Author Archives: klangbehn

About klangbehn

Doctoral Candidate: Rhetoric of Science University of South Florida 4202 E. Fowler Avenue Tampa, FL 33620-5550

Regional Climate Adaptation to Sea Level Rise: An Opportunity for the Rhetoric of Science Policy


Earlier this week, Emergency Management published an article on Connecticut’s newly developed Institute for Community Resiliency and Climate Adaptation, a joint project between UConn, the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, and NOAA. The goals of the Institute follow a bottom-up approach, which as Miranda Schreurs explains in “From the Bottom Up: Local and Subnational Climate Change Politics,” is where implementation of national climate change policies and programs must occur (also cited: Bianci, Cruz & Nakamara, 2005). Additionally, she writes:

There is growing recognition of the need to focus both more practical and scholarly attention on the climate policies and programs of state (prefectural, provincial), regional, metropolitan, and local levels of government (Linstroth & Bell, 2007; Lundqvist & Biel, 2007; Ruth, 2006). Such research is also critical for improving our understanding of the obstacles preventing yet greater activity and effectiveness in local and state climate programs and measures.

In the Connecticut project, UConn, the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, and NOAA are collaborating to work directly with property owners and community leaders to secure the tools, knowledge, and financing that is necessary to respond to SLR, storm surge, urban flooding, etc.

What’s most interesting to me, from a rhetorical perspective, is one of the Institute’s goals, to:

“create a climate-literate public that understands its vulnerabilities to a changing climate and uses that knowledge to make scientifically informed, environmentally sound decisions”.

One of the purposes of the (still-developing) sub-discipline of the rhetoric of science policy is to focus on problems inherent in the science-policy interface: namely, how scientific data ought to be communicated in ways that are customized to a particular public/community’s perspectives and experiences*. Essentially, the purpose of a researcher in the discipline of rhetoric of science policy is to analyze and construct scientific communication so that it is relevant and palatable to a particular public’s values, beliefs, and interests. Therefore, I see the Connecticut Institute’s goal – to create a climate-literate public … and to get this public/community to make informed decisions – as an example of the types of problems that the rhetoric of science policy seeks to provide solutions to. By identifying the specific perspectives, experiences and interests of a particular community (through the rhetorical method of audience analysis) messages about climate change can be carefully crafted – and customized (via rhetorical framing) – to match those perspectives and interests, so that ultimately they have more traction than less focused messages (because of ethical persuasion and use of powerful terms that resonate with a community’s values, beliefs, and experiences).

 

It’s often very difficult to explain exactly what a rhetorician of science policy does … and this goal provides an opportunity to clarify how to use a seemingly theoretical discipline pragmatically …

 

*Rhetorical theory follows that citizens tend to judge better when they consider matters related to their own ends – matters that are personally significant – than when they strive to take on a perspective detached from those concerns (Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 1094b29, 1140b11)


Time to Shift the Climate Change Debate


It’s time to shift the climate change debate. It’s time to move on from circular arguments about whether humans are responsible for causing climate change or not to more productive conversations about economic opportunities. But how can we achieve this type of bipartisan communication about productive responses to climate change effects?

My opinion is that the way to achieve better communication is to first, ignore the human-induced climate change debate. It distracts from the real issues and it doesn’t deserve a response because it is not a valid or productive argument; it is a circular debate and by responding to it, we become participants in the very argument that has the power to delay and prevent policy making that can enhance everyday life and provide increased safety, security, and economic opportunity. But simply ignoring the human-induced climate change debate is not enough. Therefore, instead of responding to arguments about human-induced climate change, we ought to emphasize the need to respond to what we can visibly see (e.g., in the case of South Florida, urban flooding, storm surge, sewer overflow, etc.) and emphasize the exorbitant economic costs of not responding to these visible effects (see this article by Christie Todd Whitman for an excellent, Republican perspective about the need to respond to climate change). I don’t think it will ever be possible to provide compelling enough evidence to a climate change denier (e.g., Governor Scott) to change his/her stance, but I do think it is possible to shift the language of the argument such that the same ends (adaptation and mitigation policies) are strategically achieved. The bottom line here is the need to respond to the problems that we can visibly see, not on the obligation to react to the ever-frustrating, back-and-forth of debate about whether human-induced climate change is a “fact” or not.

