Conference Agenda

RN12_03b: Sociology and Climate Change
Wednesday, 21/Aug/2019:
4:00pm - 5:30pm

Session Chair: Luísa Schmidt, University of Lisbon
Location: BS.3.22
Manchester Metropolitan University Building: Business School, Third Floor, North Atrium Oxford Road


Climate Change, Policy and Posthumanism: Analysis of Four Policy-assemblages

Nick J Fox1,2, Pam Alldred3

1University of Huddersfield; 2University of Sheffield; 3Brunel University London

This paper uses a posthuman approach to interrogate critically four policy perspectives on sustainability and climate change: ‘liberal environmentalism’; the United Nations’ policy statements on sustainable development; ‘green capitalism’ and finally ‘no-growth economics’. We analyse these policy positions micropolitically – as ‘policy assemblages’ comprising a range of human and non-human elements that establish what a policy can do, what it ignores or omits, and consequently how it might impact on sustainable development and climate change. This analysis is founded in a posthuman ontology of environment that de-privileges human interests in relation to those of other animate and inanimate matter. Humans, from this perspective, are part of the environment, not separate from or in opposition to it, but possess unique capacities valuable for environment sustainability. Micropolitical analysis reveals that none of these four policy assemblages is adequate to address climate change, posing a severe change for the capacity of current policies to successfully address climate change. However, it also enables us to develop a posthuman policy assemblage with the potential to adequately deliver environmental sustainability.

Knowledge Resistance: Climate Change Dismissal As Fear Of Cultural Change

Mikael Klintman

Lund University, Sweden

This paper provides a critique of the sometimes sociology-free views that are often implied in concerns about knowledge resistance as regards climate change. The paper aims to develop and analyse three distinct ways in which people and organisations can relate to environmental knowledge claims. Conceptually, the paper makes use of - and reshapes - a three-part distinction that stems from the 19th-century biologist and ethical thinker, Thomas Huxley. Empirically, the paper mainly draws upon in-depth interviews conducted with leading human scientists in the UK from the social, economic, and evolutionary sciences. The topic was their experiences with, and understandings of various types of organisational and individual knowledge resistance regarding environment - particularly climate change - and health. Thomas Huxley’s separation of three ways to relate to a different knowledge area - evolution by natural selection - has needed substantial, analytical reworking in order to create a conceptual toolbox suited to knowledge claims about climate change and other environmental topics. This has resulted in three categories: (i) 'Directly translating' environmental knowledge claims to specific changes in policies and culture; (ii) Running away from knowledge claims where undesirable cultural consequences seem inevitable, and (iii) In open, deliberative settings interpreting what range of changes in policies and culture would deal with the problems identified. If the root concerns were brought to the open and were discussed more - about possible, cultural or political implications of accepting the rich knowledge pool about climate change - far more productive visions of society from various ideological angles might emerge - and even partially converge, than if we stick to the current polarity of assuming dead-certain knowledge absorption vs ditto resistance.

Small-scale Interventions into a Dangerous Debate? How Civil Society Organizations React to Climate Engineering Proposals

Felix Wittstock

Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research – UFZ, Leipzig, Germany

Many civil society organizations (CSO) have constantly advocated ambitious climate targets. After the 2015 Paris Agreement, they face a situation in which climate science contributes to discussions about controversial ‘climate engineering’ technologies. Climate engineering is commonly understood as a deliberate, large-scale intervention into the climate system in order to counteract anthropogenic climate change. For CSO, the challenge is twofold. First, they use scientific results to make their case for climate action. Criticizing the research behind CE proposals might risk delegitimizing climate science and important institutions such as the IPCC. Second, climate engineering as a topic has potential to reinforce divisions in civil society between ‘eco-modernists’ and ‘climate justice’ organizations. To date, it remains unclear whether the heterogeneous CSO engaged with climate policy perceive climate engineering proposals as a topic that urgently needs to be addressed and how they deal with this political and strategic challenge.

In my contribution, I present results of my PhD project based on exploratory qualitative research. Qualitative content analysis of CSO communication shows three major characteristics of CSO responses to climate engineering proposals: 1) simultaneously making climate engineering more ‘real’ by consequentialist arguments and more ‘speculative’ by challenging viability, 2) enhancing reflexivity of the climate engineering debate by meta-communication and 3) keeping options open by treating climate engineering as a decision-making issue without demanding concrete political actions. Altogether, I interpret CSO communication as a conditional politicization of climate engineering.

Aiming for Transdisciplinarity: Theoretical and Methodological Considerations for the History of Nuclear Energy and Society (HoNESt) Research Project

Ioan Charnley-Parry, John Whitton

University of Central Lancashire, United Kingdom

Citizen engagement, between nuclear energy and society has been carried out by a range of actors in differing socio-political contexts (community, government and industry). This has resulted in a wide variation in engagement activity over the last 60 years, from none at all to deliberative forums and referenda. In this paper, we outline the methodological approach taken by Social Scientists and Historians from across the EU to carry out an analysis of the experience of nuclear energy development and its relationship to contemporary society in 22 countries.

We discuss the academic rigour applied by Historians and Social Scientists to create a shared understanding of terms and themes. A joint workshop to derive research questions as a basis for the work was the starting point for applied learning that would then be provided as a Guiding Framework to Field Research Historians collecting interview data for Short Country Reports – written for 22 countries on their experience of nuclear energy engagement. Social Scientists have assessed not only the degree that engagement occurred but from this generated a set of engagement principles that we hope will be useful to communities and governments alike. We also employed qualitative backcasting and visioning techniques at workshops in Barcelona, London and Potsdam, to derive potential sustainable nuclear engagement futures. The challenge has been the development of epistemological and methodological understanding that crosses disciplinary divides between the academic fields of the humanities and social sciences but also the project commissioning body and stakeholders. As such, we discuss project challenges but also those when dealing with the European Commission Horizon 2020 programme and nuclear industry stakeholders.