Ambiguity: A new way of thinking about responses to climate change

A. Fleming*, S. M. Howden

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debatepeer-review

    14 Citations (Scopus)


    Diversity, interdisciplinarity and transdisciplinarity are now recognized as vital to tackling wicked problems such as those presented by a changing climate (Nature editorial 2015, Ledford 2015; Dick et al., 2016). Including diverse disciplines in science projects enables a range of different views which often facilitate the creation of innovative solutions. Supporting multiple views and options requires a different way of working beyond traditional reductionist approaches to science, communication and decision-making. To embrace diversity in scientific project teams in order to tackle complex, integrated and urgent issues but to expect singular and linear pathways forward is paradoxical. Much has been written about the need for the scientific community to embrace uncertainty (e.g. Popper, Lempert & Bankes 2005; Lempert et al., 2004; Nelson, Howden & Hayman 2013; Bammer & Smithson 2008). We argue that this in itself will not suffice, and that there is also a need to embrace ambiguity in certain situations. Thus, in this article we explore: (1) what ambiguity is, including the benefits it can offer to climate adaptation in particular, using existing approaches to ambiguity in the arts and humanities as examples (2), we discuss practical meanings of ambiguity in relation to climate change, (3) we propose possible next steps for bringing ambiguity into interdisciplinary practice, and (4) we identify some challenges and necessary preconditions to successfully and appropriately embracing ambiguity.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1271-1274
    Number of pages4
    JournalScience of the Total Environment
    Publication statusPublished - 15 Nov 2016


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