Rapid Climate Change and Society: Assessing Responses and Thresholds

Authors

  • Simon Niemeyer,

    Corresponding author
      Address correspondence to Simon Niemeyer, Research School of Social Sciences, The Australian National University, ACT 0200, Australia; simon@coombs.anu.edu.au.
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      Research School of Social Sciences, The Australian National University, ACT 0200, Australia.
  • Judith Petts,

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      School of Geography, Earth & Environmental Sciences, University of Birmingham, B15 2TT, Birmingham, UK.
  • Kersty Hobson

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      Department of Human Geography, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, The Australian National University, ACT 0200, Australia.

Address correspondence to Simon Niemeyer, Research School of Social Sciences, The Australian National University, ACT 0200, Australia; simon@coombs.anu.edu.au.

Abstract

Assessing the social risks associated with climate change requires an understanding of how humans will respond because it affects how well societies will adapt. In the case of rapid or dangerous climate change, of particular interest is the potential for these responses to cross thresholds beyond which they become maladaptive. To explore the possibility of such thresholds, a series of climate change scenarios were presented to U.K. participants whose subjective responses were recorded via interviews and surveyed using Q methodology. The results indicate an initially adaptive response to climate warming followed by a shift to maladaptation as the magnitude of change increases. Beyond this threshold, trust in collective action and institutions was diminished, negatively impacting adaptive capacity. Climate cooling invoked a qualitatively different response, although this may be a product of individuals being primed for warming because it has dominated public discourse. The climate change scenarios used in this research are severe by climatological standards. In reality, the observed responses might occur at a lower rate of change. Whatever the case, analysis of subjectivity has revealed potential for maladaptive human responses, constituting a dangerous or rapid climate threshold within the social sphere.

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