As a growing number of studies have demonstrated, climate change poses a significant threat to future social and economic activities. Indeed, the language of ‘risk’ has become a perennial theme in discussions of future climate change impacts and a central construct for how businesses respond to and ‘manage’ climate change.
Recently Daniel Nyberg and I had an article accepted for publication in the journal Organization exploring how corporations have responded to climate uncertainties and threats as ‘risks’ (pre-print PDF here). Conventional cognitive-scientific depictions of risk see organisations as ontologically separate from the risk they act upon. The core assumption underlying risk management is that risk is ‘out there’ and it just has to be ‘found’ and ‘captured’ by professional experts using statistical tools and analysis.
So it has come to this. Despite a mountain of scientific evidence emphasising the catastrophic implications of human-induced climate change, governments seem unable to take any significant steps to break humanity’s addiction to fossil fuels. As Chris Hayes recently noted, having been confronted with the fact of our addiction we now are in the full throws of denial; ‘it’s not that bad’, ‘we need fossil fuels to prosper and grow’, ‘one more fossil fuel development won’t matter’, ‘how bad can it be?’ etc. For governments and politicians long inculcated in the interests of the market and short-term corporate profit, the maintenance of a habitable atmosphere now appears something we are willing to forgo.
The last few weeks has been full of news of extreme weather events from across the world. One of the best sources for keeping up to speed on the Anthropocene’s new climate ‘normals’ is Faun Kime’s great blog site, which includes weekly pictorial updates on weather disasters unfolding around the world.
Last week the extreme weather news hit our family in a way that really resonated. No, not one of our increasingly regular Australian extreme weather events, but something happening on the other side of the world, in a place we had visited a few months ago and fallen in love with: Yosemite National Park in California, USA.
The complexity and pervasiveness of climate change sometimes make this a difficult subject to communicate. We are after all talking about the basic physics, chemistry and biology of our ecosystem and the way in which human activities are changing these in profound and fundamental ways; what some have termed a new geological epoch – the Anthropocene.
And yet, the physical and social implications of climate change are becoming daily more evident. One of the most powerful ways in which this can be conveyed is through visual imagery. For instance a growing procession of extreme weather events, such as Hurricane Sandy and its impact upon New York City have provided a multitude of powerful images of the micro realities of extreme weather and how even the centre of global capitalism is no match for a ‘climate on steroids‘.
The other day I watched a powerful presentation by noted photographer Garth Lenz. Speaking at a TED event in Canada he outlined the appalling environmental destruction that is being unleashed by the tar sands industry.
I’ve been following the news coverage on Canada’s tar sands for some time now, given the huge implications of non-conventional fossil fuels for escalating greenhouse gas emissions and the ever worsening climate crisis. I’m also editing a forthcoming special issue of the journal Organization on climate change and future imaginings, which includes an excellent study of the discourses employed by companies in the Athabasca tar sands industry written by Jane Lê.
This morning, the Climate Commission released a report with the apt title ‘The Angry Summer’. The report reviews the recent extreme weather we’ve been experiencing here in Australia. In fact this has been the hottest summer on record and the Climate Commission’s report highlights the numerous weather records that have been broken (123 in 90 days); temperatures, rainfall, floods, drought, bushfires, tornadoes and cyclones.
While the media increasingly ignores climate change as a topic (even in the case of scientific evidence linking extreme weather events with climate change), there are good grounds for hypothesising that our personal experience of weather affects our awareness of climate change.