PhD Course, University of Bergen,
August 30–September 4, 2020 5 ECTS credits Language: English
The course will be held digitally if the corona situation does not allow physical presence in Bergen.
Can the humanities contribute productively to the inter-disciplinary field of climate change research? Some of the humanistic contributions to this field have focused on how climate change has been and is being conceptualized, narrated and visually represented. Another crucial contribution has been on how climate change and the related idea of the Anthropocene affect notions of time and historicity, while a third, growing field in the humanities has focused the imaginaries of climate change futures, and questions about how climate change is visualized and exhibited across media.
Hedda Susanne Molland is a new PhD candidate in cultural studies, associated to The Future is Now. She is working on a project on the temporal aspects of Norwegian climate politics.
Climate politics is defined by notions of time and action. It’s long term politics, addressing how what we do in the present can limit climate change and its consequences in the future. In addition, notions of what actions are appropriate, and who can do what, are closely linked with how time is understood. Molland’s project addresses these issues by asking how notions of time and action have shaped Norwegian climate policy. She is doing a cultural and historical discourse analysis of key policy documents from the Norwegian Ministry of climate and environment in the period of the Solberg government. Her analysis is guided by three primary questions: 1) what notions of time can be found in the ministry’s documents; 2) what kind of influence has science and popular culture had on imaginaries of the future in these documents; and 3) how have these notions of time and the future influenced how actors and capacities for action is represented in Norwegian climate politics.
In a new article entitled “Risk Perception through Exemplarity: Hurricanes as Climate Change Examples and Counterexamples in Norwegian News Media”, Kyrre Kverndokk examines how news media present extreme weather events as examples of a climate-changed future. Extreme weather events such as hurricanes are used by newspapers as examples of climate change, but are also used by climate sceptics. Kverndokk argues that the usage of hurricanes as examples of climate change “is a way of producing an experienced basis for imagining and predicting the unpredictable future, where both weather patterns and the climate will change fundamentally.” He argues that such example-based reasoning may be understood as a certain kind of risk perception involving both a temporal and spatial entanglement of the future and the present and an entwining of actual, emerging and potential disasters. This rhetoric practice represents a notion of cultural catastrophization by calling upon a fear of an uncontrollable disastrous future. In this light, the climate change skeptics’ attempts to turn hurricanes into normal and local phenomena, independent of human action, may also be regarded as attempts to de-catastrophize contemporary society.
“We are in the midst of a mass extinction of our own making”, the environmental activist network Extinction Rebellion stated in 2019. But how do notions of a climate changed future and the use of geological concepts such as the sixth mass extinction, influence popular understandings of biodiversity loss as an environmental problem?
In an essay (in Norwegian) published in Salongen, Marit Ruge Bjærke explores this question, and argues that although rhetorically powerful, the long timescales implied in concepts derived from geology may also serve to conceal of the complex political discussions and solutions needed to address the problem of biodiversity loss.
A new journal article by Henrik H. Svensen, Marit Ruge Bjærke and Kyrre Kverndokk explores the use of deep time climate examples in the interface between climate research and climate politics by analyzing publications on a 56-million-year-old greenhouse gas-driven rapid global warming event, the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM). The scientific knowledge about the PETM is currently considered too uncertain to draw conclusions from, but the article shows that, by being presented as an example, the PETM may still contribute to the scientific understanding of ongoing climate change. Although the PETM is regarded as too uncertain to guide present day climate change modeling, it is still considered morally significant, and is allowed to influence public opinion and policymaking.
In a recently published article, John Ødemark examines the construction of an exemplary and sustainable humanity based upon notions of “indigenous cultures” in the UN report Our Common Future from 1987. Our Common Future first formulated “sustainable development” as a global policy. Through a close reading of the report, Ødemark demonstrates that a combined ecological and anthropological exemplarity is associated with “indigenous and tribal peoples”, who are construed as examples of sustainable living for the global society. Ødemark contends that particular conceptions of “culture” and “ecological” wholes enable a translation between local and “bounded” indigenous cultures and earth as the bounded habitat of humanity, and, through the comment on the report from Ailton Krenak, reconnects the global scale with a very literal struggle over space inside the Brazilian nation state.
The conference "Climate change temporalities: Narratives, representations and practices" will be held in Bergen from August 3–5, 2020. We welcome papers discussing temporalities of climate change both from a historical and a contemporary perspective. The deadline for abstract submissions is March 1, 2020. To read the full call for papers, go to the conference page.
“What is time? Time is the past, the present and the future. Time is moments, seconds, minutes, hours, days, months, and years. Time is also the long, slow story of the Earth –although even this is short from the perspective of cosmological time.” This is the introduction to a new exhibition entitled The Nature of Time. It is part of the reopened University Museum of Bergen, and it is co-produced with the project The Future is Now. Through 20 showcases constantly circulating in a paternoster lift, the exhibition explores how human relations with time are inextricably linked to nature.
In her recently published article, "Making Invisible Changes Visible: Animal Examples and the Communication of Biodiversity Loss", Marit Ruge Bjærke explores how animal examples are used in the construction of biodiversity loss as an environmental problem. Cuckoos, ptarmigans and mountain hares are all on the Norwegian Red List for Species, but when used as examples in media texts, they convey different conceptions of nature and biodiversity. Through their way of both exceeding and reducing the general statement they are meant to illustrate, examples bring certain ideas about biodiversity loss to the foreground: The cuckoo evoked conceptions of nature as a place of magic and biodiversity as a requisite for happiness, while ptarmigans linked biodiversity loss with future climate change, as well as with hunting traditions. The animal examples thus provide important insight into how biodiversity loss is constructed and communicated.
Can grain crops be increased? The issue was heatedly debated in 18th Century Denmark-Norway, both for patriotic and economic reasons. In a newly published article by Anne Eriksen examines how the historian Gerhard Schøning (1722–80) handled this issue. His answered the question affirmatively. Chopping down much of the forests that covered Norway would change the climate radically for the better, he argued. As a consequence of the warmer weather, the fertility of the soil would improve. Climate interested a number of 18th century writers. It was not only a part of geotheory, but also included in theories about the history of society, law and culture as well as in medical thought.
Schøning’s argument was nearly entirely built on examples from Greek and Roman history, cited to demonstrate that since classical times, this kind of changes had already taken place in other parts of Europe. The rhetoric of exemplarity relied on a quantity as well as on the uncontested exemplarity of classical literature itself. The cases he cites are numerous (serial) instantiations of the same general mechanism: The effect of human interventions in nature. Yet at the same time they are models to follow, even if it will take some effort. Norway will never be as warm and fertile as southern countries, but Schøning exhorts his compatriots to “take courage and start!” History consisted of examples to learn from and models to follow.