Image:Joybot (Flickr)

Image:Joybot (Flickr)

Telling the story of climate change: threat or emergency, and does it matter?

29th October 2019

by Elizabeth Boulton

What happens if we classify climate change as a threat, not an emergency? Liz Boulton from the ANU Fenner School of Environment and Society explains how military strategy can be combined with new ideas from philosophy to understand climate change as a ‘hyperthreat’ – and describes what that might mean for crafting effective policy solutions. This is the second in the Narration as Regulation series from ANU’s School of Regulation and Global Governance (Regnet)

In popular culture, the use of terms like climate crisis, climate emergency and extinction rebellion reflect the frustration that the language around climate and environmental issues has been too benign, leading to lukewarm and inadequate governance responses. Similarly, global warming is frequently described as a threat by people as varied as David Attenborough, to Australian or US military and security chiefs, and within the Pacific Islands Forum.

Yet ‘threat’ language is commonly associated with warfare, terrorism and national security. Eric Paglia found that a climate threat or ‘security’ framing (securitization) makes people uneasy, and they vastly prefer a ‘crisis’ narrative (which he calls crisification). Additionally, historical and sociological studies warn on the dangers of a threat framing, which can reduce empathy and be a precursor for injustices. At another level, being able to accurately understand the ‘threat environment’ – what threats exist, how they interplay, what causes them and how can they be responded to – is intrinsic to human survival.

So, in the hunt for answers about ‘how’ to respond to the climate crisis, I nonetheless, carefully explored the idea of framing climate and environmental change as a threat. Doing so allowed intriguing new questions to emerge. For example, are old pre-climate ways of conceiving threats and security still relevant to people and nations today? If it is a threat, could traditional military-style threat analysis and response planning methods offer ideas about how to respond?

Investigating climate as a ‘threat’ does not imply that a feared heavy-handed, top-down response is the best approach; rather it helps us understand our predicament better so that we can craft the best response. Additionally, conceptually, we can break free from industrial era constructs. Threat conceptualisation in the Anthropocene can be recalibrated with emerging post-human philosophical concepts, which are more attuned to the new era we are presented with. Let me explain.

Read the full blog post on The Power to Persuade.

Updated:  10 August 2017/Responsible Officer:  Director, RegNet/Page Contact:  Director, RegNet