Accepted paper:

The art of envisioning climate change


Cristián Simonetti (Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile)

Paper short abstract:

Although climate scientists seem to sensorially engage with the past, knowledge about climate is regarded as being beyond the senses. Relying on ethnographic and historical research this article suggests that scientists depend on sensory experience for understanding climate.

Paper long abstract:

Climate research constitutes an effort for understanding processes that occur over long periods of time and across vast distances. Relying on measurement, scientists are able to understand past trends in climate change and predict their future. Most of the time, this knowledge is conceived as being beyond people's everyday perception and memory, in that it requires the implementation of a record. However, despite the apparent detachment of this knowledge, climate scientists report a sensuous engagement with climate. They are the ones responsible for providing a sense of what is beyond the lifespan of a person, namely long-term environmental history. But how do climate scientists manage this trick? Based on ethnographic research conducted with geoscientists in the Arctic, I suggest that climate scientists rely on everyday experience for understanding long-term processes, allowing them to see the invisible in time and space. This capacity is traced back to the establishment of modern geology, mainly throughout the nineteenth century, where important values of the Enlightenment, particularly measurement, where emphasized. Attending to the circumstances of this development, I show that the objective detachment scientists perceive while envisioning the past, coincides with an optical understanding of time that follows the image of the telescope, which parallels how contemporary geoscientists refer to their own processes of enskillment in the field. Challenging this detachment, I suggest that knowledge of the very long (history) in science necessarily depend on the very short (biography), as scientists have never been out of life. Measurement in climate research depends on aesthetics.

panel P68
Made to measure: measurement, anthropology and the enlightenment