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Monday
Sep242012

Climate-change risk communication and risk management for businesses

I haven't had a chance to read this really interesting-looking book yet (I just ordered it) but I find the simple existence of it fascinating.

As a national political issue, the issue of global climate change has much more relevance to people as a focus for conveying to themselves & others that they belong to a certain cultural "team" than it does as any sort of thing that might affect their or anyone else's health, welfare, etc. (now or in the future).  As individual consumers, voters, advocates, etc., ordinary members of the public just don't matter enough to have any effect on the risks posed by global climate change (or by ill-considered responses to it). On the other hand, how their beliefs relate to those of others in their community matters a ton. We judge people's characters by the positions they take on whether climate change is a "a global crisis" or a "massive hoax." Being out of sync with those on whom we depend for support -- materially, emotionally, psychically -- can be devestating. So people tend to extract from the "evidence" on climate change the information that really matters: what is someone like me supposed to think.

But this sort of dynamic is peculiar, really, to the framing of "climate change" as a national or global policy issue. When people engage issues of climate-change impact in other settings, the consequences and meanings can be very different.

This is a point I have been stressing recently in advocating more attention to political decisionmaking surrounding local adaptation (here & here, e.g.), where people engage the issue as property owners or scare-resource consumers, where they people they are engaging are their neighbors, and where the language they have for sorting these issues out fits comfortably with their cultural identities. Those are conditions much more hospitable to open-minded, constructive engagement with climate science.

Well, the "business risk" setting is another that has advantages like these. Here people are again engaging the issue not as a symbolic one of significance to their identities as members of tribes or teams but as a financial one that could affect them in their capacity as economic actors. Here too there is a language for addressing the matter that all interested parties share and that doesn't evince hostility to or contempt for the identities of some.

What's more, the very appearance of this sort of engagement with the issue taking place might arguably be expected to have a positive impact on discussion of climate science in other places. It's tangible evidence that people w/ a dollar-and-cents stake & not just a political-ideological one are taking the science very seriously. That in itself supplies a resoruces that can be used, I think, to help counteract the suspicion and distrust that have poisoned the discussion environment at the national level.

Having said all this, I do think the length of the hair of the guy on the book cover might arouse suspicion in the minds of typical hierarchical individualists...

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Reader Comments (2)

Whether opinion, informed or not, is relevant varies seemingly to the distance of its "possible" effect upon the opinionees life experience and circumstances. A farmer in the same State views flood and drought risk entirely differently from say a city dweller in the same State and same political tribe. A husband with a sick wife views health care wars entirely differently to a wealthy family free of health worries. Intelligent business takes a dispassionate view of risk - what are the chance it "might" happen, what are the "possible" consequences, how can we avoid / mitigate the worst of the consequences. If the hazard does not occur - no matter. If it does we are ready. The average Joe seemingly makes non of these deliberations but drifts aimlessly on through life taking their chances. Indeed his or her "opinions" are not really worth the effort of considering in practice other than for the artificial situation of "democratic" politics. A recent example of the misunderstanding of risk management was that European countries were "making plans" should Greece default and leave the Euro. Journalists immediately jumped to the wrong conclusion that making plans meant they actually knew Greece was about o leave the Euro.
Greece is still in the Euro but should it leave the consequences are now planned for and mitigated.

September 25, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterrobert

@Robert: Yeah, sometimes those people among us who happen to be corporations have certain advantages in reasoning. Their values might not always be right on the money (so to speak) but let's give them their due.

--dmk38

September 25, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterdmk38

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