Not Just Science: The Social Side of Global Warming

18 April 2013

Professor David Schlosberg
Professor David Schlosberg: "We really want to establish the University of Sydney as a leading centre for thinking about the relationship between humans and nature."

When Professor David Schlosberg arrived in Australia two years ago, he was pleased with the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences' willingness to embrace the teaching and research of climate change.

"The Faculty has identified interdisciplinary environmental studies as a key area of research. They're supporting it and investing in it, and there's going to be a growing emphasis on it as we move into the future," he says.

Professor Schlosberg, asserts that the problems facing the environment "are not just an issue for the sciences", so being part of a large humanities faculty will benefit his research on the social aspects affecting changing climate.

Schlosberg is a member of the faculty's Environmental Humanities Group, which is a multidisciplinary group of scholars examining the environment in relation to cultural practices, led by Professor Iain McCalman from the Department of History.

"We really want to establish the University of Sydney as a leading centre for thinking about the relationship between humans and nature," says Schlosberg. And with the Environmental Humanities Group receiving a major grant from the Mellon Foundation in 2012 to establish an Environment and Humanities Observatory in the Asia Pacific, partnering with four other such observatories in the US and Europe, it appears they are on the road to success.

Professor Schlosberg also heads up the Sydney Network on Climate Change and Society (SNCCS), which is dedicated specifically to examining the social and cultural impacts of climate change. "We're not going to stop climate change," says Schlosberg, who is more interested in the politics of adaptation as opposed to the sciences of prevention. "It's important to think about slowing it down, but the real focus has to be on how to adapt." SNCCS is examining this transition, looking at vulnerability, adaptation, and governance in social, political, and cultural realms.

Schlosberg and his team in SNCCS are undertaking research into the new "environmentalism of everyday life," as he calls it. For Schlosberg, these initiatives for "sustainable materialism" illustrate how environmental movements are changing their tactics and foci. "The groups used to rally Congress (or Parliament) to change national law, but they were constantly shot down," says Schlosberg of his findings. "Now there's been a devolution to a state level and a local level. Rather than persuading the government to ban pesticides, communities are beginning to grow their own food. There are new circulations and flows of food, and a support of local products and institutions." This shift is a result of a desire for people to live in a way that is more in tune with their values. "It's about stepping out of the processes and practices that are environmentally destructive," he explains. Many of these themes are discussed in Schlosberg's forthcoming co-authored book, The Climate-Challenged Society (Oxford 2013).

The depth and variety of Schlosberg's research areas reflect the expanding nature of environmental studies at the University of Sydney. When Schlosberg arrived in 2011 there was one class in Environmental Politics. In a short space of time, three more classes have been added and "the students just love it."

Schlosberg, from the Department of Government and International Relations, is now feeling at home in Sydney and is "interested in how it is going to adapt to climate change as an urban environment - from its food processes to its architectural designs." He is also feeling at home and thriving in the Faculty. "It really is a great climate to be working in." There's no pun intended.

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