In November 2015, a revised Norwegian Red List for Species was launched. The list contained more than 4 000 species, and Norwegian newspapers presented it to the public by using some of these species as examples. In a recently published article, entitled “Miss Hare struggles”, Marit Ruge Bjærke close-reads two newspaper articles in which the mountain hare is used as an example, to explore the ways in which cultural meanings, temporalities and spatial scales emerge in the biodiversity discourse. The article shows how biodiversity loss was presented as a local or national issue framed within the global story of climate change, and concludes that both the choice of specific species as examples and the understandings of temporal and spatial scales that are conveyed with the help of these examples, affect how biodiversity loss is understood.
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.
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.
When we think of climate change, sinking islands are often at the top of our heads. While rising sea levels do constitute a real threat, is everything we believe to be true about sinking islands necessarily so? In a recent article in the book Former som formar: Musik, kulturarv, öar (Uppsala 2019), Camilla Asplund Ingemark tries to understand how and why this image of flooded islands is so compelling to the Western imagination. Flooded islands have been part of the cultural imaginary of climate change in the West since Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth (2006), and Asplund Ingemark discusses how the power of this image of sinking islands hinges on fundamental Western notions of the ”islandness” of islands: their perceived remoteness, insularity, archaism and isolation. The image of sunken islands also has a powerful template in the ancient myth of Atlantis. This mythical connection, which is sometimes spelled out, could impact local communities as well as our own motivation to mitigate climate change negatively, as it makes destruction and doom seem a very natural, indeed desired, course of events.
In a new short essay published in Salongen, Kyrre Kverndokk discusses how 16-year old Greta Thunberg has been ascribed and also has taken the symbolic position of “the child” to authorize her message. The essay explores very different aspects of this rhetorical trope. Thunberg talks from the positionof a time-traveler, coming from the future to tell the truth about a climate-changed future to contemporary political leaders. While in media representations, she is not only presented as a representative of future generations, she is also depicted as a modern “Pippi Longstocking” - the strongest girl in the world and the eternal child. On the other hand, right-wing media emphasize the vulnerability of “the child”, claiming her to be an “innocent” victim of cynical lobbyists. The essay is in Norwegian.
What happens when we term our geological epoch ‘anthropocene’, indicating that humans are always at the center of the story? With her encounter with a sea urchin and the concept of ‘chthulucene’ as starting points, Marit Ruge Bjærke asks how we can think about technology and climate change without the notion of a coming apocalypse. The essay (in Norwegian) is part of the “Norwegian Writers’ Climate Campaign”.