Climate Science

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Even a decade ago, the idea of writing or reading an essay on climate in a companion to literature and science would have seemed odd. It may be difficult to remember, but the development of literary theory in the 1980s in the United States and Europe occurred during an era dominated by the notion of nuclear winter, the scientific model that predicted dramatic global cooling in the event of a thermonuclear war. Since that time, dramatic changes in a range of scientific disciplines – from meteorology, to computer science, to geology, to glaciology – have led to a revolution in the way that scientists think about the Earth’s climate, its natural cycles of cooling and heating, and the ways in which humankind has been warming the planet since the Industrial Revolution, and perhaps longer (Ruddiman 2005). Although popular culture, including some bad Hollywood disaster movies and some good science-fiction novels, quickly picked up on the idea of global warming, most literary critics and serious novelists have been slow to deal with the prospect of abrupt climate change. No one so far has been able to write a “realistic” novel about a long-term trend of sustained warming that really has just begun, and our cultural fascination – often bordering on narcissism – with our own lives, inner experiences, and social relations has tended to return us to deeply embedded ways of thinking about a romanticized Nature, as opposed to a dynamic climate. In many respects, 200 years after revolutions in astronomy, geology, and biology challenged traditional ways of thinking about history, we are still coming to grips with ideas of time and environment that are not merely extensions of our bodily experiences, memories, and written histories. Living through and writing about climate change in the twenty-first century invariably poses questions about the relationships among three different registers of time: experiential or embodied time, historical time, and climatological time. Each of these registers resists hard-and-fast definition, in part because climatological time – accessible through and mediated by a range of complex technologies – complicates the connections between reading and narrative that Paul Ricoeur identifies as crucial to the phenomenological and historical perceptions of time (Ricoeur 1984-88). Climatological time has emerged from a complex genealogy of what Jean-Joseph Goux calls “symbolic economies” that characterize crises of representation in the human sciences (Goux 1990; Markley 1993).
Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Routledge Companion to Literature and Science
EditorsBruce Clarke, Manuela Rossini
Place of PublicationNew York
ISBN (Print)9780415509596, 9780415495257
StatePublished - 2011


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