Developing these sorts of responses is the work of scholars and researchers in the rhetoric of science policy. I firmly believe that yes, a rhetoric of science policy is possible, and it is the purpose and goal of my dissertation to analyze this debate using decision-making tools that can generate reports of argumentative analyses – the terms of the debate – that can then be used to develop productive political frames showing how to accomplish these goals … in order to answer the following question:

 

How can we shift the climate change paradigm to emphasize longer-term thinking and the development of robust, dynamic policies that take (inevitable) changes into consideration?

 

 


Taking Responsibility For What We Already Know About Sea Level Rise: Do We Want To Be Risk Managers Or Visionaries?


In a TBT article published this past Friday, Governor Scott re-affirmed his perspective on climate change and, in particular, sea level rise. When asked whether sea level rise will be a threat to his house, he responded:

“No.

I’m not a scientist, but I can tell you what,

we’re going to make sure we continue to make the right investments in the state

to take care of our environment.

We love living here.”

Previously, in 2011, he confirmed that he has

“not been convinced that there’s any man-made climate change.”

Both of these statements prove just how illogical and disconnected the climate change debate has become: when asked about sea level rise, Scott responds with an unrelated, ambiguous assertion about environmental protection. “Taking care of our environment” is a downright illogical answer to the question of the effects of sea level rise: even though taking care of the environment is tangentially related, sea level rise has more to do with consequences like storm surge, urban flooding, power failure, etc. – and not directly about environmental protection. Assertions like Scott’s, which only add to a circular debate about whether or not humans are responsible for climate change, are completely unproductive and, in my opinion, completely irresponsible. Instead of responding to what we already know about the potential scenarios of how sea level rise will ultimately impact our state – and what is visibly evident in the form of flooding, etc. – Scott says he’ll react: stating that Florida’s emergency management division will handle any flooding problems. Right now, this type of reaction is working reasonably well (if we’re amenable to the ~$30,000 price tag on merely 4 inches of flooding in a ~2,000 square foot home). But this type of reaction is a short-term fix that will probably work out in his favor (his $11.5 million beachfront property probably won’t see sustainable damage from storm surge while he still inhabits it). And after all, that was the question he was asked (will sea level rise be a threat to your house). But this type of reaction is almost certain not to work out in favor of generations in the near future. Genuinely investing in the state means taking action now to ensure its viability – economically, environmentally, and socially – for future residents, which in this case, means prioritizing how we can respond to what we already know about the potential scenarios for how sea level rise will affect our state, as opposed to ignoring those scenarios because they haven’t been proven yet or because they won’t occur within his gubernatorial term.

If Scott genuinely cares about making the “right investments in the state” now, he would respond to the immediate and visible threat of storm surge as it is affecting Tampa and Miami, and invest in adaptations that will ensure that these areas are more resilient to sea level rise. It’s a matter of efficiency and responsibility – given what we know, how can we more efficiently respond to the circumstances?

Throughout the past few years, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the climate change debate – arguments over whether humans are responsible for climate change or not – and I’ve come to the conclusion that arguments on both sides hinge on responsibility and civic engagement. How we choose to act about what we know now. One side of the debate eschews responsibility by claiming that we do now know with certainty that humans have caused climate change. They use this claim (which is true) as justification for inaction. Since when have we required certain proof as a precondition for making a responsible decision? The other side of the debate accepts responsibility for the effects of humans’ actions on the planet’s climate, which isn’t to say that all of our actions have negative implications or evil intentions; it’s simply to admit to our degree of influence on the planet’s changing climate. Taking this side of the debate doesn’t have to be an admission of wrongdoing.  But admitting to our influence implies that we ought to be responsibility for the affects; responding to the visible effects of climate change (storm surge, urban flooding, power failure).

