The challenge of reaching common understanding of the processes and significance of environmental change amounts to a procedural vulnerability in climate change research that hinders successfully translating knowledge into equitable and effective adaptation policy. This article presents findings from research with Indigenous participants in West Arnhem, Australia, and identifies a procedural vulnerability to climate change research, where perceptions of change and their meaning have their context in Dreaming that supersedes and parallels Western scientific discourses of hazard and risk, but that are marginalised in studies and policies on climate change.
This paper argues that moves to adapt remote Indigenous Australian communities to climate change risk missing the mark if they (a) assume that a strong reliance on particular ecosystem configurations makes Indigenous cultures universally vulnerable to environmental change, (b) do not recognise cosmologically embedded risks that are determined by Indigenous capacity to take care of country, and (c) do not recognise colonisation as an ongoing disaster in Indigenous Nations, and therefore treat secondary disasters such as poverty, ill health and welfare dependence as primary contributors to high climate change vulnerability. Procedural vulnerabilities contribute to policy failure, and in Australian contexts pose a risk of conceiving solutions to climate change vulnerability that involve moving people out of the way of environmental risks as they are conceived within colonial traditions, while moving them into the way of risks as conceived through the eyes of remote Indigenous communities.
This research joins recent publications that encourage researchers and policy-makers to epistemologically ground proof risk assessments and to listen and engage in conversations that create ways of ‘seeing with both eyes’, while not being blind to the hazards of colonisation.