Hanna C, White I, Glavovic B. 2020. The uncertainty contagion: revealing the interrelated, cascading uncertainties of managed retreat. Sustainability. 12(2):736. doi:10.3390/su12020736
Managed retreat presents a dilemma for at-risk communities, and the planning practitioners and decisionmakers working to address natural hazard and climate change risks. The dilemma boils down to the equal but opposite necessities of moving out of harm’s way while retaining ties to community and place. While there are growing calls for its use, managed retreat remains challenging in practice across diverse settings. Approaches have been tested with varied success in a number of countries, but significant uncertainties remain, such as regarding who ‘manages’ it, when and how it should occur, at whose cost, and to where? Drawing upon a case study of managed retreat in New Zealand, this research uncovers intersecting and compounding arenas of uncertainty regarding the approach, responsibilities, legality, funding, politics and logistics of managed retreat. Where uncertainty is present in one domain, it spreads into others creating a cascading series of political, personal and professional risks that have an impact on trust in science and authority and affect people’s lives and risk exposure. We argue there is merit in refocusing attention away from policy deficits, barrier approaches or technical assessments as a means to provide ‘certainty’. Instead we suggest a focus on the relations between forms of knowledge and coordinating interactions between the diverse arenas: scientific, governance, financial, political and socio-cultural. If we do not do so, uncertainty can spread like a contagion, making inaction more likely.