The way out of this debate is to decide between two options.

  • Do we want to be risk managers, who react and attempt to mitigate negative consequences – do we really want to wait for certain proof that humans have caused climate change before we take responsibility for its affects?
  • Or do we want to be visionaries, who use the (imperfect) knowledge that we have now to conjure up good enough scenarios and figure out how to make them happen in an economically viable and environmentally and socially responsible way?

The debate hinges on responsibility and how deeply and critically we feel a sense of responsibility for our long-term influence – however significant – on our environment. Scott says he “loves living here” but if he genuinely wants to “make the right investments in our state” he’ll take responsibility for considering how to invest in our state’s resiliency so that future residents can love living here as much as he does.


Is a rhetoric of science policy possible via a knowledge map?


In “Why Political Partisans Don’t Like Facts,” Sunstein cites research that argues that cultural cognition shapes our reactions to science (Kahan) and that “our values affect our assessment of purely factual claims, even in highly technical areas” (1). Additionally, in explaining the partisanship that exists over how to respond to climate change, he writes that “the most powerful economic interests (such as the coal industry) have far greater influence within the Republican Party” (2). As a rhetorician studying the implications of the science-policy interface as it plays out for the issue of climate change, I see two key rhetorical terms within these arguments: values and interests.

Values, in terms of the study of rhetoric (and in particular, the rhetoric of scientific communication and policy) are determined through a rigorous analysis of the discourse, texts, and communication that an audience considers significant for informing a particular topic. For instance, in order to determine the values held by South Florida residents on the issue of climate change adaptation, I would analyze texts like the Southeast Florida Climate Compact’s Community Planning Act, a document that details how Broward County/ Ft. Lauderdale will identify areas that are most vulnerable to sea level rise, severe flooding, etc. and then prioritize funding for infrastructure that will make these areas more resilient. Analyzing this policy/text would require that I identify unique and frequently used terms that characterize this debate, so that if I were to organize an argument directed to this particular community about the issue of sea level rise and flooding, I would be sure to leverage those same terms because they resonate with the values of my audience. The importance of values, in terms of rhetoric, is that they are what I call “pivot” terms; terms that any relevant and logical argument ought to revolve around. Additionally, values are community-specific – they are articulated differently given different communities’ perception of the challenges and opportunities that exist within their existence.

Interests are related to values; they are more specific iterations of how an audience’s values play out in reality. As used by rhetoricians, an audience’s interests – for example, Sunstein’s explanation of the Republican Party’s economic interest in the coal industry – are powerful for creating an argument that “appeals to peoples’ partial and passionate points of view” because doing so can “draw out their capacity for judgment and draw them into deliberation” (Garsten, 2006).

While discourse and textual analyses are traditional rhetorical methods for analyzing and drawing implications about audience’s values and interests, a (fairly) new tool – the knowledge  map – can be extremely useful for developing responses to political partisanship (and therefore stalemate) about climate change. If we want to extend Kahan’s extensive research on cultural cognition and the claim that values significantly affect our assessment of scientific findings, can we use a knowledge map as a rhetorical tool for tracing and then negotiating productive responses to climate change?

Wilson and Herndl’s (2007) study experiments with knowledge maps as rhetorical tools for facilitating interdisciplinary cooperation at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, and finds that mapping relations and exposing connections between seemingly contrasting interests allowed their participants to see and understand that other participants’ knowledge and institutional language emerge from and are adequate to the different contexts that make up the map. Essentially, by exposing connections between seemingly contrasting interests, the knowledge map provides a terrain for negotiating a response that is logical and productive …  is a more effective and productive rhetoric of science policy possible via the interface of a knowledge map?


In Climate Change Debates, different people have legitimately different views … or do they …?


