Changing Climates

Center Research Theme for 2013–14

For 2013–14, scholars from the humanities, arts, and sciences will join the Center for 21st Century Studies (C21) in addressing the theme, Changing Climates.

Climate change (or global warming) is arguably the most pressing challenge of the 21st century. Increasing surface temperatures, changes in rainfall patterns, and rising sea levels are only some of the indicators of global climate change. If current patterns of climate change continue, ecological consequences will include coastal flooding, the shrinking and disappearance of glaciers, and the acidification of the oceans. Human consequences resulting from climate change include severe droughts, food insecurity, health risks, flooding, and intensified geopolitical conflicts resulting from changed migratory patterns.

In the 21st century scientists and humanists alike have come to a broad consensus that climate change is anthropogenic, i.e., has been caused by humans. Indeed the term “anthropocene” was first used in print in the year 2000 by Paul Cruzen, a Nobel Prize-winning atmospheric chemist, to name the current geological epoch in which human activity is seen to mark the decisive impact on the global ecosystem. What this powerful term most clearly offers is the recognition that we can no longer separate human from nonhuman actors in thinking about climate, the environment, or nature. Anthropogenic climate change marks an end to the conceptual divide between nature and culture, human and nonhuman, arts and sciences—and calls for new methodologies to study these powerful interactions.

In focusing C21’s research for 2013–14 on the theme of Changing Climates, we seek thereby not only to focus our inquiries on climate change proper but also to consider the many other climates that are undergoing dramatic changes in the 21st century—including cultural, political, academic, religious, economic, and so forth. We are especially interested in projects that employ different critical, historical, and aesthetic methodologies to study, represent, and productively address our changing climates. We invite proposals that:

  • consider how to broaden the geographic and temporal scales of scholarly research to understand climates that move across political and cultural boundaries, and changes that extend beyond traditional historical periods
  • study how to change climates in ways that address ecological and academic crises, entrenched racism and sexism, and established power relations
  • seek to represent the material effects of seemingly imperceptible changes or of ostensibly abstract concepts like climate, the environment, risk, futurity, and crisis
  • examine the political and social effects of climate change—how it intensifies global inequalities, raises questions of national security, and introduces new legal problems
  • investigate the ways in which climates cut across natural, cultural, social, or technical domains
  • by their very definition now include a variety of diverse factors and produce effects and consequences across multiple realms of human and nonhuman endeavor