Satellite: Imagination and Climate Change – Cognitive Skills for Complex Problem Solving and Transformations

Thursday, October 1, 2015
8:30 am – 5:00 pm
Location TBD

Satellite Organizers:

Manjana Milkoreit, Arizona State University, USA
Michele-Lee Moore, University of Victoria, Canada

We have entered a new era, the Anthropocene, where human activity has emerged as major force shaping the Earth system (Steffen et al. 2007, Rockström et al. 2009). From local to global scales, evidence is mounting that many human-environmental interactions have become “locked in” to unsustainable pathways (Folke et al. 2011, Scheffer et al. 2000). Consequently, interest has been growing about how to intentionally transform linked social-ecological systems (SES) so that these systems are set on new trajectories to ensure that wellbeing of both humans and a range of ecosystem services is sustained over time (Westley et al. 2011, Clark 2001, Leach et al. 2010).

Imagination is essential to the ability of individuals and societies to create, design and bring about desired future trajectories. Given the planetary changes in progress at the beginning of the 21st century, the past is no longer a reliable guide to the future. Decision-makers and communities require very demanding mental skills to envision, assess, and make choices concerning the near- and long-term future. Key among these skills is the scientifically informed imagination of different possible futures, including phenomena that unfold slowly over decades or that contribute to reaching tipping points rapidly. Such imagination processes have to take into account not only available scientific knowledge and associated uncertainties, but also the dynamics of technological revolutions and complex social change. But at their core they are creative, social and cognitive processes, enabled and constrained not only by the functioning of the brain but also by the social, economic, political and environmental processes, decision-makers are embedded in. Currently very little is known about the nature of imagination and its role in potential transformations, for example in the context of climate change. Existing bodies of scholarship in natural and social sciences – esp. advances in the cognitive sciences – remain largely disconnected and have not yet linked to questions of political decision-making and social-ecological transformation processes.

Part of the motivation for this session is the observation that many decision-makers today, especially climate change negotiators at the global scale, lack the ability to imagine qualitatively different (i.e., non-linear) futures and often also lack an understanding of/concern about climate tipping points (Milkoreit 2012).

Our objectives include interdisciplinary theory development for a research program on imagination, transformation and climate futures, interdisciplinary network building in support of future research, scoping of future research collaborations, and the development of a book project – an edited volume on imagination and transformation, with a case focus on climate futures. Our key goal is to set the foundation for a research program on the role of imagination in political decision-making about climate change.


Highlighting Cognitive and Managerial Challenges for the Design of Sustainable Social-Ecological Systems
Elsa Berthet, INRA – McGill University, Canada
Marine Agogué, HEC Montreal, Canada

“The Bond You Hold”: Performing High-End Climate Transformations
Diego Galafassi, Stockholm Resilience Centre, Sweden
Maria Heras, Universidad Autonoma de Barcelona, Spain
David Tabara, Universidad Autonoma de Barcelona, Spain

There is Nothing Magic to Flawed Thinking: Understanding Our Shortcomings Can Help Us As Scientists
Henrik Österblom, Stockholm Resilience Centre, Sweden

Afternoon session contains discussion and gaming