Paradoxes are historically embedded in institutions and organizations. Latent paradoxes pose danger if they become salient; sociological analyses can identify historically embedded latent paradoxes. The emergency management paradox, in which the state invests vast resources, establishing formidable organizational arrangements that rely on knowledge to respond to unanticipated events in advance of their occurrence, even though such events can only ever be known after they occur, is a paradox of this kind. Deploying methodological “dual integrity” we trace through historical description and sociological conceptualization the institutional and organizational history of the emergency management paradox in Australia, where uncontrollable bushfires are becoming increasingly common, before drawing more general conclusions about how a response to grand challenges, such as climate change, demands an interdisciplinary understanding of the rituals and realities of paradoxes that emerge historically from our collective attempts to handle uncertainty via risk. Our research serves as a warning of the grave consequences that can result from ignoring a paradox’s history, whether intentionally or unwittingly.