CR 05:99-105 (1995)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/cr005099

The social construct of climate and climate change

Stehr N, von Storch H

Different time scales of climate change and their differential perception in society are discussed. A historical examination of natural climate changes during the past millennium suggests that short-term changes, especially crucial changes, trigger a significant response in and by society. Short-term changes correspond to the 'time horizon of everyday life', that is, to a time scale from days and weeks to a few years. The currently anticipated anthropogenic climate changes, however, are expected to occur on a longer time scale. They require a response by society not on the basis of primary experience but on the basis of scientifically constructed scenarios and the ways in which such information is represented in the modern media, for example. Socio-economic impact research relies on concepts that are based on the premise of perfectly informed actors for the development of optimal adaptation strategies. In contrast to such a conception, we develop the concept of a 'social construct of climate' as decisive for the public perception of scientific knowledge about climate and for public policy on climate change. The concept is illustrated using a number of examples.


Climate and society · Climate change · Perception of climate · Society and climate · Social construct of climate · Climate policy


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