University of Tasmania
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Knowing El Nino: integrating knowledges of managing climate variability in the eastern Australian rangelands

posted on 2023-05-26, 03:50 authored by Peat Leith
Climate variability in Australia's rangelands leads to large swings in agricultural productivity from year to year. Contemporary policy has framed such variability as a manageable risk and Australian governments have fostered the development of a scientific community to assist farmers and graziers to manage climate risk via models, predictions and various information products. Meanwhile, farmers and graziers make decisions on the basis of diverse forms of information and knowledge. This thesis is a qualitative analysis of the knowledge boundaries among these scientific and lay communities. I conducted the research in three parts. Firstly, I undertook and analysed 35 in-depth, semi-structured interviews with Australian scientists involved in research, development and extension of climate-related risk management tools. These technologies are based on climate models, which predict the impacts or dynamics of the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and other major climatic fluctuations. Many are also reliant on systems models, which link the climate models to particular agricultural and geographic contexts. Secondly, I conducted and analysed interviews with 70 graziers in the semi-arid rangelands of eastern Australia. Thirdly, these two analyses were brought together with a re-constructive goal: to inform institutional practices and foster improved integration of scientific and lay knowledges concerning climate variability and rangeland management. The discourse analysis focused on matters of epistemological and ontological substance. On the one hand, I investigated how climate variability and predictability were constituted by participants. On the other, I analysed what these constitutions of climate reveal about participants' positioning with respect to particular knowledge claims, identities, discourse and institutions. Following a detailed discussion about how scientists and graziers constituted climate variability, I conclude by positing that climate knowledges, made mutually by scientists and graziers, become mutually useful. I detail five principles which will enhance such mutual knowledge production across the relevant domains of research and practice, as follows: 1. Framing the problems associated with managing climate variability needs to be done deliberatively, involving both graziers and scientists. 2. Articulating diverse socio-environmental concerns in addressing problems requires integration of social and biophysical science. 3. Reflexivity and humility should be explicitly emphasised as elements of scientific praxis in this public good science. 4. Scientists should include and closely examine the placed knowledges of lay actors. 5. Integrating extension with research and development will make scientific knowledge-making more effectively targeted and adaptive.


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