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Climate Change: Perceptions and Discourses of Risk

David Etkin and Elise Ho

Journal of Risk Research, 2007, vol. 10, issue 5, 623-641

Abstract: This paper discusses some of the issues that affect risk awareness with respect to climate change and what their impact has been on people's attitudes. It highlights the large gap between the scientific community and the general public in terms of their understanding, awareness and perception of risks associated with climate change. Awareness is driven both by environmental values or political and economic agendas; particularly important are worldviews and 'myths of nature', which have a great impact on risk perception. Attitudes are further complicated because the problem of climate change comprises a form of 'post-normal science': it needs to be viewed holistically, with consideration of the feedbacks between the climate system, the human system and ecosystems; there is large uncertainty and a plurality of legitimate perspectives; and the issue is complex and difficult or impossible to fit into a traditional linear problem-solving model. It is therefore not a rational decision for most individuals to take actions to reduce risk from climate change in the absence of collective action, yet collective action is extraordinarily difficult to achieve. The benefits of risk reduction also fall primarily upon future generations, while uncertainties mean that differences in perspective, and problems of poor communication, misinformation and unstated assumptions tend to cloud the social discourse.

Date: 2007
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