An affective approach to climate change adaptation

2 Aug 2012

At the end of November 2011, Australian news media reported that the year was shaping up to be the eleventh hottest on record globally and the hottest in which the La Nina effect was known to be cooling water temperatures in eastern and central parts of the Pacific Ocean. This rather alarming piece of information dropped out of the news cycle in less than a day with little or no comment. What does this mean? Have we become immune to such alarming news about global warming? Have we become more cynical about what scientists are telling us, especially at a time when we had experienced wet and cool Spring weather in south-eastern Australia? Do we simply hope that the scientists might still be wrong about climate change? Have we concluded that Australia is rather impotent when it comes to climate change action? Is the very idea of global climate change so overwhelming that we would rather bury our heads in the sand, maybe on a beach during blissfully lazy summer holidays? Or have Australian media outlets reached the conclusion that scientific predictions about the onset of climate change are no longer very ‘newsworthy’?

No doubt the muted response to the alarming news reflects a mix of these possibilities. The relative failure of global gatherings intended to negotiate new global agreements on climate change responses—from Copenhagen onwards—has increased our pessimism. The cynical and divisive political debate on the Gillard government’s efforts to ‘put a price on carbon’ has dampened our enthusiasm for what Australia might be able to do. Australian ‘news’ media outlets seem to be more interested in the theatrics of politics than the content of political debate and this is making people more cynical about politics in general. Those who are pushing s trongly for more adequate Australian policies on global climate change seem to be preoccupied with the formulation of public policy at a national level and the ongoing debate continues be dominated by the science of climate change.

In Australia we have not yet taken on board key ideas from the important book by UK-based climate change researcher Mike Hulme, especially when he points out that it is a misunderstanding of science to think that it can give us an ‘answer’ and that it is time to shift from thinking of climate change as ‘problem to solve’ in order to see it as a ‘condition in which we are enmeshed’. While this might seem like a pessimistic approach, Hulme argues that it can enable us to see climate change as being an ‘imaginative resource’ that can enable us to think much more deeply about our history, culture and ways of living. Hulme’s book offers us a way to get beyond the big problem of denial—whether it takes the form of scepticism or avoidance. But it is only an invitation to take a different approach to the climate change challenge; the hard work on this is yet to be done.

Hulme is certainly not alone in suggesting that we must turn our attention to the ‘affective dimensions’ of climate change adaptation.

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Photo Credit: jenny downing via Compfight cc

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