Climate change – are we imagining a future that is already here?

Over the years climate change has rapidly emerged as one of the top threats to our future. Not a day goes by without the news being pervaded by freak weather occurrences, updated statistics on global average temperatures and the dire predictions and effects that these increasing environmental threats can, and will, have on our environment. Yet, as most recently highlighted here in the UK by the parliamentary science and technology select committee’s inquiry into the communication of science, there is still a large cloud of confusion within the wider community about climate science and the true and very real impact of climate change – a lack of understanding that poses a real threat to the future of our humanity.

Academics and media alike are addressing how we should be communicating climate change: should we be doing more to address the challenges of understanding? Is the lack of understanding due to the fact that people don’t see these effects as immediate and happening now? Should we be taking a different approach to addressing climate change in order to highlight the diverse and real threats that it poses both physically to our environment and economically to our society?

home_coverClimate change and the issues that surround us affects us all and many SAGE journals and authors publish research focused on such debates, ranging from The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, to Index on Censorship. Most recently SAGE Journal Organization has published a special issue looking at “future imaginings” asking us to question our “market-orientated interpretations of the environment” and address the impact that climate change has not only physically but also on our economic, political and social order.

Guest author and leading climate change activist Bill McKibben discusses his concerns, arguing that climate change is not a problem that we will face in the future, but is an urgent issue facing us today that we need to build understanding around to ensure that “the end of our story” is not already written:

“The good news, I guess, is that our climate future doesn’t require much in the way of ‘imagining’. It’s already there, written down in black ink. […]There’s no longer any room for doubt or speculation or wishful thinking. We will pour far more CO2 into the atmosphere than the atmosphere can safely deal with; we’ll run the temperature up high enough that catastrophe and disaster and crisis become meaningless words—civilization will just be an ongoing emergency response operation. Already we can see it happening […] So if you want to know what the future looks like, it looks like that except more so. It looks like 2012 in America—record heat, deep drought, storms the likes of which we’ve never seen before.”

Climate change is an issue that will not go away, it is not in the future, it is not something that we are preparing for: it is something that we have to address in the here and now. As this special issue addresses, and as the parliamentary science and technology select committee is addressing, climate change is not just about addressing the physical impacts, it is about understanding how it is perceived in the minds of the public, addressing that understanding and ensuring that it is being feared as a future issue, but is being communicated and understood as an immediate issue to address now. As McKibben states:

“The future’s impossible. We know that now, unless, of course, we rewrite the story –desperately, and quickly.”

This special issue of Organization: the critical journal of organization, theory and society, can be accessed here and McKibben’s commentary is free to read here.

Interested in further debates and research on climate change? The following SAGE journals are worth a look:

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