Climate Change and Society: Sociological Perspectives

Climate change is one of the most critical issues of the twenty-first century, presenting a major intellectual challenge to both the natural and social sciences. While there has been significant progress in natural science understanding of climate change, social science analyses have not been as fully developed. Climate Change and Society breaks new theoretical and empirical ground by presenting climate change as a thoroughly social phenomenon, embedded in behaviors, institutions, and cultural practices. This collection of essays summarizes existing approaches to understanding the social, economic, political, and cultural dimensions of climate change. From the factors that drive carbon emissions to those which influence societal responses to climate change, the volume provides a comprehensive overview of the social dimensions of climate change. An improved understanding of the complex relationship between climate change and society is essential for modifying ecologically harmful human behaviors and institutional practices, creating just and effective environmental policies, and developing a more sustainable future. Climate Change and Society provides a useful tool in efforts to integrate social science research, natural science research, and policymaking regarding climate change and sustainability. Produced by the American Sociological Association’s Task Force on Sociology and Global Climate Change, this book presents a challenging shift from the standard climate change discourse, and offers a valuable resource for students, scholars, and professionals involved in climate change research and policy.

Read

Posted in Climate change, Society, Socio-ecological resilience, Socio-ecological systems | Tagged , , ,

Global Assemblages, Resilience, and Earth Stewardship in the Anthropocene

In this paper, we argue that the Anthropocene is an epoch characterized not only by the anthropogenic dominance of the Earth’s ecosystems but also by new forms of environmental governance and institutions. Echoing the literature in political ecology, we call these new forms of environmental governance “global assemblages”. Socioecological changes associated with global assemblages disproportionately impact poorer nations and communities along the development continuum, or the “Global South”, and others who depend on natural resources for subsistence. Although global assemblages are powerful mechanisms of socioecological change, we show how transnational networks of grassroots organizations are able to resist their negative social and environmental impacts, and thus foster socioecological resilience.

Read

Posted in Anthropocene, Resilience, Socio-ecological resilience, Stewarship | Tagged , , ,

The Anthropocene: From Global Change to Planetary Stewardship

Over the past century, the total material wealth of humanity has been enhanced. However, in the twenty-first century, we face scarcity in critical resources, the degradation of ecosystem services, and the erosion of the planet’s capability to absorb our wastes. Equity issues remain stubbornly difficult to solve. This situation is novel in its speed, its global scale and its threat to the resilience of the Earth System. The advent of the Anthropocene, the time interval in which human activities now rival global geophysical processes, suggests that we need to fundamentally alter our relationship with the planet we inhabit. Many approaches could be adopted, ranging from geoengineering solutions that purposefully manipulate parts of the Earth System to becoming active stewards of our own life support system. The Anthropocene is a reminder that the Holocene, during which complex human societies have developed, has been a stable, accommodating environment and is the only state of the Earth System that we know for sure can support contemporary society. The need to achieve effective planetary stewardship is urgent. As we go further into the Anthropocene, we risk driving the Earth System onto a trajectory toward more hostile states from which we cannot easily return.

Read

Posted in Anthropocene, Stewardship | Tagged ,

Agency at the Time of the Anthropocene

Bruno Latour. I think that it is easy for us to agree that, in modernism, people are not equipped with the mental and emotional repertoire to deal with such a vast scale of events; that they have difficulty submitting to such a rapid acceleration for which, in addition, they are supposed to feel responsible while, in the meantime, this call for action has none of the traits of their older revolutionary dreams. How can we simultaneously be part of such a long history, have such an important influence, and yet be so late in realizing what has happened and so utterly impotent in our attempts to fix it?

While the older problem of science studies was to understand the active role of scientists in the construction of facts, a new problem arises: how to understand the active role of human agency not only in the construction of facts, but also in the very existence of the phenomena those facts are trying to document? The many important nuances between facts, news, stories, alarms, warnings, norms, and duties are all mixed up. This is why it is so important to try to clarify a few of them anew. Especially when we are trying to understand how we could shift from economics to ecology, given the old connection between those two disciplines and the “scientific worldview.”

