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KLIMAFORSK-Stort program klima

The Future is Now: Temporality and Exemplarity in Climate Change Discourses

Alternative title: Framtiden er nå: Temporalitet og eksemplaritet i diskurser om klimaendringer

Awarded: NOK 9.9 mill.

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Project Period:

2017 - 2022

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There are a number of temporalities in play in climate change discourse. The current climatic situation is understood in light of slow geological processes. The historical development after 1850 is important, as are accelerating emissions after 1950. In the climate crisis, it is urgent to secure the future of our children and grandchildren. Climate change will also influence the distant future. "The future is Now" has examined this diversity of temporalities through case studies from A) vernacular culture, B) media culture and C) climate research. How do temporalities within each of these fields differ from each other? How do temporalities move between these fields and affect each other? The project has examined the use of the trope "the future of our children and grandchildren" in political speeches and media coverage of the climate crisis. The trope shows how time is counted in generations, rather than years. The relationship between the present and the future becomes a symbolic relationship between parents and children. The children represent the future, and rhetorically they also emphasize "our" responsibility to act. Thus, the experience-near time dominates rather than linear time, and turn family futures into political issues. Understandings of the relationship between weather and climate have been examined through news media. In news about extreme weather, climate research, lay knowledge and politics meet. Meteorologists understand extreme weather in light of general changes in weather patterns due to global warming. A ley perspective is often informed by meteorological knowledge, the weather experience is at the same time also a way of experiencing a possible future. It becomes a way of predicting the weather of the future, as kind of weatherlore in the age climate change. In climate policy, both scientific knowledge and everyday experiences are used. Science is used to underscore that the weather will turn wilder in the future, while single extreme weather events are considered as remainders that something must be done. Hence, the weather becomes an argument in climate politics. The local and concrete weather thus has global, political implications. The relationship between geological deep time and political now has also been examined. The starting point has been how the climate event PETM, 56 million years ago, has been described in climate research, by the IPCC and in popular science. The knowledge about PETM is too uncertain for climate modelling. Nevertheless, PETM is considered relevant for understanding the climate crisis. The event is used as an example of how the future might be like. The deep past becomes moral and political significant. It becomes a geohistorical teacher. Extinction of species has become linked increasingly closer to climate change. Both scientists and environmentalists argue that we are in "the sixth mass extinction." We have therefore examined how the relationship between the geological timescale and the political now is implied in the concept of "the sixth mass extinction". This term presents the ongoing extinction of species as one of a series of a few incidents in the geological history. At the same time, the humankind is portrayed as a species that has an inherent ability to destroy other species. The temporality of the term is ambiguous, and we have identified three reasons. 1) The long geological timescale is difficult to understand if you are not a scientist. 2) Geology does not provide clear answers concerning how fast a major mass extinction may happen. 3) It is difficult to combine the long timescales with the time frames of the political debates. The project has also examined the relationship between the climate crisis and expectations to the future. Such expectations can be calculated and modeled, but to understand the models, they have to be contextualized by means of imaginaries and narratives. The future imaginaries that often are in play draw on two established cultural forms: the climate catastrophe and a sustainable society. The "climate crisis", "climate catastrophe" and "a sustainable society" constitute a narrative structure with two alternative endings. This double plot is used in mass media, politics and environmentalism. It structures climate change discourse into a story of an either-or. At the same time, the current climate crisis is given dramatic meaning through its relationship to the future outcome, as either a catastrophic or sustainable world. The present is thus emphasized as the decisive moment for the future of humanity, civilization and the world. We believe that it will be productive to look for alternative narrative forms, that facilitate for stories that are not either-or, where climate changes have caused major global challenges but where the world continues, perhaps with other kinds of technology and other economic and political systems than today. For doing so, we need creativity, imagination and science fiction.

Akademia: Prosjektet har økt internasjonalt samarbeid, særlig med forskere i USA og Sverige. Sluttkonferansen var møtested et der det ble etablert samarbeidsnettverk, og en arena der prosjektet fikk vist seg som et internasjonalt ledende forskningsmiljø. Prosjektpublikasjonene er sitert i internasjonal forskning på tvers av disipliner. Prosjektet har dannet grunnlaget for en tverrfaglig og tverrinstitusjonell forskergruppe som har utviklet et nytt NFR-støttet prosjekt, GARDENING (2021-2025, prosjektnr. 324690)). Sivilsamfunn/beslutningstakere: Prosjektet har tatt sikte på å nyansere forståelsen av klimaendringenes tidsdimensjon, og slik informere den offentlige debatten. Det er for tidlig å si noe sikkert om betydningen. Men utstillingen «Tidens gang» ved Universitetsmuseet i Bergen er har nådd et bredt publikum. Boken Kollaps har fått positiv oppmerksomhet i pressen. Den populærvitenskapelige boken vil komme ut i 2022, og vil bli formidlet til forvaltning og miljøorganisasjoner.

The project will examine the muliple temporalities in climate change discourses. A premise for the project is that our sociocultural present is intertwined with natural historical time, as deep time and deep future, and that we have to study how cultural and natural time are intertwined to get a broader picture of how we approach a climate changed future. Climate change is intrinsically about temporality, time frames, timescales, pace and acceleration. Notions of the Anthropocene in general and of climate change in particular are characterized by a complex interplay between deep time and historical time as well as between the present and the future. In political speech, as well as in mass media and vernacular culture, there seem to be two main timescales present in utterances on the climate changed future: our time (defined as the present and the lifespan of present generations) and family time (defined as the future of our children and grandchildren), while the deep time with a future perspective (termed deep future) is merely an implicit aspect of the discourse. These different timescales rather produce multiple futures, than a future. The project asks how the past, the present and the future intersect and how (our) present time, family time and deep time are intertwined in climate discourses. How is the relationship between these categories of time discussed in climate research, and how do the temporal understandings of natural science affect climate change discourses in vernacular culture and media culture? How are the relationship between past, present and future conceptualized, narrated and exemplified in climate change discourse? The project addresses the question through a number of case studies from vernacular culture and media culture to natural science. The main analytical strategy is close reading of examples, narratives and conceptualizations of climate change, drawing on theories of exemplarity and temporality.

Publications from Cristin

Funding scheme:

KLIMAFORSK-Stort program klima