Recent debate on FiveThirtyEight about whether climate change is the cause of natural disasters is interesting – and necessary for critically interpreting climate modeling data. However, ultimately, such a debate doesn’t bring us closer to negotiating a response to the problem. In fact, despite the nuances of the argument that Pielke makes in his article, his agenda concerning climate change communications and policy is to contribute to climate change conversations for the purpose of moving “beyond exhortation to actual development of policy options” like adaptation and mitigation. Arguments about the cause (whether they’re about the cause of climate change itself or, in this case, the cause of increased incidents of natural disasters) ultimately engage us in the meta-details of differences among our perspectives, disciplinary backgrounds and approaches, and therefore distract us from what’s really important – figuring out how to collaboratively negotiate these differences in perspective in order to develop a viable response.

Emanuel’s main point in counter-arguing Pielke’s claim that “climate change plays no role in increases in damages from natural hazards… [and that] recent costly disasters are not part of a trend driven by climate change” is that increased occurrences, and the subsequently increasing costs, of natural disasters are the direct result of climate change. She provides support for her argument by citing her research with Yale economist Robert Mendelsohn and colleagues: global hurricane damage will about double owing to demographic trends, and double again because of climate change. This point is valid, interesting, and powerful, but it doesn’t offer ground for negotiation of how to respond to its implications … at least not as it is discussed here.

In his argument, Pielke relies on support from the IPCC’s most recent report, Assessment Report 5 (AR5) which explains that there is little evidence of a spike in frequency or intensity of floods, drought, hurricanes, or tornadoes [because of climate change] to argue that the notion that climate change is the direct cause of an increase natural disasters is false. Not once in this article does Pielke suggest that climate change is not a real or significant issue warranting serious attention toward the development of solutions. He simply criticizes this particular argument, citing its inaccuracy, as a way of warning against fallacies like this that could potentially threaten public confidence in and support for climate change mitigation and adaptation policies.

So there we have it – two strong, distinct arguments about climate change data – from two legitimate, well-respected sources. As Pielke has explained in previous publications, “different people have legitimately different views” … however, that is not the case if we review the commentary of each article, almost all of which starkly advocates one view and flagrantly criticizes the other.

My argument here is that if you read Pielke’s argument for what it really communicates, you can see the value in his criticism. Emanuel’s response reads into the meta-details of cause, which is actually not the most important argument of Pielke’s explanation. Pielke’s article, from my perspective, is simply – but boldly – arguing that the promise that mitigating climate change will lead to fewer natural disasters is not valid and therefore, ought not be used in making a case for climate change policy. To make this even more clear: Pielke is simply challenging the 1:1 ratio being drawn between causes of natural disaster and climate change. In no way is he challenging the real issue, that “human-caused climate change is real and requires attention by policymakers to both mitigation and adaptation.” He is simply criticizing the way in which this debate is being crafted and framed, implicitly suggesting that it is being used to advance a personal/political agenda. Emanuel’s response focuses on whether climate change is the primary factor causing increased natural disasters and therefore increased recovery costs, and doesn’t address the wider implications of the data itself. Such arguments are important and productive, to an extent, but what I believe is more valuable is re-focusing the fervor and intellectual energy we are seeing here on collaborative, trans-disciplinary, alternative approaches for responding to the problem, whether the problem is natural disasters and recovery costs or that climate change is projected to increase threats to human health, particularly in lower income populations, predominantly within tropical/subtropical countries.

Emanuel is right, “those who wait for actuarial trends to emerge at a 95% confidence level before acting do so at their peril.” But Pielke is right too, that recent costly disasters are not necessarily part of a trend driven primarily by climate change. Unfortunately, the competing arguments that their data incites are not compelling concerned citizens to admit both Emanuel’s and Pielke’s validity … which is why I believe that arguments about cause, when deliberating about anything that has to do with climate change, are so very dangerous and unproductive. Arguments about cause inevitably turn to debates of micro-scale differences in interpretation of the same data … which keeps the cycle of debate circling around an inevitably unproductive point.

If we really want to address solutions to the effects of climate change, we’ll start by exercising the maturity involved in making our perspectives, research findings, and personal agendas completely vulnerable to others’ productive criticism, because doing so is the only way to begin negotiating how to move forward in responding to the circumstances we’re being faced with. Holding defensively to our nuanced arguments is not going to enable us to move beyond exhortation toward the development of policy options, as Pielke wisely recommends.