Read

Posted in Agency, Anthropocene, Human agency, Latour | Tagged , , ,

Community-Driven Research in the Anthropocene

The Anthropocene is defined by the unprecedented global impact human society has made, and will continue to make, on the Earth system. In the Anthropocene, the gulf between scientific  understanding and civic decision-making simultaneously increases the likelihood of disaster, our vulnerability to natural hazards, and the inequity of their impact. Anticipating, mitigating, and recovering from disasters, therefore, requires the integration of multiple kinds of scientific knowledge into the broader social context used to support decisions. In other words, living in the Anthropocene requires we bring science and society closer together. Our continuing descent into the Anthropocene argues for a new approach.

To address the challenges of the Anthropocene, humans need to integrate scientific knowledge into their ways of thinking about the world and making decisions. An effective way to do that is to add participatory approaches to the portfolio of scientific methods. The most engaging of these approaches is community-driven science: developing and answering questions that are driven by the needs and priorities of specific, local, diverse nonscientific communities. Community-driven science includes both practical strategies and a shift toward a more inclusive worldview that places science alongside, rather than above, other ways of knowing. In short, as scientists and educators, we need to do science with people, not for them or at them.

Read

Posted in Anthropocene, Citizens science, Community-driven research, Participatory action research, Participatory science | Tagged , , , ,

Anthropology at the Time of the Anthropocene

Bruno Latour. If the idea of naming the period – or epoch, some say even era – “Anthropocene” resonates so deeply for the better and maybe for the worse (you will have to decide at the end of my lecture) with the name of your discipline, it is because it builds upon several of the same fault lines as those upon which anthropology had established its fragile tenements for many decades.

First, the very idea of the Anthropocene places the “human agency” smack in the center of attention. For you to be “anthropocentric” does not come as a great surprise, but it is certainly a complete shock to stratigraphers used to studying million-year-old pebbles and to digging up sediments deposited long before humans ever appeared as a distinct species.

Second, this new concept defines the human agency by drawing on a bewildering range of entities, some clearly related to the “natural” sciences – biochemistry, DNA, evolutionary trends, rock formation, ecosystem – while others clearly relate to what ethnographers have learned to register throughout their field work – patterns of land use, migrations of plants, animal and people, city life, trajectory of epidemics, demography, inequalities, classes and state policies. In other words, to designate the present period as that of the Anthropocene is to tell all the other disciplines that the task of joining “physical” and “cultural anthropology” is no longer your own undertaking, but what suddenly, without you having even asked for help, hundreds of subfields are also busy doing. Everybody it seems is now converging on the same problem, ready to make the same mistakes and to live through the same traumatic experience as what the discipline of anthropology as a whole had lived through since the beginning of the 19th century: namely, how to get bones and divinities fit together.

Read

Posted in Anthropocene, Anthropology, Latour | Tagged , ,

Anthropogenesis: Origins and Endings in the Anthropocene

If the Anthropocene represents a new epoch of thought, it also represents a new form of materiality and historicity for the human as strata and stratigrapher of the geologic record. This collision of human and inhuman histories in the strata is a new formation of subjectivity within a geologic horizon that redefines temporal, material, and spatial orders of the human (and thus nature). I argue that the Anthropocene contains within it a form of Anthropogenesis – a new origin story and ontics for man – that radically rewrites material modes of differentiation and concepts of life, from predominantly biopolitical notions of life toward an understanding of life’s geophysical origination (geontics). Here, I use the term Anthropogenesis to suggest that two things explicitly happen in the nomination of the Anthropocene: 1) the production of a mythic Anthropos as geologic world-maker/destroyer of worlds, and 2) a material, evolutionary narrative that re-imagines human origins and endings within a geologic rather than an exclusively biological context. In contrast to the homogeneous geomorphizing of the Anthropocene, I suggest that socializing the strata needs a more nuanced notion of ‘geologic life’ that challenges the construction of the Anthropocene as an undifferentiated social stratification.

