Climate Change Accountability in Risk Society

‘Society has become a laboratory where there is absolutely nobody in charge’ Ulrich Beck

In the run up to the 2018 Swedish general election Greta Thunberg, a 15 year old Swedish student went on strike from school for 3 weeks in an effort to force politicians to act on climate change. Her protest questions the purpose of education when “facts don’t matter anymore, politicians aren’t listening to the scientists, so why should I learn?”. Thunberg’s brave stance points to the critical issue of accountability in modern society.

While the expansion of scientific knowledge has created new opportunities for human flourishing, it has also rendered the world more complex and uncertain. According to the sociologist, Ulrich Beck we live in a paradox where the more we know the less certain we can be about the outcome. In regards to climate change new, incalculable risks are taken every day by politicians and industry CEO’s over fracking rights, emission targets, deforestation, fossil fuels etc. and no one is held responsible for the outcome.

Since the effects of climate change are felt most strongly by the most vulnerable and those least likely to have contributed to the problem (including future generations), the importance of establishing a new standard of proof is a critical matter for environmental justice.

Thunberg points out that ‘when you think about “the future” today, you don’t think beyond the year 2050. By then I will, in the best case, not even have lived half my life.’ For me this is a poignant reminder of why the burden of climate change should be held by the perpetrators today. Transformation towards a more reflective, accountable and honest system is essential if wish to look our children in the eyes.

Photograph: Michael Campanella for the Guardian
Beck, Ulrich (1998) ‘Politics of Risk Society’ in Jane Franklin, ed. The Politics of Risk Society.


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