The “anti-growth” perspective and implications for longer- range global policy


My brief comments below are in response to an insightful post by Roger Pielke, Jr., titled “What Does it Mean to be Anti-Growth?” In this argument, Pielke re-defines “anti-growth” by organizing it into three emphases:

  • anti-labor growth
  • anti-capital growth
  • anti-productivity growth

His purpose here is to expose the implications of these stances on poor/developing countries’ longer-term economic viability, as “82% of economic growth will occur in what are today considered to be “poor” parts of the world …” Are those who object to growth fully aware of what they’re actually advocating, longer-term?

Identifying the real terms of the debate about economic growth, as Pielke has done here, unravels it so that we can more fully understand what we’re really talking about when arguing pro- or anti-growth. The real value is that by exposing the rhetorical consequences of an anti-growth perspective, Pielke re-focuses our attention on the (ironic) longer-term implications of these perspectives. Namely, that taking an anti-growth stance, in essence, will ultimately limit or prohibit (now) poor countries’ economic opportunities because it is those (now) poor countries that are ultimately going to be responsible for nearly 80% of future economic productivity.

I see multiple, valuable connections between this argument and with the agendas of institutes like RAND’s Pardee Center for Longer Range Global Policy and the Future Human Condition. For instance, in accordance with your emphasis on the rhetorical implications of an anti-growth stance on the longer-term opportunities for (now) poor countries’ future economic progress, I also wonder about the rhetorical distinctions, and consequences, of using the term “development” instead of “growth.”

Is it possible that by re-framing the anti-growth debate as “development,” we could more accurately communicate the real intentions for supporting the economic viability of (now) poor countries’ future opportunities?  Could using the (alternative) term “development” be a way of disengaging from the pervasive and popular anti-growth perspective? I’m suggesting this because of Lakoff’s extensive work on framing and cognitive linguistics, which argues that, “using your opposition’s terms reinforces their definition of the issues” and neurally activates the very associations you’re attempting to challenge or change.  In contrast, re-framing the issue – in this case, anti-growth- as “development” (or using another term that is similar in meaning but different from “growth”) has perhaps better potential for exposing the real, longer-term implications of an anti-growth perspective. The challenge, of course, is the consistent, persistent use of this new frame in conversations like Pielke’s, that insightfully trace the real, rhetorical implications of more general/seasoned debates … But the ways in which we’ve already begun – with the rhetorical parsing of “anti-growth” as Pielke has shown here- seem to imply a readiness for a new, more powerful type of political debate …


Water Governance: A viable alternative to water management?


This past week, I had the opportunity to meet with and learn from Drs. Pim Nijssen and Aline te Linde, consultants and water governance experts from the Dutch management and consulting firm Twynstra Gudde, who were visiting Miami Beach as participants in a knowledge exchange, “Resilient Miami Beach.” Additionally, they collaborated with academics at FAU, with civil engineers and landscape architects from a local engineering firm, Chen Moore, as well as the South Florida Water Management District about possibilities for responding to Florida/ the Netherlands’ shared challenges with water management and climate change adaptation planning. Throughout our conversations that week, Pim and Aline were extremely careful to emphasize to me that they were not here to prescribe “A Solution,” but rather to learn about the differences in Florida’s regional and political challenges, as compared with the Netherlands’ distinct challenges, in order to better understand how to develop policy responses for securing our regions’ economic, environmental, social, and political contexts.

The purpose of Resilient Miami Beach – a collaborative knowledge exchange between the Dutch Consulate, local city planners, architects, academics, and consultants, was to discuss how/whether Dutch planning/ management perspectives could be feasible for local policy and most importantly, to discuss how to take advantage of opportunities that we (Floridians) may not be aware of because of our proximity to our own problems. [as a side note: much academic research supports this perspective – that an outside expert’s opinion can be extremely beneficial in enabling insider-experts to develop creative and innovative solutions; see Lakhani et al., 2007, “The Value of Openness in Scientific Problem Solving”]

The Dutch approach to adaptation policy – integrated, collaborative, and layered – is opposed to a U.S. approach, which is often fragmented, linear, and dependent upon what is explained below as the “prediction imperative.” The Dutch have had hundreds of years of experience with water management, and more recently, at least 60 years of experimentation with more modern approaches to water management technologies and policies (i.e. structural solutions and the coastal spine approach) and despite our cultural and political differences, learning about their approaches is likely to help us determine the possibilities for what adaptive strategies for south Florida may entail.