Read

Posted in Anthropocene, Humans, Nature | Tagged , ,

Expulsions: Brutality and Complexity in the Global Economy

Soaring income inequality and unemployment, expanding populations of the displaced and imprisoned, accelerating destruction of land and water bodies: today’s socioeconomic and environmental dislocations cannot be fully understood in the usual terms of poverty and injustice, according to Saskia Sassen. They are more accurately understood as a type of expulsion–from professional livelihood, from living space, even from the very biosphere that makes life possible. This hard-headed critique updates our understanding of economics for the twenty-first century, exposing a system with devastating consequences even for those who think they are not vulnerable. From finance to mining, the complex types of knowledge and technology we have come to admire are used too often in ways that produce elementary brutalities. These have evolved into predatory formations–assemblages of knowledge, interests, and outcomes that go beyond a firm’s or an individual’s or a government’s project. Sassen draws surprising connections to illuminate the systemic logic of these expulsions. The sophisticated knowledge that created today’s financial “instruments” is paralleled by the engineering expertise that enables exploitation of the environment, and by the legal expertise that allows the world’s have-nations to acquire vast stretches of territory from the have-nots. Expulsions lays bare the extent to which the sheer complexity of the global economy makes it hard to trace lines of responsibility for the displacements, evictions, and eradications it produces–and equally hard for those who benefit from the system to feel responsible for its depredations.

Read

Read also: At the systemic edge

Posted in Complexity, Earth system, Environment, Environmental change, Environmental dislocations, Expulsions, Global economy, Systemic edge | Tagged , , , , , , ,

Theorizing the Anthropocene

A broad consensus prevails today among science communities that we have entered an era known as ‘the Anthropocene’. For the first time, the outer limit or tipping point in Nature’s capacities to adapt to the destruction of its essential resources is in sight (e.g., grave depletion of the Earth’s biodiversity and loss of a ‘safe’ nitrogen cycle). Over the past two centuries in particular, humanity has dramatically altered the Earth’s atmosphere and natural landscape, becoming in the process a formidable geological force of change in its own right. The fact that humankind today is the most significant source of change in planetary terms requires a reflective moment. We are now in the rather daunting position of determining how this tectonic shift will shape the future of this planet and its populations. This position raises serious moral questions as to how ideas of justice should be redefined in response to rapidly changing ecological circumstances (e.g., grave loss of land and other essential resources on the part of many communities) as well as what kind of ‘Anthropocene futures’ we are shaping for generations to come. As Strydom notes in his article ‘Cognitive fluidity and climate change’, humanity is not only tasked with the challenge of mastering an objectivist knowledge of nature’s outer limits but also of complementing scientific understanding of the biological, chemical and physical substance of life with a more reflexive hermeneutic reconstruction of how humanity has arrived at this point of destruction in its historical development. If this moment of crisis is to be transformative, then such reflection must also be critical and disclosing of those underlining aspects of modern social life that contribute detrimentally to human ecological destruction.

Read

Read also: The Anthropocene – A governance perspective

Posted in Agroecology, Anthropocene | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Sixth Mass Extinction is here: Humanity’s existence threatened

There is general agreement among scientists that extinction rates have reached levels unparalleled since the dinosaurs died out 66 million years ago. However, some have challenged the theory, believing earlier estimates rested on assumptions that overestimated the crisis. The new study, published in the journal Science Advances, shows that even with extremely conservative estimates, species are disappearing up to about 100 times faster than the normal rate between mass extinctions, known as the background rate. “If it is allowed to continue, life would take many  millions of years to recover, and our species itself would likely disappear early on,” said lead author Gerardo Ceballos of the Universidad Autónoma de México.

Read

Read also: Accelerated modern human–induced species losses: Entering the sixth mass extinction

Posted in Extinction | Tagged | Leave a comment