The ‘wicked problem’ of climate change

Judith Curry writes a blog that casts a cautionary eye on conventional wisdom about climate change science. In her blog on climate change as an ‘adaptive’ or ‘wicked’  problem she quotes the following extracts from Michael Zimmerman:

You can probably feel the difficulty of the whole situation. Time is short, uncertainty is high, and the stakes may be even higher. Competing business and political interests collide every day. The tensions run deep, driven by conflicting values and differing needs. This is the nature of the hard problems of our time: they are densely interconnected, emotionally-charged and complex. They also change rapidly, often without warning. In effect, these are what scientists call “adaptive problems” (or “wicked problems”), where the problems may actually evolve by the day. Climate change is immensely difficult because it is an adaptive problem, and requires adaptive leadership to address. Confronting an adaptive problem takes more than a bag of tricks, it takes a whole new way of being with a broader and more complex mindset on the world—a way of being that is naturally able to:

  • Step outside one’s ideology and value system in order to re-craft a more complete view of a situation
  • Understand the evolutionary nature of the people, culture, behaviour and systems that contribute to complex problems
  • Quickly grasp the complexity of a situation
  • Build trust between diverse interest groups
  • Stay grounded amidst the constant demands for change
  • Find the confidence necessary for courageous action

There is a legitimate concern among sceptics that is expressed as follows:

an urgent concern that climate science is falling under the sway of political forces and is not being recognized as the adaptive problem that it is.

And from Andrew Revkin:

Climate change is not the story of our time. Climate change is a subset of the story of our time, which is that we are coming of age on a finite planet and only just now recognizing that it is finite. So how we mesh infinite aspirations of a species that’s been on this explosive trajectory—not just of population growth but of consumptive appetite—and transition to a sort of stabilized and still prosperous relationship with the Earth and each other is the story of our time.

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