In the years since climate change first emerged as a problem, most of the relevant research has focused on how it will affect the material conditions of life on this planet. Indeed, vast amounts of work have been done by way of charting its causes and foretelling its likely effects on our collective future. But as the problem has intensified along with our difficulties in dealing with climate change, scholars working across the disciplines have begun to realize that climate change, though first noticed by atmospheric researchers, is not solely an object of scientific concern. An example of what Timothy Morton has termed a “hyperobject,” it is in fact a problem that troubles the foundations of all our intellectual spheres.

Accordingly, this seminar explores the effects of climate change on inquiry in the physical sciences, social sciences and humanities, with particular attention to the ways in which scholars in these disciplines are adapting to climate change as a problem in their work. Perspectives from climate scientists will, of course, be included in our conversation as a way of grounding the discussion in a scientific account of the phenomena. But the goal of the seminar is to take stock of how climate change has excited a fundamental rethinking of core concepts across disciplines. What, for instance, does climate change mean for those working on the anthropology of science? And, more particularly, for those working on history of the national security state? How, moreover, have legal scholars responded to the ethical and legal questions posed by climate change? Are our existing understandings of justice and responsibility adequate to understanding the problem of climate justice? Or is justice a category that, in the context of climate change, needs to be rethought?

Beyond the fields of law and social science, the seminar also explores the impact of climate change on fields less commonly associated with climate change as a problem, namely history, theology, and literary studies. The earth’s climate has had an undoubtedly important impact on the history of human civilization, but thinking through the relationship between climate and history remains difficult, to say the least. How should we begin to understand the relationship between historical time and geologic time? And between geologic processes and human agency in the world? Religion is frequently described as contributing to inaction on climate issues. But is this the only way in which the major religious traditions can be construed? Are there religious environmentalisms too? And while literary studies has in recent years begun to occupy itself with environmental questions, literary eco-criticism still remains by and large out-scaled by the magnitude of a warming planet. What does eco-criticism look like in the era of climate change? Can literature help us imagine our species-being differently? Or is the literary imagination overwhelmed by a problem of this scale?

If climate change is a serious problem for the future of the global environment, it is also a serious problem for human thought. In such a context, none of the projects suggested here can represent anything more than a brief experiment in thinking through the challenges that climate change poses for the categories through which we understand our world. But as the pace of climate change intensifies and the consequences of inaction become more and more severe, the project of re-calibrating our concepts in ways appropriate to the problem is not one that can be easily left aside. Our goal for the seminar, in the end, is therefore to begin charting the ways in which we might think about climate change and its effects on our intellectual and cultural life.

Presenters include Dipesh Chakrabarty (History), Eric Slauter (English), Elisabeth Moyer (Geophysical Sciences), Eric Posner (Law), Joseph P. Masco (Anthropology) and William Schweiker (Divinity). Discussion Leaders include Eric Slauter (English), and Gary Herrigel (Political Science).

Schedule

"A historical perspective on climate change, energy use, and the rise of industrial civilization" (with a brief review of climate change physics)

"Climate Security: From Nuclear Science to Geoengineering"

"Walden's Carbon Footprint"

"Human History On An Extended Canvas"

"Climate Change and Law"

"Ethics and Climate Change: The Challenges and Possibilities"

Pre-readings

From Professor Moyer: If you have not yet been introduced to the physics the underlie global warming, I'd strongly recommend doing a little pre-seminar reading. I would recommend either of two books by David Archer, both available on Amazon for quite reasonable prices. If you want an option with no equations, I'd recommend "The Long Thaw: How Humans are Changing the Next 100,000 years of Earth's Climate." If you're OK with a bit more in terms of equations, "Global Warming: Understanding the Forecast" is written as an introductory text for undergraduate non-science majors.

  • Will Steffen, Paul J. Crutzen, and John R. McNeill, “The Anthropocene: Are Humans Now Overwhelming the Great Forces of Nature?” Ambio 36, no. 8 (2007): 614–21. [Download]
    • An account of the science behind the idea of the anthropocene.
  • Ursula Heise, Sense of Planet, Sense of Place: The Environmental Imagination of the Global (New York: Oxford UP, 2008), 17-66. [Download]
    • An examination of planetary imagination in a time of climate change.
  • Dale Jamieson, “Climate Change and Global Environmental Justice,” Changing the Atmosphere: Expert Knowledge and Environmental Governance,eds. Clark Miller and Paul Edwards (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2001): 287-307. [Download]
    • An overview of the links between climate change and environmental justice.
  • Peter Manley Scott, “The End of Nature and the Last Human? Thinking Theologically about ‘Nature’ in a Postnatural Condition,” Without Nature? A New Condition for Theology eds. David Alebrston and Cabell King (New York: Fordham University Press, 2010): 342-362. [Download]
    • An analysis of the problems a “postnatural condition” poses for Christian theology.
  • Ronald E. Doel, “Constituting the Postwar Earth Sciences: The Military’s Influence on the Environmental Sciences in the USA after 1945,” Social Studies of Science 33.5 (October 2003): 635-666. [Download]
    • An argument about the ways in which Cold War defense policies propelled the development of the earth sciences.

Readings related to Elizabeth Moyer's Presentation:

  • One thing that I want to emphasize in my discussion is the utter dependence of human civilization on energy use, and the long history of increasing energy use. I recommend a chapter by the historian Fernand Braudel from "The Structures of Everyday Life" on the pre-industrial revolution grown in energy use. It can be downloaded at http://geosci.uchicago.edu/~moyer/GEOS24705/Readings/BraudelStructurescompressed.pdf (which is also accessible through http://geosci.uchicago.edu/~moyer/GEOS24705/2012/). The chapter can be skimmed, but it's definitely worth reading the beginning (from "The key problem: sources of energy" on p. 336 to the end of "The human engine" on 340), the section on the wood crisis in 17th-18th century Europe, and then the final conclusions (p. 371-372).

Readings Related to William Schweiker's Presentation:

  • Rev. William Schweiker, "Global Problems, Global Responsibilities: Accepting and Assigning Liabilities for Environmental Harms," Journal of Law, Philosophy and Culture, Vol. III, No. 1 (2009), pp. 341-359.[Download]

  • "Anthropocentrism," "Climate Change," "Ecocentrism," "Ethics, Environmental," and "Responsibility," Berkshire Encyclopedia of Sustainability: The Spirit of Sustainability, eds. Willis Jenkins and Whitney Bauman. Vol. 1 (2010). [Download]

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