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Institute of Advanced Study

Past Events

Professor Sheila Jasanoff: Modeling the World: Vision and Representation in the Politics of Climate Change

14th January 2008, 18:15 to 19:15, room 202, The Calman Learning Centre

Climate change emerged as an organizing concept for environmentalism in the 20th century along with new narratives of space, time, and nature. Collectively, these narratives remodeled the world, influencing the prospects for scientific understanding as well as political action.

Spatially, climate change raised the scale of critical environmental degradation, as well as the need for solutions, to the global level. Temporally, it extended the present into the future, intensifying the mandate for intergenerational equity embedded in the definition of sustainable development. With respect to nature, climate change reinforced the catastrophist thinking of an earlier era concerned with the limits to growth. In this paper, I use vernacular visual images to display the tensions and contradictions accompanying these narratives of climate change. Shifts in the spatial, temporal, and natural orders of environmentalism, I suggest, are anything but neutral or innocent. They displace other models of how the world works and other modes of organized political action. By tracing the interplay of visual messages with formal and informal verbal discourses, I show why climate change, far from unifying the global community around a common threat, has exposed deep contradictions in our efforts to model and manage the human environment.

This is the fourth lecture in the 'Models of the Future' public lecture series.

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