A few days before we were to meet in Miami for the seminar, Pim asked me to think about how to situate Florida’s unique regional challenges to adaptation and to about how the U.S. political system responds, or is deliberating about responding, to these challenges. What follows is my attempt at developing a clear answer to his question.

My answer is concerned with how to synthesize three core ideas: the economic value of this coastal area, the local and national attitudes toward climate risks, and alternative approaches for policy making under conditions of extreme/deep uncertainty. Synthesizing these concepts creates a narrative about this region that may help our Dutch experts to work with us in approaching our challenges with a similar type of “action-biased” policy making that has enabled both their short-term survival and long-term contingency planning.

Economic value and International Implications   

The economic value of Florida, and in particular the cities of Tampa and Miami, isn’t just important on a local scale, as a recent World Bank publication suggests. The findings of this study identify the 10 international cities most vulnerable to damaging floods, as a result of sea level rise. In terms of overall cost of damage, Miami is number two on this list; New York is number three, New Orleans, four, and Tampa, seven. Boston follows at number eight, meaning that U.S. cities constitute half of the world’s vulnerable coastal cities. The study warns that flood damage could rise to $1 trillion a year if cities don’t take steps to adapt – so the responsibility for adaptation in US isn’t simply a national issue; it’s an international risk. This study prompted much conversation between myself, Pim and Aline, regarding how to use economic analyses with public values analyses to create collaborative responses (*not solutions) to these risks. What are the possibilities for using economic data with local/ public values priorities to re-frame climate change communications and therefore elicit local/ public concern and action? As I learned this week, a major component of Twynstra Gudde’s approach to answering these questions depends on:

  1. Responding versus prescribing solutions
  2. Identifying local attitudes about risk versus relying on a universal “Public Value,” as is often assumed by U.S. climate change communications’ framing of adaptation strategies (see Nisbet, “Communicating Climate Change: Why Frames Matter for Public Engagement; http://blog.lib.umn.edu/burn0277/pa5012/readings/Nisbet%202000%20-%20Communicating%20Climate%20Change.pdf)

Furthermore, on a national scale, in terms U.S. response to sea level rise, what is the current situation of climate change adaptation policy? In some cases (e.g. Houston, TX “Ike Dike,” which I’ve been learning about from Arno Willems at Iv-Infra) it seems as though we’re learning how to begin responding; to start taking serious action first by accepting deeply uncertain circumstances and then figuring out how to see opportunities for responding – without ignoring the risks and uncertainties that currently exist, and are inevitable to arise in the future. In most others, though, it’s evident that we’re still engaging in vain attempts to predict certainty before responding; choosing only to react to risks rather than to learn how to begin preparing for them.

Response versus Reaction

The results of the World Bank study mentioned above recommends that protecting the cities it identifies as most vulnerable will take substantial investment in structural defenses as well as better planning. The recommendation for better defenses means that more people will be dependent on dikes and sea walls, and that losses when those defenses fail to protect the city will get bigger. Additionally, with better structural defenses, cities will also need better crisis management and contingency planning. This type of integrated approach – synthesizing technological capability with serious attention to attitudes about risk – is what I understand as reinforcing Twynstra Gudde’s stance on collaboration for mutually beneficial solutions: motivating strategies of response that take into consideration multiple stakeholders’ values, versus imposing management plans and universal mandates based solely on economic/ cost-benefits analyses. Theirs is an approach that takes into account technological feasibility, economic viability, and social robustness; synthesizing the priorities of multiple stakeholders. And although the description of this approach may seem straightforward, they would be the first to remind that it is the more difficult (although more rewarding) long-term approach.

