Monica RIBAU, Instituto de Ciências Sociais, Universidade de Lisboa, Portugal
Ana HORTA, Instituto de Ciências Sociais, Universidade de Lisboa, Portugal
Rui PERDIGÃO, Meteoceanics Institute for Complex System Science, International ; CE3C, Faculdade de Ciências, Universidade de Lisboa; Instituto de Telecomunicações, IST, Austria
Complex dynamics, like the changing Climate or the new coronavirus pandemic, enhance perceptions of uncertainty. However, given the key role of truth in democracies, several authors contend that a democracy cannot have a “truth” incapable of accurately representing the world. The perception of certainty and the legitimacy of institutions are deemed preferable to an uncertain future. Two concepts, proposed by Christopher Auretta seem particularly insightful on this regard: biophobic and biophilic discourses. In the former, truth is taken for certainty and is considered objective, whereas uncertainty is a sign of discredit. In the latter skepticism is considered part of the quest for truth, and the acknowledgement of ignorance is a sign of knowledge. Biophobic discourses promote stability and finished truths, but also bipolarization (objective/subjective, true/false). Biophobic discourses also reduce critical thinking, whereas biopholic discourses promote it. However, this requires individuals to choose and constantly promote a homeostatic balance between extremes. This proposal uses these two concepts to classify and understand most popular narratives of climate change, and the role of uncertainty in collapsology worries.
The study is based on content analysis of the main narratives found in media discourses on climate change, such as: “the collapse is imminent”, “12 years to save the world”, “they’re destroying our future””, and “Climate change is uncertain”. Comparing data and describing communication trends, the most popular narratives sideline uncertainty as a threat. Denialists follow a similar approach, though they communicate uncertainty to discredit evidence (biophobic discourse). Biophilic discourse it is not identified in any narrative.
A function of communication is to find common grounds for information exchange, and democracy guarantees freedom. However, rising populism can be a sign that insecurities and fears continue to demand simplistic linear responses to complex challenges. Citizens want to be free but tend to search for personal contacts and informal networks deemed safe, in presence of uncertainty. Biophobic truth is leading us to a new version of totalitarianism, with justification that “it is necessary (…) to bridge the gap between what is done and what science shows it ought to be done” - dismissing critic thinking or distinguishing fact and fiction. Nietzsche said “The opposite of truth is not a lie, but a conviction”. Science had already found it. By identifying how the most popular narratives on climate change convey uncertainty, this presentation aims to demonstrate why biophobic discourses may be problematic regarding complex problems like a changing climate. Rather than ill-posed certainties, “ignorance” signals the wisdom of the prudent default of maximum uncertainty given lack of a priori knowledge (Perdigão et al 2020: DOI:10.1029/2019WR025270), avoiding the collapse of communication.