In Search of Common Ground: Collaboration and participatory decision-making in environmental problem solving

Type: Paper
Sponsor Groups:
Poster #:
Day: 4/10/2018
Start / End Time: 4:40 PM / 6:20 PM
Room: Napoleon C2, Sheraton 3rd Floor
Organizers: Jennifer Bernstein, Brian Szuster
Chairs: Jennifer Bernstein


The state of the biophysical environment appears exceptionally dire. We are facing one of hottest years on record and biodiversity loss has declined to 10% below the “safe” planetary boundary (Walsh et. al 2014; Schmidt & Archer, 2011; Newbold, 2016). At the same time, attitudes towards environmental problems are becoming increasingly polarized. In 1989, 76% of Americans identified as an environmentalist, with equal numbers affiliating with each political party. This decreased to 46% in 2016 as Republicans who aligned themselves with the term declined (Jones, 2016). Perhaps the most telling indicator of our current predicament is that the best predictor of one’s views on climate change is political party affiliation (Kahan, 2014). Tribalism has been widely recognized and even experts on environmental issues are skeptical of the possibility of easy solutions (Kysar & Salzman, 2003).

Engaging with a broad range of ideological frameworks, groups, discourses, and approaches to environmental problem solving is more important than ever given our biophysical and sociological challenges. There already exist different frameworks for public engagement (e.g., pluralism, pragmatism, civil disagreement) that offer process-oriented models facilitating dialogue despite divergence (Brush, 2016). Individuals with tribal affiliations operate, in part, on the basis of individual preference, but policy development and implementation is inherently a work of compromise (Kysar & Salzman, 2003). Environmental communication campaigns often identify shared values and employ framing to communicate with demographically, politically, and ideologically diverse groups (Nisbett, 2009; Lakoff 2010). While a shallow approach to framing risk being instrumentalist, deep commitment can facilitate collaboration (Brulle, 2010). Multidimensional rather than unidimensional interpretations of environmental worldviews add further complexity to the political landscape (Bernstein & Szuster, 2017). Notable examples of alliances across perceived differences exist in the American West, as land use conflicts regularly bring together environmentalists, ranchers, loggers, and recreationists into groups of participatory decision-makers (e.g., Brick et al., 2001). An appreciation for the landscape is no panacea, however, as deliberation does not guarantee successful problem-solving. Case studies have shown that small, deliberate, well-defined projects can lead to the development of shared networks of trust, and ultimately, recognition of shared values. In this session, we are interested in exploring examples of environmental problem solving and participatory decision-making that address polarization and difference, with the goal of identifying productive frameworks for engaging “coalitions of the unlike”.


Bernstein, J., Szuster, B. Assessing the Diversity of Contemporary Environmentalism: Time for a New Paradigm. International Journal of Environmental Research (Revise and Resubmit)
Brick, P., Snow, D., & van de Wetering, S. (Eds.). (2001). Across the great divide: Explorations in collaborative conservation and the American West. Island Press.
Brulle, R. J. (2010). From environmental campaigns to advancing the public dialog: Environmental communication for civic engagement. Environmental Communication, 4(1), 82-98.
Brush, Emma. (2016). Pluralism, pragmatism, civil disagreement: a proposed framework for engagement. Presentation, Association for Environmental Studies and Sciences conference, 6-24-2017.
Jones, J. (2016, 22-April). Americans' Identification as "Environmentalists" Down to 42%. Retrieved 2017, 3-January from Gallup Social Issues:
Kahan, D. M., Jenkins‐Smith, H., & Braman, D. (2011). Cultural cognition of scientific consensus. Journal of Risk Research, 14(2), 147-174.
Kysar, D., & Salzman, J. (2003). Environmental Tribalism. Faculty Scholarship Series, Paper 388.
Lakoff, G. (2010). Why it matters how we frame the environment. Environmental Communication, 4(1), 70-81.
Newbold, T., Hudson, L. N., Arnell, A. P., Contu, S., De Palma, A., Ferrier, S., ... & Burton, V. J. (2016). Has land use pushed terrestrial biodiversity beyond the planetary boundary? A global assessment. Science, 353(6296), 288-291.
Nisbet, M. C., & Scheufele, D. A. (2009). What’s next for science communication? Promising directions and lingering distractions. American journal of botany, 96(10), 1767-1778.
Schmidt, Gavin, and David Archer. "Climate change: Too much of a bad thing." Nature 458.7242 (2009): 1117-1118.
Walsh, J., Wuebbles, D., Hayhoe, K., Kossin, J., Kunkel, K., Stephens, G., ... & Anderson, D. (2014). Our changing climate. Climate change impacts in the United States: The third national climate assessment, 19-67.


Type Details Minutes Start Time
Presenter Jennifer Bernstein*, , Environmental Worldview Typologies: Self-Reported Commonalities and Divergences of Contemporary Environmentalists 20 4:40 PM
Presenter Emma Brush*, The Breakthrough Institute, The Case for Conflict: Three Studies in Environmental Discord 20 5:00 PM
Presenter Brian Szuster*, University of Hawaii, Food Tourism and Community Supported Fisheries: Communication, Collaboration and the Social Capital Deficit 20 5:20 PM
Presenter Karie Boone*, Colorado State University, Incorporating interdisciplinary assessment to enhance collaborative resource governance: The Case of the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program 20 5:40 PM
Presenter Michael Schwebel*, 100 Resilient Cities, Examining Ocean County, NJ Participation in the National Flood Insurance Program's (NFIP) Community Rating System (CRS) 20 6:00 PM

To access contact information login