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      Towards a different attitude to uncertainty

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      Nature Conservation

      Pensoft Publishers

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          Abstract

          The ecological literature deals with uncertainty primarily from the perspective of how to reduce it to acceptable levels. However, the current rapid and ubiquitous environmental changes, as well as anticipated rates of change, pose novel conditions and complex dynamics due to which many sources of uncertainty are difficult or even impossible to reduce. These include both uncertainty in knowledge (epistemic uncertainty) and societal responses to it. Under these conditions, an increasing number of studies ask how one can deal with uncertainty as it is. Here, we explore the question how to adopt an overall alternative attitude to uncertainty, which accepts or even embraces it. First, we show that seeking to reduce uncertainty may be counterproductive under some circumstances. It may yield overconfidence, ignoring early warning signs, policy- and societal stagnation, or irresponsible behaviour if personal certainty is offered by externalization of environmental costs. We then demonstrate that uncertainty can have positive impacts by driving improvements in knowledge, promoting cautious action, contributing to keeping societies flexible and adaptable, enhancing awareness, support and involvement of the public in nature conservation, and enhancing cooperation and communication. We discuss the risks of employing a certainty paradigm on uncertain knowledge, the potential benefits of adopting an alternative attitude to uncertainty, and the need to implement such an attitude across scales – from adaptive management at the local scale, to the evolving Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) at the global level.

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          Most cited references 69

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                Author and article information

                Journal
                Nature Conservation
                NC
                Pensoft Publishers
                1314-3301
                1314-6947
                October 09 2014
                October 09 2014
                : 8
                : 95-114
                Article
                10.3897/natureconservation.8.8388
                © 2014

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