Deborah Coen publishes new artcile, “What’s Next for Histories of Climate Change”

January 25, 2024

NEVER BEFORE IN HUMAN history has Earth experienced a change in climate as rapid as the shift we’re living through today. Can history hold clues to an upheaval without precedent? That depends on how we frame the question. Scientists tend to have two questions. They want to know how past societies have been impacted by less dramatic episodes of climate variability, and they want to know what has motivated societies to switch from one fuel source to another. Over the past 20 years, historians’ answers have influenced the reports of major international scientific bodies, including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the Anthropocene Working Group of the International Union of Geological Sciences. And yet, following the lead of scientists has constrained how climate historians think about drivers of change. Scientists like to think that change comes from bold new theories and technological breakthroughs. The chemist Paul Crutzen, for instance, popularized the term “Anthropocene” in part to underscore his faith that the solution to the environmental crisis would come from human ingenuity. Today, scientists seek funding for massive projects, from shoring up a melting glacier to constructing climate research centers on the scale of the Manhattan Project. In this spirit, climate historians have tended to tell dramatic stories in which societies fail or succeed according to their ability to impose top-down change. What these accounts miss are the humble drivers of change that unfold at the scale of everyday life and grow bottom-up rather than top-down. Indeed, a third question is emerging for historians today: what small-scale mechanisms might trigger a transition to a more equitable and sustainable future?

Read more here.

External link: