Can our ancestors school our scientists on how to solve climate change?

by Karalee Corley

In our current, complex state of struggle to mitigate climate change, the question begs to be asked: can science alone offer the knowledge to resolve climate change? Maybe not. Science instructs us to know and observe processes such as climate change in the natural world. We have done so for decades, yet the data reported on the negative changes in our environment cannot apparently, by itself, inspire societal change. In a recent article, Smithsonian geographer R.D.K. Herman (2016) offers vehement argument, and extensively evidenced non-scientific knowledge, that the scientific disciplines will not resolve the issue of our decaying planet on their own. The author asserts that the predominance of capitalism and colonialism in our recent history has fostered a societal one-sidedness and overconfidence in our scientific outputs. Continue reading

The Dangers of Climate Change Denial

by JP Kiefer

While conspiracy theories are relatively common and well-studied, very little research has been done investigating climate change conspiracy theories and their especially harmful nature. According to Douglas (2015), conspiracy theories tend to develop around global-scale events with enormous significance that individuals have trouble believing can be explained by mundane or ordinary details. Climate change fits this description perfectly, as science has shown that it is caused by small, common actions such as driving a car. Because of this, a number of climate change conspiracies have developed, such as that scientists have made up climate change for political reasons, to get research grants, or to help those who invested in green energy technology profit. Continue reading

Poetry and the Environment

by Emily Segal

Because our emotions can be equally as important as rationality in decision-making, obstacles to living sustainably can relate to our feelings and attitudes as well as scientific and political issues. Ecocritics believe that approaching climate change from an interdisciplinary perspective, using literature to explore how humans relate to nature, can be helpful. Poets, for example, are experts at exploring the relationship between our internal and external worlds. This can be used to address one of the problems in understanding climate change—it is such a grand concept that it can be difficult to relate to on an individual level. As Garrard (2014) and climate scientist Mike Hulme suggest, it might be time for us to stop thinking about sustainable living and development as a ‘fight against climate change’ and rather deal with the idea of climate change from a more constructive and creative perspective. Poems are a good way to understand climate change because they have flexible structures and multiple levels of meaning, which can be useful in explaining the complex relationship between humans and the environment. Continue reading

Visual imagery and climate change

by Yijing Zhang

A review by O’Neill (2014) studies the visual representation of climate change and public’s reaction on visual imagery. O’Neill begins by outlining three essential qualities of image that are different from text: analogical quality, a lack of an explicit propositional syntax, and indexicality (unlike words that are understood as a particular way of portraying the world, images are seen as direct representation of reality). These three qualities are related when O’Neill discusses three moments of communication cycles. The moment of production is about how climate visual are made, in what form, by and for whom, when and why. The moment of the visual text is about the context of the visual climate discourses. The moment of consumption is about how does the public read the visual climate discourses. Continue reading

Why Environmental Science Needs the Humanities

by Emily Segal

In the past, those working to combat environmental problems were generally thought of as natural scientists utilizing technology, economics, and policy to come up with solutions for reducing and preventing climate change. The truth is that humanist thinkers were an integral part of the first phase of the environmental revolution. They were early journalists, philosophers and historians writing and thinking about the environment and its relation to human beings. It seems that over time, these humanities scholars were pushed aside and took a back seat to natural scientists and economists who were at the front of the environmentalist movement. Continue reading

Yale Attempts to Produce Environmentally Conscience Graduates

by Margaret Loncki

Administrators at Yale University strongly believe that something needs to be done about imminent threats it faces as a result of climate change. Rachelle Dejong, a research associate at the National Organization of scholars, describes the importance of behavioral manipulation and social psychology in changing the behavior of college students. Yale administrators believe that appealing to one’s moral side is not enough to change student’s behavior in the long run. Instead, students must want to engage in sustainable behavior rather than being forced into it. When forced to make these changes, resulting behavior appears to be temporary rather than the long lasting changes that Yale hopes to produce. Continue reading

Is the IPCC as Interdisciplinary as it Should Be?

by Emil Morhardt

Sibling 2011 scientiometric (bibliometric) analyses of the IPCC Third Assessment Report (TAR) (Bjurström and Polk 2011a, b) ask questions about how interdisciplinary—as opposed to how multidisciplinary—the IPCC is in considering the state of climate change research, and the degree to which consideration of the natural scientific evidence and its economic consequences outweighs any other considerations. If each chapter were confined to a single discipline, say ice core analysis, but there were many chapters covering different types of studies, that would be perfect multidisciplinarity—at least over the range of disciplines covered—and zero interdisciplinarity. After characterizing the disciplinary content of 96 journals that were each cited 12 times or more (a total of 6417 technical papers were involved), the authors concluded that this was more-or less the case. Each chapter stayed well within its disciplinary constraints. The scientists in each discipline have their noses to the grindstone and are leaving the research in other disciplines to others. Furthermore, except for a smattering of economics, there is not much other than natural science under consideration (although medicine and energy, both of which received significant coverage might be considered as outside the realm of the natural sciences.) The only fields that looked as though they might be interdisciplinary, based on the dispersion of topics in individual journals, were in journals with the words “environmental”, “ecological”, or “policy” in their titles. Since these journals are specifically trying to attract papers that cross two disciplines, it is good that at least some of them received at least 12 citations. Continue reading

Climate Change Meets The Humanities

by Emil Morhardt

In 2011, Mike Hulme (pictured above), then Professor of Climate Change at the University of East Anglia, and a keen student of the relations between society and climate change, wrote a short commentary in the scientific journal, Nature, pointing out to his scientific audience that there was a rich ongoing technical literature about non-scientific aspects of climate change about which they might not have been aware. He cited example papers from anthropology, communications studies, ethics, historical geography, history of science, literary criticism, museum studies, philosophy, psychology, religious studies, social sciences, and sociology. He pointed out that a recent study by the Swedish researches Andreas Bjurström and Merritt Polk, which I’ll address in my next post, showed that the technical literature cited in the IPCC Third Assessment report was heavily dominated by papers from the natural sciences, while social science content was mostly economics, and humanities comment was hardly visible; as Hulme put it, the IPCC view was “…dominated by positivist disciplines at the expense of interpretive ones.” That last phrase got my attention—I had no idea what it meant, evidently a lack of sufficient training in the humanities. Hulme wrote that story-telling and art are important to the overall enterprise of increasing human understanding of climate change—not just fact-finding which occupies the bulk of scientific activities, and not just to translate the scientific results into something more accessible, but as forms of primary information in their own rights. But these are way outside the comfort zone of most scientists, who think of them as rather separate kinds of activities, and certainly unlikely to be contributing to a scientific understanding of the problem. Continue reading