Human Agency and Climate Change

Geological transformations initiated by humans will become very apparent in the future, as evidenced by the decline of forests and coral reefs (Kolbert). Human impact on the Earth System warrants the inclusion of the Anthropocene on the geologic time-scale beginning with the Industrial Revolution. Since 1800, the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has increased from 285 ppm to almost 400 ppm, surpassing “the upper limit of natural variation” (Steffen, 616). Now we that we have recognition of our impact, we may continue on a path of business-as-usual, employ technological fixes, or radically change our behavior. Science would do well to include a multi-disciplinary analysis in its articulation of the Anthropocene in order to promote one path over another. The ‘myth of the Anthropocene’ blames climate change on the evolution of humanity, negating the role of capitalism: a socio-biologic narrative that robs humanity of agency. “Climate science, politics, and discourse are constantly couched in the Anthropocene narrative: humanity-bashing, undifferentiated collective self-flagellation, appeal to the general population of consumers to mend their ways and other ideological pirouettes that only serve to conceal the driver” (Malm, 3). If we consider how the rise of capitalism coincided with the development of culture, the Anthropocene and capitalism both have explanatory power; they are complementary causes of climate change.

Kahan suggests “people acquire their scientific knowledge by consulting others who share their values and whom they trust and understand… Culturally polarized democracies are less likely to adopt policies that reflect the best available scientific evidence” (Kahn). I reflect here upon Al Gore’s unfortunate legacy of associating climate change with the Democratic agenda. Affiliation with groups and political parties blinds us to the concerns of other groups, making it difficult to reach consensus and create policy. Listening goes a long way in being able to engage with people: people are more willing to open their minds if they feel they are being heard and taken seriously. By listening first, Cathy Whitlock is better able to determine how to present information to appeal to the concerns of interest groups. She takes a patient approach- not dismissive of misguided assumptions about climate change, but responsive in a way that is easily understood. Cathy and her team realize the importance of making climate change a personal rather than a far-removed problem. She demonstrates how growing seasons, skiing, fishing, and fires in Montana will all be impacted by climate change.

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