What’s at risk depends on how we measure: Examining sea level rise adaptation knowledge systems

Authors: Mary Rozance*, University of Washington
Topics: Hazards, Risks, and Disasters
Keywords: Risk, Knowledge System, Climate Adaptation
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/10/2020
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:15 AM
Room: Governors Square 17, Sheraton, Concourse Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Sea level rise adaptation planning is predicated on understanding risks from changing and uncertain future conditions and identifying strategies to mitigate those risks. While climate risks are often assumed to be objectively knowable and quantifiable, knowledge systems governing the creation and use of risk knowledge embed political, economic, and social contexts that shape planning outcomes. This paper applies theories from Science and Technology Studies to a case study of sea level rise adaptation planning in Miami-Dade County, Florida to interrogate knowledge production processes within governing institutions around how risks are identified, measured, constructed, and used in adaptation decisions. The case study was developed through a review of 200 documents and 59 semi-structured interviews with planners, scientists, business leaders, politicians, community organizers and others. Findings from this case study show that determining “objective” knowledge around the hazards (i.e. calculated rates, projections, and physical geographies) of sea level rise in Miami-Dade County is a negotiated and contested process. Sea level rise projections are shaped by political debates surrounding relevant science and processes, which are enrolled to justify minimizing risks at the local scale. In addition, risk knowledge that supports an economically viable future is favored over knowledge that either threatens that future or is seen as insignificant to achieving goals of that future. Actors more closely connected with decision-making subscribe to problem framings around infrastructure that reinforce bureaucratic and “expert driven” institutional path dependency around knowledge and decision-making. Recommendations include the need for increased transparency of adaptation assessments and decisions.

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