This approach is initially more difficult primarily because it operates under a paradigm that is action-biased; risking action within uncertainty to take advantage of existing opportunities via the synthesis of a variety of contradictory stakeholder values. However difficult the approach is initially, though, I ultimately see it as preferred to our current method for managing (or avoiding the management of) deep uncertainties. Our current approach invests in “improving our understanding of the threat of global climate change,” allocating $2.7 billion (a 6.0 percent increase over 2012) for the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) to support research to improve our ability to understand, predict, mitigate, and adapt to global change.

Could that budget be better allocated toward the development of adaptation policies that are more genuinely reflective of public values (i.e. safety, security) and productive economic opportunities?

I will argue, in my dissertation, that our current approach appears futile primarily because deeply uncertain risks like climate change cannot be managed, as “older dangers” once were (Beck, 1992, p. 13). Contemporary risks, as will be explained below, cannot be managed as older dangers once were because they are networked, largely invisible, and often irreversible. They cannot be seen, contained; therefore, they cannot be managed. They must be responded to in the very context in which they exist: under conditions of deep uncertainty.

        The challenge facing government officials in the US today is investing in protection under these premises – before the type of damage that the World Bank is predicting for coastal cities actually occurs. In his presentation at Resilient Miami Beach, Dutch professor and researcher of urban water management and the development of climate resilient cities, Dr. van de Ven, addressed this very challenge and explained the rhetorical differences between responding versus reacting to risk. “Responding,” he explained, means designing an adaptable system, visualizing individual interests, and selecting a strategy that implements a multi-level safety approach (see “Alternative water management options to reduce vulnerability for climate change in the Netherlands,” in Natural Hazards, 2009, v51 i3).

An Integrated Approach: Contextual, Institutional, Relational

Currently, progress toward the development of adaptation policies that respond by synthesizing research results and supporting decision making and risk management has been “inadequate,” per a recent national research council evaluation of US climate science (see Meyer, 2011, “The Public Values Failures of Climate Science in the US” ). Currently, U.S. research and development for climate modeling emphasizes that the production of data that is “better” because of investments in “faster computers” is the priority of the climate modeling enterprise – and therefore, it can be suggested that U.S. climate science is operating under the assumption that certainty (e.g. accurate predictions) is a valuable investment of federal dollars. If this is the case, then it seems as though we are continuing to put ourselves in a position of reacting to risks, versus taking advantage of the existing opportunities to develop more critical responses in anticipation of a variety of potential scenarios. In response to the assumption that accuracy equates with scientific (and public) values, new methods of analysis and planning are being developed as counterparts to this exclusively economic, cost benefits-driven policy justification. Two of the biggest proponents of these new policy methodologies are Dr. Wil Thissen, head of the Policy Analysis section at TU Delft, and Dr. Warren Walker, also of TU Delft, who have recently co-published an edited volume on new directions for public policy analysis (Public Policy Analysis: New Developments, 2013). Within this volume, Thissen & Walker articulate how a dynamic adaptive policy provides an alternative for short- and long-term decision making under conditions of deep uncertainty. Similarly, in the US, researchers at Arizona State University, at the Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes, have developed an approach to science policy called “public value mapping,” which I see as a viable asset to the dynamic adaptive policy developed by Thissen, Walker, Haasnoot and colleagues in the Technology, Policy & Management section at TU Delft.

