Too Hot to Handle

Burning Globe

Thursday 10th September, 16.30-18.30

Venue: LT G

How is scientific uncertainty represented in the media? How might scientific uncertainty and environmental risks be better communicated? How do different publics deal with risk, controversy and uncertainty in relation to different issues? And how have public perceptions of risk changed over time?

Panel members present brief, engaging talks based on their latest research, which addresses these issues. Presenters will focus on particular topical examples, including climate change, sustainability and nanotechnology.

Lorraine Whitmarsh – The Hot Topic: Perceiving and communicating climate change

This talk will present the latest findings from research on public perceptions of climate change, and will describe how scepticism, uncertainty and risk perceptions differ amongst different groups (e.g., age groups, political preferences) and how perceptions have changed over time. The presentation will also discuss what research in this field can tell us about how better to communicate climate change and engage the public with this complex and uncertain issue. UPDATE: this session was picked up by the BBC, the Daily Mirror, the Daily Express and the Independent.

Kate Burningham – Fuelling protest: local opposition to biomass developments

The UK Renewable Energy Strategy (2009) concludes that we need to radically increase our use of renewable energy in order to ensure that 15% of our energy comes from renewable sources by 2020. While research suggests that the majority of the population support renewable energy the development of new renewable energy developments such as biomass plants often invokes local concern and protest. This talk draws on findings from research on the proposed development of two biomass plants. It explores some of the key concerns local people have about such developments and highlights ways in which lack of public engagement by planners and developers may fuel dissent.

Adam Corner – Nanotechnology: Big Uncertainties about Small Things

Nanotechnology is the science of the very small – technology at the atomic scale. Spectacular advances are predicted in healthcare, energy provision and computing – all because of this miniature marvel. But nanoparticles are not just smaller – things are very different at the nano-scale. Being able to control the building blocks of life raises many important questions, and nanotechnology means a journey into the unknown…

I will explain why some scientists think nanotechnology will revolutionise society, while others fear the uncertainties of a world filled with nanotechnology. From self-cleaning windows and spray-on solar cells to Smart-food and nanobots, come and find out why nanotechnology is causing some big uncertainties about some very small things.

About the speakers

Lorraine Whitmarsh is Lecturer in Environmental Psychology at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research & School of Psychology, Cardiff University

Kate Burningham is Senior Lecturer in the Department of Sociology and the Centre for Environmental Strategy at the University of Surrey

Adam Corner is a Researcher in the Understanding Risk Research Group, School of Psychology, Cardiff University. He writes for the Guardian on Environment issues, including a recent article on uncertainty in climate modelling.

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