Climate change has been described as a diabolical issue because
much of what we would like to know in order to manage the risks it presents is uncertain, the issues are complex and, without action, there is a potential for dangerous consequences.
Australia21 asserts that, in addition to greater understanding of the technical aspects of climate change, governments need to build deeper public understanding of the need and scope for changes in policies and behaviour that address the causes and effects of climate change. The challenges of climate change are exacerbated by the lack of understanding in the general community of the different goals of science and risk management, and by the nature of human behaviour and societal institutions and norms.
With respect to the first issue, if ‘truth’ is the pursuit of the scientific approach, definitive conclusions from the scientific community are typically lagging indicators aimed at providing certain explanations of what caused something to occur.
In contrast, the risk management approach adopts a pragmatic and proactive stance (leading approach) aimed at sensibly balancing the probabilities of an event occurring against the impact of that event should it occur. This disparity of purpose, we argue, often leads the general community to underestimate the practical risks implicated by scientific conclusions.
Adding to this barrier to action on the climate change issue is the nature of human behaviour and societal institutions and norms. We elucidate this point by providing a summary of the components of physical science, technology and economic research that have contributed to current understanding of the issue, and mapping on to it the components of behavioural and social science that appear most likely to be relevant to our understanding.
Our analysis concluded that the nature of the climate change issue requires a holistic capturing of current knowledge within the sub-disciplines of these fields and, in some cases, the need for new research activities. In the end, the most important lesson learned from the climate change issue may be that societal evolution has led our behaviour and societal institutions in directions that are unsustainable, not only through changing climate, but in many other ways.
Pearman, GI, & Härtel, CEJ 2010, Climate change: Are we up to the challenge? Greenhouse 09: Living with Climate Change, CSIRO Publishing, Melbourne, 1–15.