Scientists Need the Humanities to Address Climate Change

Climate Change Manifest Destiny

What is the relationship between Manifest Destiny and climate change?

“I want to do something about climate change, but I don’t like science and I am not good at it.”

“I love history, literature, or philosophy, but I don’t see these disciplines advancing real change in the world.”

If you can relate to these statements, I would encourage you to read Steven Allison and Tyrus Miller’s piece at The Conversation: “Why science needs the humanities to solve climate change.” Both men teach at the University of California-Irvine. Allison teaches ecology, evolutionary biology, and earth systems science.  Mller is the dean of the School of Humanities.

Here is a taste of their piece:

Scholars in the humanities interpret human history, literature and imagery to figure out how people make sense of their world. Humanists challenge others to consider what makes a good life, and pose uncomfortable questions – for example, “Good for whom?” and “At whose expense?”

Going beyond science, humanists can define cultural forces driving climate change, such as the fossil fuel dependence of industrialized societies.

In her book, “Living Oil: Petroleum Culture in the American Century,” literature scholar Stephanie LeMenager asserts that 20th-century culture – novels, poetry, films, photography and television – generated a mythology of “petro-utopia.” Images of gushing oil derricks implied that the American good life meant unfettered consumption of fossil fuels.

Popular culture, land use and economics reflected this ideal, particularly in California. Even as the Golden State strives to lead the nation in combating climate change, the legacy of petro-culture endures in suburban sprawl and jammed freeways.

Humanist scholars like LeMenager help to uncover the root causes of complex problems. Yes, rising carbon dioxide levels trap more heat in the atmosphere – but values matter too. Defining features of American identity, such as independence, freedom, mobility and self-reliance, have become entangled with petroleum consumption.

Read the entire piece here.

2 thoughts on “Scientists Need the Humanities to Address Climate Change

  1. I couldn’t agree more. In my upcoming book “The Warmest Tide: How Climate Change is Changing History” I talk all about global warming as a force for historical and cultural change, and I’m careful to frame my analysis as a historian. I wish more humanities academics would tackle the subject and perhaps turn around the perception that climate change is the sole bailiwick of scientists to explain and solve. It’s everybody’s problem, and it will affect (is already affecting) everybody on Earth.

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  2. We’re at the point now where damage is already significant and permanent, and it’s only going to get a worse. So we need humanities not just to stop the bleeding, but also to make sense of our new world. We’ll need humanities to help us get past the injustice that has been done to us, even by people who care about us. We’ll need humanities to help us raise kids when we are not hopeful about their future. And we’ll need humanities to help us solve the problems that climate change will cause, like massive amounts of climate refugees.


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