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Climate change adaptation narratives: Linking climate knowledge and future thinking

Coulter, Liese, Silvia Serrao-Neumann, Eddo Coiacetto. 2019. Climate change adaptation narratives: Linking climate knowledge and future thinking. Futures 111: pp.57-70


Even in countries with high capacity to adapt to climate change, when future-oriented adaptation narratives are neither explicit nor common, climate knowledge may not be accessed, examined, or shared to support active adaptation. This research analyzed interviews with Australian and Canadian professionals who worked with climate change knowledge in research, policy, and practice to gauge in what way their climate knowledge was linked to autonomous adaptation in personal circles. Analysis combined a thematic approach and a novel Future Climate Narrative (FCN) typology informed by literature relating to Future Thinking, Climate Knowledge and Narrative Communication. The results identified four main narratives: Distance, Vulnerability, Agency, and Change. Findings showed that where Change narratives were not commonly shared, little climate change knowledge was exchanged in personal circles, especially information that might increase a sense of danger; challenge the imagination; or present unfamiliar scenarios. This research shows that without future-oriented narratives supporting autonomous and community adaptation planning and practice, the benefits of currently high social adaptive capacity and relatively low vulnerability to climate change may not be realized through proactive adaptation. In developed nations where near- term, and in some cases unavoidable, climate change impacts are not commonly discussed, new Change narratives linking Climate Knowledge and Future Thinking are needed to reflect swiftly evolving climate change scenarios. In addition, lack of adaptation planning among well-informed professionals again challenges expectations that more and better climate change knowledge will directly increase adaptation behaviour, irrespective of engagement in future thinking.

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