Climate change is shaping our presents and futures in various ways. A recent IPCC report Climate Change 2021: the Physical Science Basis (2021) estimates the chances of crossing the global warming level of 1.5°C in the next decades, and finds that “unless there are immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, limiting warming to close to 1.5°C or even 2°C will be beyond reach” (IPCC, 2021). It highlights that not only temperatures are rising, but, for instance, also the water cycle is intensifying, which means “more intense rainfall and associated flooding, as well as more intense drought in many regions” (ibid.) of the world. Continuing the current path will thus lead to potentially catastrophic consequences for billions of people including rising sea levels, thawing of permafrost, the expansion of deserts and arid zones as well as more frequent extreme weather events.
The IPCC is very clear about the human influence on the climate: „It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century” (ibid.). Nowadays, it is well known and increasingly accepted by a wider public that the industrialisation and related burning of fossil fuels and the resulting CO2 emissions have led to global warming. Deforestation and industrial agriculture with its growing livestock production are further named as contributing factors.
The scientific community working within the IPCC regularly provides updates on global climate change and informs policy makers about the urgency to enforce drastic reductions of the global CO2 emissions. To prevent a dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the main international treaty on climate change, was negotiated at the Earth Summit 1992 in Rio de Janeiro and entered into force in March 1994. Since 1995, the parties of the convention meet annually in Conferences of the Parties (COP) to negotiate environmental protection measures that are registered in treaties including the Kyoto Protocol (1997), the Cancún agreement (2010) and most recently the Paris agreement (2015). At the COP26 in November 2021 in Glasgow, the remaining details of the Paris Agreement were finalised, resulting in a completed global climate treaty. The lack of compliance and real enforcement mechanisms is, however, often criticised (Allan, 2019; Clémençon, 2016; Sharma, 2017). And so is the narrow focus of futures anticipated through the forms of modelling of futures and projection of ‘cost-effective’ pathways towards them (Beck & Oomen, 2021).
Another crucial aspect is the coloniality of climate change highlighted by scholars in the debate around calling our current geological era the “Anthropocene” (Bonneuil & Fressoz, 2016; Crutzen, 2006) – the age of humans. Yet, the term Anthropocene is not quite suitable, as some scholars have rightly pointed out: not all societies carry the same responsibility for climate change – and the societies carrying the least responsibility are tragically often the ones bearing the direst consequences (see Davis & Todd, 2017). They have thus suggested to call it the Capitalocene (Moore, 2016) or the Chtulucene* (Haraway, 2016). The great injustices that lie at the heart of today’s climate crisis have to be central when thinking about ‘solutions’. It not only requires us to acknowledge and address the huge climate debt of the global North, but to find approaches that challenge the systemic roots of the crisis related to extractivism and capitalism.
Furthermore, it needs be emphasised that the current environmental crisis is also a crisis of biodiversity loss – to an extent that scientists speak about a mass extinction event: the 6th Mass Extinction (see Kolbert, 2014). Key reasons for mass extinction and decreasing populations in animal species are habitat loss due to industrial agriculture and areas used for traffic routes and settlements, climate change, invasive alien species, overhunting/overfishing, and pollution (Tollefson, 2019). We thus might be challenged to develop new forms of living together on this damaged planet, as a scientific collective suggests (Tsing, Swanson, Gan, & Bubandt, 2017).
It is crucial to acknowledge that these interrelated environmental crises are connected to the human-nature divide at the foundation of many scientific and technological approaches and projects of ‘modernisation’ and ‘development’ (Plumwood, 2018). Thus, science does not only have to critically reflect upon its relations with capitalist systems of “accumulation by dispossession” (Harvey, 2003), but also the implicit anthropocentrism and drive to “control nature” foundational to it (e.g., Merchant, 1980). We thus advocate for a convivial science that puts itself to the service of human and non-human flourishing and synergetic co-habitation on our only common planet Earth.
- Allan, J. I. (2019). Dangerous Incrementalism of the Paris Agreement. Global Environmental Politics, 19(1), 4–11. https://doi.org/10.1162/glep_a_00488
- Beck, S., & Oomen, J. (2021). Imagining the corridor of climate mitigation – What is at stake in IPCC’s politics of anticipation? Environmental Science & Policy, 123, 169–178. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envsci.2021.05.011
- Bonneuil, C., & Fressoz, J.-B. (2016). The Shock of the Anthropocene: The Earth, History and Us. London: Verso.
- Clémençon, R. (2016). The Two Sides of the Paris Climate Agreement: Dismal Failure or Historic Breakthrough? The Journal of Environment & Development, 25(1), 3–24. https://doi.org/10.1177/1070496516631362
- Crutzen, P. J. (2006). The “anthropocene”. In Earth system science in the anthropocene (pp. 13–18). Springer.
- Davis, H., & Todd, Z. (2017). On the Importance of a Date, or Decolonizing the Anthropocene. ACME: An International E-Journal for Critical Geographies, 16(4), 761–780.
- Haraway, D. (2016). Staying With the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene. Durham/London: Duke University Press.
- Harvey, D. (2003). The New Imperialism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- IPCC. (2021, August 9). Climate change widespread, rapid, and intensifying. Retrieved 9 September 2022, from https://www.ipcc.ch/2021/08/09/ar6-wg1-20210809-pr/
- Kolbert, E. (2014). The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History. New York: Henry Holt and Co.
- Merchant, C. (1980). The death of nature: Women, ecology, and the scientific revolution. San Francisco: Harper & Row.
- Moore, J. W. (Ed.). (2016). Anthropocene or capitalocene? Nature, history, and the crisis of capitalism. Oakland (CA): PM Press.
- Plumwood, V. (2018). Ecofeminist Analysis and the Culture of Ecological Denial. In L. Stevens, P. Tait, & D. Varney (Eds.), Feminist Ecologies: Changing Environments in the Anthropocene (pp. 97–112). Cham: Springer International Publishing. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-64385-4_6
- Sharma, A. (2017). Precaution and post-caution in the Paris Agreement: Adaptation, loss and damage and finance. Climate Policy, 17(1), 33–47. https://doi.org/10.1080/14693062.2016.1213697
- Tollefson, J. (2019). Humans are driving one million species to extinction. Nature, 569(7755), 171–171. https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-019-01448-4
- Tsing, A. L., Swanson, H. A., Gan, E., & Bubandt, N. (Eds.). (2017). Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet: Ghosts and Monsters of the Anthropocene. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
* The name is derived from a spider, Pimoa chthulhu. Donna Haraway’s intention by introducing this new notion is to break with anthropocentric notions, since “unlike either the Anthropocene or the Capitalocene, the Chthulucene is made up of ongoing multispecies stories and practices of becoming-with in times that remain at stake, in precarious times, in which the world is not finished and the sky has not fallen — yet. We are at stake to each other. Unlike the dominant dramas of Anthropocene and Capitalocene discourse, human beings are not the only important actors in the Chthulucene, with all other beings able simply to react. The order is reknitted: human beings are with and of the Earth, and the biotic and abiotic powers of this Earth are the main story” (Haraway, 2016, p. 55).