This week, Twynstra Gudde described their approach to this theory to our audience at Resilient Miami Beach as an integrated approach that consists of three layers: 1. contextual knowledge, skills, and expertise 2. institutional realities (legislation and funding, etc.) and 3. relational/ social priorities (participation, cooperation, cultural proclivities, etc.). The mesh of these layers is “water governance,” which they describe as a decision making process that consists of:

‐          Accepting shared responsibility (e.g. policy makers aren’t held solely responsible for policy decisions)

‐          Accepting that the solution needs to be an integrative one (e.g. environmental, economic, social)

‐          Accepting the various roles, responsibilities and know-how (e.g. validity of economic analyses with public values analyses)

‐          Investing in a joint process that defines a shared challenge and ambition instead of a solution (e.g. the acceptance of “flexible” responses versus non-negotiable “solutions”)

Risk: Older Dangers versus Contemporary Risks

During our meeting with Chen Moore, the Americans at the table attempted to explain to our Dutch colleagues why such pervasive climate denial exists in the US. In my opinion, the underlying reasons explaining U.S. responses to science policy, and in particular, our perception of deep uncertainties like climate change, has to do with risk, and the ways in which we’ve traditionally been accustomed to managing risk. Contemporary risks, I suggest, cannot be managed; they must be responded to (see Beck, 1992, Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity). There is a fundamental rhetorical difference to the implications of these terms, as used within the science policy interface. “Management” implies handling or controlling something successfully – and this is not the understanding within which a flexible, adaptive policy approach can operate. On the other hand, “response” implies a reaction: something done in deference to something else. Responsiveness, in my opinion, provides a more accurate and productive understanding of what a Dutch approach, and especially a Dutch approach for responding to real, widespread, and infinite uncertainties, really entails. Our understanding of and responses to contemporary risks must differ from our understanding and management of what Ulrich Beck calls “older dangers.”

In terms of policy making and the pressure on decision makers from various stakeholder interests, older dangers were risks that could hold some entity/ person accountable for the identified hazards; making it possible to compensate those whose lives had been touched by those particular hazards. Contemporary risks, on the other hand, are “consequences which relate to the threatening force of modernization and to its globalization of doubt” – they are politically reflexive (Beck, p. 21). We can no longer calculate risk as accurately as we may hope: today’s risks often result in systematic and irreversible harm, generally remain invisible, are based on causal interpretations, and thus initially only exist in terms of the scientific or anti-scientific knowledge about them … they can be changed, magnified, dramatized, or minimized within knowledge, and to that extent they are particularly open to social definition and construction. So, in response the question about the existence of climate change denial, I rely on Beck’s theory of the risk society, as it differs from a modern society in which the management of risks (older dangers) was possible and effective. Given contemporary risks, which are largely invisible and globally pervasive, the mass media and the scientific and legal professions in charge of defining risks become key social and political positions (Beck, p. 23) advocating – or denying – their existence.

As a result of pervasive – and successful – communication about climate change denial, one of the most intractable “qualifications” of useful information about the risks inherent in climate change in the US – i.e. urban flooding, sea level rise, storm surge – is the “prediction imperative,” the thinking that adaptation strategies require more accurate and reliable predictions of regional weather and climate extreme events before adaptive decisions can be decisively implemented.  At the moment, the projected 2014 Budget for “Improving our understanding of the threat of global climate change” proposes to allocate $2.7 billion (a 6.0 percent increase over 2012), for the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) to support research to improve our ability to understand, predict, mitigate, and adapt to global change. Could that budget be better allocated toward the development of adaptation policies that are more genuinely reflective of public values (i.e. safety, security)? I would adamantly say “yes,” and I believe that a Dutch approach (see Twynstra Gudde’s layered approach, above) would support this assertion. The challenge for the US, again, is to determine how we can make effective adaptation decisions in the absence of accurate and precise climate predictions (Lempert and Light 111).

     “The lack of climate predictability should not be interpreted as a limit to preparing strategies for adaptation” because if this is so, we’ll face some serious limitations – and economic consequences – in lieu of existing opportunities for responding with preferable, although imperfect, strategies.

Our biggest challenge is to learn how to adapt Dutch thinking – an integrated, collaborative approach – into our existing modes of policy making and to begin funding action (adaptation) versus chasing certainty. This situation is positive and hopeful because I know that we’re learning, however slowly, how to recognize alternative approaches for policy making under extreme uncertainties. Opportunities for knowledge exchange and productive, yet technical and policy-driven conversations, such as Resilient Miami Beach, are indicative of international support for the viability of Florida’s coastal cities as economic, environmental, and social assets.


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