Who knows what about how the world works (on a geophysical level?) How do they find it out and what should “we” do with that knowledge? These were some of the questions that Professor Noel Castree grappled with (successfully!) yesterday afternoon at a seminar entitled “Changing while standing still? Global change scientists and the politics of planetary stewardship.”
Here are the videos I took – first the lecture itself
Then the Q and A (the reason it blacks out when questioners are asking questions is that I wanted the best sound quality but I didn’t have permission to film folks – ergo lens cover as a kludge.)
He explained where terms like the “Anthropocene” (humans as accidental/deliberate planet-shapers [Which began in 1610, apparently]) have come from, and the rhetoric/reality of “tipping points.” He name-checked the big academic collaborations (IGBP IHDP etc) that have been beavering away for 30 years)
He questioned the nature of the academic cultures and conventions that we labour within/under, and pointed to experiments with different ways of knowing and expressing (in genuine collaboration with peoples usually on the receiving and sharp end of the Western Gaze…)
Of course, by no means all academics are intellectuals (or vice versa) but another “NC” – Noam Chomsky -has an injunction that seems relevant; it is the responsibility of intellectuals to expose lies and tell the truth.
The lies exposed here would presumably (I am projecting/importing my own beliefs) be that
a) it is impossible to have infinite growth on a finite planet
b) it is impossible (forget ‘immoral’) to make other people/species/generations continue to pay the price for our own actions
The thorny question is surely of the audience to which the academics wish to speak truth. Speaking truth to “power” doesn’t seem to have done much good. The politicians ‘know’ that we are at or ‘beyond the limits’ (after all, the very first climate conference in the series that will have its 21st meeting in Paris was chaired by… Angela Merkel COP 1, (Berlin, 1995)
So who should academics be giving the benefit of their analysis? Business? Well, okay…. Social movements? They haven’t got a great track record so far. They are not, I opine here, the historical actor, at least in the UK. Maybe it’s not possible to be a public intellectual in a country where the “public” has retreated, where civil society is so brittle and thin.
Maybe all that is left to us is keep our eyes open as the debris piles skyward?
What was particularly good
a) A highly organised and fluently delivered presentation with the right amount of supporting evidence
b) He said he was going to speak for 50 minutes and he spoke for… 46! Nobody needed to drag him off the stage with a comedy hook. This, for a high status male academic, should not be notable or praise-worthy, but is.
What could have been better
The gender balance of the questions (and for the record, the male writer of this blog post asked a question that was later described as ‘academic’). There’s a really simple way to create a higher likelihood of questions from women and ‘other minorities’ (cough cough) that is not,imho, patronising or tokenistic. This (from the end of here)
“This tendency – of the sharp-elbowed/(over)-confident men (such as the author of this post, who asked the first question) needs to be dealt with the level of structure and habit, rather than individual self-abnegation. I dream of a world where chairs routinely say “before we go straight into a q and a, which will be dominated by the usual suspects, please turn to the person next to you/behind you and spend two minutes swapping names and impressions of the event. If you have a question, seek affirmation of it, and help in honing it. We’ll then have a show of hands, and I am going to prioritise gender and racial equity.” It’s a little thing, but it might be part of making a difference. #justsaying”