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Title: How and why did the possibility of a collapse in the Thermohaline Circulation emerge as a risk issue in the UK, and with what potential consequences?
Author: Jennings, Neil Robert
ISNI:       0000 0001 3590 2192
Awarding Body: University of East Anglia
Current Institution: University of East Anglia
Date of Award: 2008
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Climate change exists as a significant threat to the future well-being of the planet. There is reason to suggest that among the potential abrupt climate changes that may occur, the possibility of a collapse of the thermohaline circulation (THC), popularly referred to as the Gulf Stream, has often been the focus of media and political attention and discussion in the UK. This is despite the risk of such a collapse being poorly understood and quantified. This thesis draws on perspectives from the fields of media studies, sociology, and science and technology studies and draws on a mixed-methodology approach to investigate how and why the possibility of a THC collapse has emerged as a public risk issue in the UK and with what potential consequences. The thesis is particularly interested in how representations of the possibility of a THC collapse have emerged and developed over time and how they illustrate the struggle between different actors and fields of society (scientific communities, the media system, political institutions, corporations and campaigning groups and social movements) to advance particular courses of action. The findings from this research indicate that the THC issue has been popularised in the media largely because of the high-consequence, UK-focused and paradoxical nature of the risk. The thesis shows that the THC issue has been used by actors from many different disciplines, and represented in a variety of ways, to advance a contrasting range of treatment recommendations. Treatment recommendations range from urgent action to reduce carbon emissions to no action at all. It is shown that uncertainty in the science of the THC has been essential in allowing the possibility of a collapse to be used to advance such a range of treatment recommendations because it has afforded actors a significant amount of flexibility in their representations. Contextual factors that have influenced media coverage and the nature of representations are discussed. Evidence is put forward which suggests that the emergence and popularisation of the THC issue may have had effects upon public, political and organisational perceptions of (abrupt) climate change, trust in science, investment in scientific research, and effects upon political action to address climate change. The thesis uses the Field of Mediated Risk Communication model to conceptualise the way in which representations of particular risk issues are communicated and contested between different fields of society. The findings from the analysis of the emergence and development of the THC issue are used to put forward a revised version of the model.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available