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Canadian research examines effects of scientific claims on oil

A University of Alberta researcher says people generally do not act on information about the effects fossil fuel-based products are having on the environment. And the reason, says English and film studies researcher Imre Szeman, is because of the way discussions on environmental issues are structured.

In a recently published study, Szeman says the main assumption among scientists—that with knowledge comes behavioural change—is proving to be an ineffective premise in dealing with environmental problems resulting from oil production and use.

In "System Failure: Oil, Futurity, and the Anticipation of Disaster," Szeman says there are three social narratives that prevent people from acting on the knowledge they have concerning the effects of oil on the environment: strategic realism, the notion that oil production is good because it supports economic security; eco-apocalypse, which Szeman explains as our incapacity to act on knowledge we have; and technological utopianism, the belief that technology will solve environmental problems resulting from oil and its usage.

"Technological utopianism is a very bizarre narrative because there's no evidence of this fact," said Imre. "What it shows is the extent to which we place a lot of faith in narratives of progress and technology overcoming things, despite all evidence to the contrary."

Szeman adds oil use has become a deeply cultural issue and thus any kind of solution has to be cultural, and not just infrastructure or technology-based.

"We know that oil use is damaging to the environment; we know that we should act differently, but we also know that we can't. We just try not to think of it," he said.

"System Failure: Oil, Futurity, and the Anticipation of Disaster," is published in the South Atlantic Quarterly.

Michael Davies-Venn | EurekAlert!
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