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The meaning of climate risks is apprehended through affective experiences that have cognitive, physiological and emotional dimensions. While there are a variety of debates around affect and emotion, scholars of affect agree that emotions and cognition are processes that are embodied and that bodies are ...

The meaning of climate risks is apprehended through affective experiences that have cognitive, physiological and emotional dimensions. While there are a variety of debates around affect and emotion, scholars of affect agree that emotions and cognition are processes that are embodied and that bodies are responsive to environments. As the philosopher Rick Anthony Furtak explains (2018), emotions communicate impressions about how the world is. Paying attention to our feelings is thus to gain an understanding of the features of the world to which these feelings are responsive and to access significant truths about what concerns us.

For instance, the affective experience of fear informs us about an alleged danger and in this sense an emotional response is capable of delivering more or less reliable information about the world. A person who feels anger or disappointment can, in typical cases, tell you what she is angry or disappointed about, and why she feels this way. Similarly, if we feel hopeful, then we are aware of an enticing possibility that might be realized. An affective experience therefore points beyond itself, revealing something to us which we recognize by being moved. (Furtak 2018: 11)

Affect scholars ask questions about what emotions and affects do and how, when and where they orient action. For example: Why and how do people care about climate change? How do past experiences of loss and environmental destruction affect individuals and groups’ disposition towards climate change action? If individuals feel moral outrage, anger and frustration towards politicians inactive in the face of climate risks, will these emotions encourage or discourage people from becoming climate activists? Can and should you shame, embarrass or provoke guilt to spur individual climate action? Does fear of the future given climate change projections affect family planning decisions? In what way has the youth climate movement affected young people’s hope in the future and how they perceive their role in climate change decision-making? How are collective emotions in response to climate change risks being encouraged, ignored, or manipulated by various actors (including political actors)? What is the role of historical trauma and systemic oppressions in how climate risk is experienced? What can we learn from contemplative sciences about dealing with climate risk? What makes a future desirable? How should we express feelings of loss, grief and sadness at the changes occurring to societies and the natural world due to climate change? Why might it be important to tell stories of success or failures in climate change mitigation and adaptation? How do emotional and affective experiences of climate risk change, and what impact does this have on active engagement? How does literature and the arts contribute to meaning-making in the context of climate risk management?

All these questions are highly relevant to climate risk perception, communication, and management. However, the centrality of affect in understanding climate risk and its implications for research and communication practices as well as decision-making are marginalized by the dominant understanding of climate risk as “hazard x exposure”, where hazard is defined as the way in which a thing or situation can cause harm and exposure as the extent to which the likely recipient of the harm can be influenced by the hazard. In this objective understanding of risk, emotions and bodily attunements to environmental changes are silent. Moreover, the dominant understanding of risk aligns itself well with the practices of cost/benefit analyses of different courses of action in mitigating climate risk and legitimating technocratic decisions-making. However, international and national inaction on climate risk mitigation suggests that despite multiple large-scale syntheses of such climate risks analyses, increased knowledge about hazards and exposure has had limited success in spurring international and national action. Perhaps what explains climate inaction is not a lack of technical knowledge about risk, but experiences of risk in different situations, that involve people from different walks of life, with different capacities to affect change, or contribute to collective decision-making.

In this Research Topic, we invite contributions on affective dimensions of climate risk to provide an alternative lens on climate risks perception, communication and management and the role of individual and collective emotions in climate decision-making. We welcome scholarship from different disciplinary backgrounds, methodologies, and theoretical assumptions about affect. We are particularly keen to explore different styles of writing about affect and the relationship between form and content in scholarship on the affective dimension of climate risk. For instance, we welcome the telling of stories about emotional responses to climate change and thinking with these stories to provoke creative approaches to climate action. Different ways of paying attention to and writing about the affective dimensions of climate risks can deepen our understanding of, and make more meaningful, present challenges, which in turn can affect individual and collective attitudes and responses towards these challenges.

Keywords: Feelings, attitudes, social psychology, emotion, moral emotions, embodied risk perception, affective experience, intentionality, moods, dispositions, felt meaning, desire, imagination, adaptation


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