Friday, 5 February 2010

Should Philosophers be Suscpicious of the Claims of Climate Science

It has often struck me how odd it is that, although a number of continental philosophers have tried to unmask the hidden political dimensions of the natural and social sciences, these philosophers today seem to be silent about the politics of climate science.

If we now habitually, after Foucault, view 'knowledge' as associated with strategies for displining and normalising populations, how is it that climate science seems immune from such suspicions? Might climate science be an integral element in a new power-knowledge regime that is intent on make us 'demand less' in an age of diminshing resources?

This was the subject of a recent paper by Prof Tim Luke of Virgina Tech. Prof Luke argued that climate science is integral to a new governmental discourse of sustainability that is supporting a new model of government centred around the 'de-carbonisation' of economic life. Just as psychiatry was involved in the re-egineering of the psyche, climate science is advocating a re-engineering of the natural world. Prof Luke gave a list of recent proposals by climate science to re-engineer nature in just this way. One memorable example was the proposal to build thousands of artifical trees to take CO2 out of the atmosphere. Another was to increase the relectivity of the earth by sending giant mirrors into space.

Of course, to make such critical points is not to say that ecology is unimportant of that nature does not possess 'intrinsic value'. It simply means that we should explore the tacit politics of a new form of science that claims certainty in a situation where the amount of reliable data is really quite small, and seems to provide the state with a new form of bio-political control over the planetary ecosystem.

Neil Turnbull


  1. I am glad this has been mentioned, as I am very sceptical of climate change, and it seems that majority of people just take gloabal warming and its 'evidence' to be true. However there have been many other reports in fact showing the opppsite effects of global warming, but not shown in the media!!! (surprise surprise)
    I agree that using up the earths resources in the way we do must be damaging in many ways, however Im not convinced with the theory of gloabal warming!

  2. I agree that it's interesting that there hasn't been an analysis of Climate Science in this way, but I also think it's pretty obvious why. Contemporary Philosophers are as frightened as anyone is to say what is unpopular.

    Climate Science is a development that survives only on its popularity. The change that it demands is so massive and expensive that it will only happen if people mostly agree that it should. I'm not trying to say that that Climate Change is definitely occurring or that firing gigantic mirrors in to orbit is the best way to deal with it, just that it is a popular idea and as such it has gravity.

    I suppose that is quite a Foucauldian analysis. I'm off to recycle milk bottles in the Panopticon!

  3. Hi, I just happened upon this post and find it interesting in that, 1) I lean very heavily to the so-called "Continental" philosophy, especially post-structuralism. 2) I am skeptical about "climate science," as well as all scientific claims that involve text or narrative rather than "physical data." 3) I have wondered why more in this tradition of thought have not written about the subject, but then most of the primary thinkers involved are dead.... and this school of thought ranges from criticism of epistemology, metaphysics, and socio-political thought, to textual analysis. There in probably lies the rub.