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The Environmental Humanities, COVID-19, and Global Warming 4K version
University of Texas At Austin

Corresponding Author:[email protected]

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What good are the humanities? Do they ever help solve real world problems? For example, even if a vaccine for COVID-19 is developed, we already know that so many will refuse to be vaccinated that we will not be able to achieve herd immunity. To save the United States and other democracies that cannot simply dictate vaccination for all, we must admit the mistakes made in responses to two closely related existential threats: COVID-19 and global warming. Next we need to direct our attempts at persuasion at the “emotional brain” which organizes information in the form of stories and is responsible for risk assessment and motivation. So, to adopt a little of the short story technique, let’s imagine Jennifer, an MD/PHd student at Pitt. Following the example of Prof. Kathryn Hayhoe, who convinced a recalcitrant West Texas audience about global warming, Jennifer wants to persuade Appalachians skeptical of CORVID-19. Jennifer knows she will need the interdisciplinary thinking and teamwork that enabled environmental humanities experts to express the scientists’ knowledge in an “affective, or emotionally potent” way. Jennifer also knows she will need to combine emotional intelligence and narrative psychology in stories that embody the empathy needed to sway skeptical audiences. Eventually, by carefully reading the global warming story, Flight Behavior, she is able to understand the relationship between her target audience and visiting scientists like herself. Her sympathetic imagination now awakened by reading the novel, she believes she identifies with the locals well enough to persuade them to follow COVID-19 guidelines. Hopefully, this thought experiment can inspire a pilot study for humanities training to help public health representatives persuade skeptical audiences, training that could benefit global warming activists as well.