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Signs and science in decision-making about climate variability: a rangelands case study

Peat Leith

School of Geography and Environmental Studies, University of Tasmania, Email


Climate variability presents substantial challenges and opportunities to agriculture and natural resource management. Until recently this variability was considered inherently uncertain. However, via statistical models which relate indicators of the El Nio Southern Oscillation (ENSO) to historical Australian rainfall, proponents of seasonal climate forecasts (SCFs) have attempted to translate this uncertainty into a risk framework. In this paper, drawing on in-depth interviews with managers of pastoral properties in three areas of the eastern Australian rangelands, I examine narratives of climate variability in the context of decision-making. A key features of these narratives is the contextualisation of situational conditions at varying geographical scales through conversations about local, regional and international signals and patterns. Geographic variation in the scientisation of climate narratives corresponds with linkages between land managers and agencies or individuals actively communicating climate information. In a management context, climate science is legitimated most apparently according to the proximity to its spokespeople, and through various validations of their outputs and utterances. The increasing salience of seasonal forecasts for decision-makers is exemplified through climate narratives in which, climate scientists are more visible than science, risk is more apparent than uncertainty, and both indeterminacy and ignorance are barely articulated.

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