Interesting links: May and June 2013

In this posting I report briefly on a few interesting links I came across the last two months. This is partly to keep a record for myself of things I want to read again and spaces I want to visit again, but also to entice you to go read and visit.

If you do not yet, you should follow Judith Curry’s blog Climate Etc – I am learning much, and my mind is stimulated by the engaged comments on the blog postings. The blog really is providing a forum for discussions on topics related to climate science. Whilst as a social scientist I am not always able to make in-depth sense, I am intrigued and challenged to keep on reading and visiting. In late May and early June, for example, Judith posted Forget sustainability – it’s about resilience,  What exactly are we debating? (indicating matters of agreement and disagreement in climate science in an nuanced manner) and The inevitable climate catastrophe (excerpts from a book by Geoffrey Parker on what we can learn about our future climate catastrophe from the climate of the 17th century). More recently Tony Brown posted ‘Noticeable’ climate change (showing recent climate as less volatile than in the past).

In mid-April 2013 at an international conference at the University of York, Mike Hulme gave a talk on why humanities matter in climate science (in another post I will engage this more). Here I want to report a blog posting Hulme did on Metaphors: Taking responsibility for our choices, where he highlights the crucial influence of metaphors in how we understand and communicate environmental science, and also climate science.

Jerome Whitington wrote on his blog a posting called Speculation, quantification, anthropogenesis: The numerology of climate change. The abstract states: “One does not need to go far in the public discourse surrounding climate change to be inundated with the mystique of number. In the United States, where viewers of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth were treated to specific stunts of quantificatory pontification, just as in Singapore, where I teach climate change to nonspecialist undergraduates, the numberwork of graphs and charts has its own techie vitality. Drawing on my on-going research on the imaginative dimensions of carbon accounting, in this commentary I look toward key moments in the emergence of climate change science to identify why the numbers mystique holds such powerful sway over the possibilities for thinking climate change. Part of the story must include the promises of ‘big data’ and sheer computational prowess of the late-20th century. But what fascinates me are very early moments in climate science that seem to have secured the terms through which contemporary political thought takes place. Joseph Fourier, working in the first decade of the 19th century, secured the mathematical speculation at the heart of climate modeling and associated debates about uncertainty. Svante Arrhenius, often credited with articulating the first complete theory of climate change, published in 1896, decisively established the quantification of carbon dioxide as the key independent variable, and articulated this in the same form through which carbon quantification is dealt with today. Lastly, Dave Keeling’s monumental efforts to rigorously measure global CO2 levels have established the unity of climate change as a scientific and political issue based on its theoretical human etiology. When one imagines scary apocalyptic futures fraught with uncertainty but which hinge on that single variable, through these three elements—speculation, quantification and anthropogenesis—that imagination is possible.”

Turning towards links related to anthropology and climate change, in November 2012 Christiana Figueres, the executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, spoke at Swarthmore College about the anthropology of climate change. Listen to and read a transcription of her talk at http://www.swarthmore.edu/the-anthropology-of-climate-change.xml.

I am looking forward to reading with attention an article by Rebecca Cassidy in the 2012 Annual Review of Anthropology, Lives with others: Climate change and human-animal relations. The abstract of the article indicates: “This review assesses the contribution that a holistic, multisited, and multiscalar anthropology can make to the investigation of climate change and its impact on various human-animal assemblages. Anthropologists have a long-standing interest in animal management under changing environmental conditions. I focus on recent material that investigates the impact of anthropogenic climate change on human-animal relations using ethnography from Africa, Amazonia, and the circumpolar rim. I argue that the value of juxtaposing work in diverse settings and across various scales is to highlight the asymmetry of encounters between different perceptions of climate change and the responses they require. Anthropology’s critical, holistic approach is especially valuable in places where people, animals, landscapes, the weather, and indeed climate change itself are aspects of an undifferentiated, spiritually lively, animate environment.”

And lastly, a methodological link: Tricia Wang writes on the blog Ethnography matters on Big data needs thick data, wherein she argues that ethnographers are to engage with ‘big data’ through ‘thick data’ (ethnographic approaches to uncover the meanings behind big data). She writes: ” There’s a big difference between anecdotes and stories, however. Anecdotes are casually gathered stories that are casually shared. Within a research context, stories are intentionally gathered and systematically sampled, shared, debriefed, and analysed which produces insights (analysis in academia).  Great insights inspire design, strategy, and innovation.”

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Arial view of the Hartbeespoort Dam (photo from Facebook)                                                                                  Close-up of water released through the sluices at the dam wall – Hartbeespoort Dam (own photo)

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