Environmental humanities - another view

Perlan, Reykjavik
Navigating the challenges of the Anthropocene requires integrated knowledge from across the research community. Photo: Alyson Hurt via Flickr
Jun 2015

A climate scientist's perspective on integrating knowledge from the humanities in discussions of global change.

In his blog, “Unpacking the black box: the need for an Integrated Environmental Humanities (IEH)”, Steven Hartman provides a compelling vision of the ascending role of the Environmental Humanities (EH) in the discourse over matters of environmental sustainability.

As a climate scientist who has found himself at the centre of the fractious debate over human-caused climate change, I very much appreciate that role. Too often in discussions of environmental policy we cede authority to the scientists, economists, and political scientists. But as a scientist, in my own public speaking engagements about climate change, I always emphasize this point: it is not just a matter of science, economics, policy, or politics. It is more than anything else, a matter of ethics.

Because of the long legacy of the carbon we are emitting into the atmosphere today, the decisions we make today about energy and climate policy will have profound implications for the welfare of untold future generations. Those of us in the industrialized world have far greater resources at our disposal to deal with the onslaught of impacts than our more vulnerable brethren in developing countries. Intrinsic to the climate change challenge are deep issues involving our ethical obligation to future generations and to those less fortunate, and our responsibility as stewards of the only planet in the Universe known to support life. Is it even possible to weigh the damage done to Planet Earth and the living things that occupy it, against the short-term gains of those who currently profit from the exploitation of fossil fuels? These are questions that only ethicists, philosophers, religious scholars, and others in the humanities can help us address. So I embrace Steven Hartman’s exhortation to the academic community for a more concerted effort to more fully integrate the humanities into ongoing discussions about climate change and all matters of environmental sustainability.