National Hellenic Research Foundation
Athens, 18 – 20 July 2011
Climatic determinism has a very long and checkered history. It gave a framework for thinking about the relationship between the human and natural environments by making the climate a demiurge of social universe. In the past, climatic determinists put forward a species of political ethics whose self-serving claims about the environmental determination of virtue, value and privilege have long been subject of debate and criticism. Most problematically, the idea of climate as a key force in social development has naturalized existing forms of cultural domination, political hierarchy, economic dependency and racial inequity. While most of such thinking has been discredited, in recent years, the omnipresence of anthropogenic climate change has caused a resurgence of similar ideas, causing scholars and commentators to ask if these represent a revival of climatic determinism and, if so, with what consequences?
This question is especially relevant in today’s policy domain, in which we see climate change as the most prominent environmental issue and one of the key forces in shaping of international politics, global economy and social theory. In this context, we have all become gradually aware that climatic trends, past and present, have a lot to do with the history of energy, political power, and technological innovation as much as they relate to distribution of goods and services and the legality of resource use and exploitation of fossil fuels. Furthermore, as scholars in geography and science studies argue, the nature and location of climate change are continually being negotiated, interpreted and produced through practices and knowledges, none of which can be said to dominate others, none of which can be called a master discourse.
And yet, paradoxically, much of environmental thinking, planning and doing these days is framed within a deterministic and reductionistic master discourse as a response to the unitary agency of climate change. In such a discourse, climate is seen as an external force that impacts the economy, affects countries, harms national security, hurts the world’s poor, and potentially leads to global conflict. The UNDP Human Development Report, for example, calls for a ‘fight against climate change,’ while BBC and the Met Office say that ‘tackling climate change will be one of the most important things this generation does.’ In some instances, visual imagery designed to alert policy and popular audiences to climatic change, including the ‘Burning Embers’ image and the ‘Tipping Points’ lean towards an environmental deterministic interpretation of the climate change impacts. This framing of climate change rhetoric presents climate as more than just a trend of environmental change. Instead, it constructs it as an independent, self-contained and self-perpetuating mechanism with power to shape everyday life and structure the way we think about our common future(s).
Do such views constitute a revival of climatic determinism? How does the role of climate in today’s world compare to its earlier roles in geography, earth sciences and political theory? How can historians and social scientists contribute to the scientific and political discussion of climate crisis?
Our 2-day meeting in Athens encourages historians, philosophers, sociologists, geographers, literary historians, and cultural theorists to reflect and debate about reductionist readings, deterministic explanations and the putative obviousness of the climate crisis in both the academic and the public spheres.
Abstracts will be reviewed by the Committee consisting of Georgina Endfield (Nottingham), James R. Fleming (Colby), George Vlahakis (Athens) and Vladimir Jankovic (Manchester).
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