and then asked questions that measured their attitudes toward immigration. Then participants were asked whether or not they had gotten a flu shot. Those who had not gotten a flu shot were more negative about immigration. Conversely, those who had already gotten vaccinated expressed more positive attitudes about immigration.

The researchers posit that a sense of safety leads to a more liberal or tolerant feeling about immigration, while a sense of potential threat leads to a more conservative or negative feeling about immigration. Even more powerful, in yet another study, simply having participants use a hand sanitizer during one flu epidemic made them more tolerant of immigrants.

One of the interesting aspects of these studies is that there was no actual reassurance taking place, but instead a simple action, either imagined or real, that led to a sense of security and a shift in political thinking.

The implications seem fairly straightforward: acknowledging the role of safety in everyone’s political position might help you have a more reasonable political discussion with those who disagree with you.


4. Establishing Common Ground: Finding Better Ways to Communicate About Climate Disruption by Anthony Barnosky et al.

The key message of this [essay] is that solving the climate problem will require motivating social and behavioral changes through effective communication . . . Despite the efforts of many journalists, scientists, educators, and politicians to convey the science behind and urgency of climate dis¬ruption, about a third of Americans still deny that climate is changing or that humans cause it, and nearly 60% feel that climate change is not a problem serious enough to affect them . . . We suggest . . . targeting specific audiences with appropriately framed information . . . To this end, we recognize [four] general communication strategies that will be useful.

• Establish Common Ground. For effective communication to take place, there has to be common ground, even when there are differences of opinions. Pay attention to differences in context, including cultural context, and pay attention to what others have to say, even when there is little overt agreement. Effectively connecting to another person requires working toward a common understanding, even if there is not full alignment in the end [17].

• Keep the Message Simple. Use concrete language when discussing issues around climate disruption. People are more likely to attend to and trust findings that are reported in a clear, accessible manner [18]. One good way to make a message simple is to rely on metaphor. Metaphors are useful for conveying scientific information because they provide a way to structure complex information in terms of more basic, everyday knowledge and experience [19, 20]. Images, such as graphs, are also useful alongside messages, especially when they appear with meaningful captions . . .

• Tell a Story. Effective literature and commercial media involve telling stories. Presenting information within a narrative structure engages audiences, and provides a structure for linking information, people, actions, and consequences. It also provides a larger frame through which to tell others about the message. [For an elaboration of this point, see the article "How we can use the 'science of stories' to produce persausive scientific stories?" ]

• De-politicize climate messages. With a heavy political frame, especially when there is negative information or risk of loss, people tend to polarize—it is their default. This is where framing can be especially helpful. Getting the message right and acknowledging human behavior may help curtail political polarization [21], for example, by framing such as: “You may think that believing climate change is a problem amounts to admitting the need for government oversight, but some of the most attractive policies are entirely market-based, depending on price signals to find the least-cost solutions.”


1. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), "Global Climate Change Indicators"

2. NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory, "Trends in Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide"

3. Bobby Magill, "Arctic Methane Emissions 'Certain to Trigger Warming'"

4. Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC), "Climate Change Reconsidered II: Physical Science"

5. Pew Research Center, "Section 7: Global Warming, Environment and Energy"

6. Lydia Saad, "Republican Skepticism Toward Global Warming Eases"


8. William R.L. Anderegg, James W. Prall, Jacob Harold, and Stephen H. Schneider, "Expert Credibility in Climate Change," Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, July 6, 2010

9. John Cook, Dana Nuccitelli, Sarah A. Green, Mark Richardson, Barbel Winkler, Rob Painting, Robert Way, Peter Jacobs, and Andrew Skuce, "Quantifying the Consensus on Anthropogenic Global Warming in the Scientific Literature," Environmental Research Letters

10.1088/1748-9326/8/2/024024 10. D. Bray and H. von Storch, "A Survey of the Perspectives of Climate Scientists Concerning Climate Science and Climate Change"

11. Stephen J. Farnsworth and S. Robert Lichter, "The Structure of Scientific Opinion on Climate Change," International Journal of Public Opinion, Oct. 2011

12. Climate Depot, "More than 1000 International Scientists Dissent over Man-Made Global Warming Claims,", Dec. 8, 2010

13. John Cook, Dana Nuccitelli, Sarah A. Green, Mark Richardson, Barbel Winkler, Rob Painting, Robert Way, Peter Jacobs, and Andrew Skuce, "Quantifying the Consensus on Anthropogenic Global Warming in the Scientific Literature," Environmental Research Letters, May 15, 2013

14. Popular Technology, "1350+ Peer-Reviewed Papers Supporting Skeptic Arguments against ACC/AGW Alarmism,", Feb. 12, 2014

15. Linda Stalker Prokopy, Lois Wright Morton, J. Gordon Arbuckle Jr., Amber Saylor Mase, and Adam K. Wilke, "Agricultural Stakeholder Views on Climate Change: Implications for Conducting Research and Outreach," Journal of the American Meteorological Society, Feb. 2015

16. 15 Scientists "Scientists Respond to the Obama Administration's National Climate Assessment– 2014," , May 15, 2014

17. Clark, H. H. (1996). Using Language In: Cambridge University Press.

18. Oppenheimer, D. M. (2006). Consequences of erudite vernacular utilized irrespective of necessity: Problems with using long words needlessly. Applied Cognitive Psychology 20(2): 139–156, DOI:

19. Gibbs, R. W. (1994). The Poetics of Mind: Figurative Thought, Language, and Understanding In: New York: Cambridge University Press. 

20. Lakoff, G. and Johnson, M. (1980). Metaphors we live by In: Chicago: U of Chicago Press. 

21. Nisbet, M. C. (2009). Framing science: A new paradigm in public engagement In: Kahlor, L. and Stout, P. eds.  Understanding science: New agendas in science communication. New York: Taylor & Francis, pp. 40–67




a. How specific has the author been in listing at least two ways that the people she or he is addressing differ from the author’s own view on climate change? Are the differences real and substantial?

b. The clarity of the author’s letter: Is it simple and easily understood.

c. Does the author convey her or his message in an emotional as well as rational way – such as through telling a brief personal story or through a few anecdotes – that would likely hold the attention of the those who disagree with the author. Does the author make use of some of the ideas in the background readings that discuss how to talk effectively with people who disagree with you?

d. Critically, how effective does the author’s letter seem? Do you think it will draw people with whom the author disagrees with on the topic to find common ground with the author  so that the author and those that disagree with her or him can collectively work together on a climate change project that benefits the broader community?