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The role of knowledge, learning and mental models in perceptions of climate change related risks

Helgeson, Jennifer, van der Linden, Sander and Chabay, Ilan (2012) The role of knowledge, learning and mental models in perceptions of climate change related risks. In: Wals, Arjen E.J. and Corcoran, Peter Blaze, (eds.) Learning for Sustainability in Times of Accelerating Change. Wageningen Academic Publishers, Wageningen, The Netherlands, pp. 329-346. ISBN 9789086867578

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Identification Number: 10.3920/978-90-8686-757-8_21


Climate change represents a complex set of challenges, in part because it is marked by risks that are not easily observed and identified ? risks that humans have significant difficulty estimating. A large body of research has shown that the construction of human risk perception is a complex, multi-faceted process. Determining viable mitigation and adaptation strategies toward climate change risks therefore necessitates models that appropriately reflect human knowledge systems and learning processes. In learning for a sustainable future, we must look beyond traditional measures of risk variables and obtain a more comprehensive and holistic understanding of risk behaviour. In this chapter, we aim to provide such an interdisciplinary overview. Using practical examples we outline five fundamental processes that help form, shape and guide human perceptions of climate-related risks, namely: (1) cognitive; (2) subconscious; (3) affective; (4) socio-cultural and (5) individual factors. We subsequently critically review techniques for measuring risk perception, discuss (existing) public perceptions of climate change related risks and illuminate the different mechanisms by which risk perception can influence public action. A major conclusion is that eliciting effective adaptation and mitigation responses requires greater public understanding of and multi-level engagement with climate change and to this extent, we provide several recommendations for public policy.

Item Type: Book Section
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2012 Wageningen Academic Publishers
Divisions: Geography & Environment
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GE Environmental Sciences
H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
J Political Science > JA Political science (General)
Date Deposited: 26 Jun 2012 08:29
Last Modified: 15 Sep 2023 09:47

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