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.