‘(Beyond) Scientific Rationality and the Illusion of Climate Governance’

Here are the slides accompanying a talk I gave at the Centre for Governance and Society, King’s College London, Tuesday 23 November 2021. The abstract for my talk is below.


“Neither state- nor UN-centric manifestations of power — nor indeed the workings of the market, nor the surprises wrought by cultural, economic and technological shifts — will ever allow future climate a predictable ‘safe-landing’” (Hulme, 2021: 212).

The ambition to govern the climate is a dangerous one.  Even more so when guided by a tenacious faith in the ‘iron hand’ of scientific rationalism.  Epistemic certainty and moralism, when combined with climate deadline-ism (’10 more years to save the world’), fuels declarations of climate emergency – as we have seen in recent years.  Even if initially benign, emergency politics opens the door to ‘strong men’ and for anti-liberalism.  Rather than declaring ‘states of emergency’ in the name of a climate crisis, the approach to taming the worst effects of climate change should be one of pragmatism, incrementalism and experimentation.  Drawing heavily form my new book Climate Change (Key Ideas in Geography) (Routledge, 2021), this talk develops this argument, explaining what I mean by ‘science-first’ and ‘more-than-science’ approaches to responding to the various realities of climate change.  There are other resources and avenues available beyond scientific rationalism.  For example, the ambiguity, complexity and partiality of religious myths, Indigenous knowledge-ways or the creative arts undermines the illusion that science will ever yield all that is necessary to know about the future to adequately guide actions in the present.