PKG Fellowships 2020: Matt Kearney Part IV

Check out Part I, Part II, and Part III of Matt’s experience this summer!

Climate change is currently very political in nature, and no I’m not referring to partisan belief in climate change or politicians’ support for climate change solutions. Rather, climate change is political because of the structures of power and privilege that surround it. There are many of these political dynamics within the scope of climate change: Developed countries contribute the most to climate change but developing countries bear the brunt of the impacts. The unsustainable patterns of production and consumption of our current generation are imposing consequences on our future generations. Within the US, the impacts of climate change are disproportionately felt by minorities and the poor. All of these are instances where there is certain distribution of power and privilege  — power to impact climate change and privilege to avoid its effects. But there is another example of climate change politics that isn’t discussed as often. This is the politics of knowledge. 

Anthropogenic climate change is extremely complicated and unprecedented in the history of our species. It is only because of detailed and rigorous science that we know that this is happening, why it is happening, and what we can do about it. But for decades, the way this science has been disseminated has created a new epistemic political structure surrounding climate change – who has the power and privilege to access climate change knowledge and act on it. There is a plethora of research on climate change but it is mired in technical jargon and the minutia of large scale systems. This is not a criticism; the rigor needed to understand such a nuanced issue surely requires such precise language and methods. Nonetheless, as science is our primary route to understanding this issue, this precision makes climate change information inaccessible to huge swaths of the general public. This is an inherent political structure of the knowledge of climate change – very few are privileged enough to be able to understand it and thus very few have the power to use this knowledge to do something. 

There are many organizations that exist to take this science and make it more accessible to the general public, or in other words who are making the political structure surrounding this knowledge more democratic. This is certainly a huge piece to reshaping the political structures surrounding climate change, but ultimately, the picture is still more complex. While this information is now more accessible than ever, the power over what the research focuses on still lies primarily in the hands of scientists and large institutions. Again, this is not a criticism, but it is important for understanding the gaps in our knowledge and why they exist. We continue to produce phenomenal research on how climate change occurs and how, as large institutions and countries, we can fight back against it. And this is absolutely crucial. But as an individual member of the general public, I want to know more than just what my country or my university should be doing to fight climate change, I want to know what I should be doing. But because the general public doesn’t hold the power to understand the primary scientific literature nor to shape its agenda, these answers are extremely difficult to find and synthesize. 

And this was essentially the goal of our project. We began as two scientifically literate members of the general public, who knew almost nothing about climate change science, with the simple goal of learning what we can do as individuals to help solve climate change. And to honest, when this all started, it was our personal need to know that was driving us in this pursuit. But as our project has progressed, we’ve begun to see it more and more as a challenge to the current political structures of climate change knowledge, an amendment to the power that the general public has in fighting climate change. We are rooted in the core belief that people truly want to do something about this issue but that the lack of solid, explainable science about how they can have a real impact as individuals is what prevents them. The institutions and the scientifically literate of society cannot dig all of us out of this issue by themselves. The rest of the planet it standing by armed with our shovels and spades, we just need to know where to dig. This has been and continues to be our goal. We started with a personal need to know how we can do more, but we hope to continue by democratizing the power to fight climate change.

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Tags: Climate Change, Environment, PKG Fellowships, PKG Fellowships Summer 2020

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