Global Climate Change as Environmental Megacrisis

Joanna Endter-Wada, Utah State University
Helen Ingram

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The authors analyze global climate change utilizing insights from the governance and crisis management literatures that seek to understand the prospects, nature, characteristics and the effects of cataclysmic events. They argue that global climate change is a mega-crisis hiding in plain sight yet there has been no proportionate mega-crisis response. People are still grappling with how to make sense of climate change, how to bridge multiple ways of knowing it, and how to negotiate collective courses of action. Despite mounting scientific evidence and emerging political efforts, the response to global climate change falls short of being proportionate to climate change as a mega-crisis. The authors argue that the interconnectedness of multiple climate-related problems that cascade from one policy domain to another is difficult to comprehend and frame in ways productive to problem solving. The authors characterize the response to climate change so far as consisting mainly of attempts to “tame” and “domesticate” the issue, inadequate framing of the problem, and overemphasis on market-oriented and individualized responses. Climate change-related policies in many sectors do not reflect change sufficient to reduce vulnerability to this mega-crisis threatening to transform the earth. Approaching climate change as “crisis as usual” and continuing to pursue current avenues of response entails significant path-dependent long-term risks. Several policy changes could help lead us down a different pathway: 1) utilizing knowledge and action networks to bridge boundaries of disciplinary understanding, occupational expertise, ministerial responsibility, and climate science and policy; 2) reframing climate change to incorporate multiple ways of knowing; and, 3) designing democratic climate policies for encouraging mobilization. Confronting the unknown territory of the climate change mega-crisis will require transformative thinking, action, and policies. Our “maps” for charting this unknown territory involve coming to know, in many different ways, how our common interest in air, water, health, life, nature, and the future can mobilize us to respond equitably, efficiently and effectively to the many challenges that climate change presents.