Alien abduction yes, but no climate policy…

This post is about one of the ten short films in the Open University/BBC Creative Climate short film competition, made by students from UK film schools. You can see them all here on the OU’s YouTube channel.

Risk, by Kevin Pickering, Edinburgh College of Art

This short documentary suggests climate change is above all a risk management problem that society is failing to face up to. The filmmaker calls up a list of insurance companies to try to buy personal insurance against climate change.

Offering a slice of his own reality the film shows Kevin holed up in his apartment worrying about climate change: about the floods, heatwaves and mosquitoes he’s heard about. He picks up the phone to get help from people who know about risks. After ringing around a slew of insurance companies he gets little satisfaction. It turns out that there are policies that will cover alien abduction but no insurance against climate change. The punchline – that there are no policies that are adequate to cover climate change – can be taken in a couple of ways. This funny, clever piece is a nicely weighted satire on society’s unprepared state. But it also helps to nudge us towards thinking of climate change being not so much about acting on facts as acting on the basis of risk assessment. Indeed climate change can be understood as the greatest collective risk management problem of all time.

Kevin was responding to the brief on ‘risk: Climate change is about risks not facts – is it a risk worth taking?’ I reckon that most in the climate change science and policy community would view climate change more as a risk management problem than as a dispute between one set of facts and another.

But much media coverage, and noisy arguments in the blogosphere, tend to ignore this. It may be that people would be left with a better sense of the science, and more willing to support action, if it is better understood that climate change policy is rooted in an assessment of risks. Some of these risks are more specific than the generic phrase ‘climate change’ – including, for example, the hazards associated with the acidification of the oceans. But the consequence of just one such risk coming to pass could be far reaching. One of the things we are trying to demonstrate with some of the content on the Creative Climate website is that these risks are informed by an unfinished but rapidly developing and diverse body of science rather than a ‘Moses tablet’ of certainty. Kevin makes the point with a well-weighted jab in the ribs that society hasn’t got very far in weighing climate change as a risk.

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