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The humanities are key to environmental messaging

Friday, February 12th, 2010


It’s been an incredibly busy week, which explains the dearth of posts.  But good things are happening, which I look forward to sharing.

As most of you know, there’s an energetic, ongoing debate about environmental messaging.  With polls showing waning interest in climate warming as a serious issue, there’s  a sense that the battle is being lost.

I mentioned in an earlier post that it’s often assumed that climate change science speaks for itself.  All we have to do is publish good science and show the public a bunch of data, and this will lead to a collective consciousness demanding action on climate warming.

It hasn’t worked out that way.

One main problem is the failure to connect with people on a personal level.  Thinking about the environment is not just about climate or wild nature; it’s about human nature, human experience, the intersection of nature and culture, how we interact with one another—things squarely in the domain of the social sciences and humanities.  In order for society to connect with contemporary environmental issues, it’s critical that these voices become part of this conversation.

Yesterday, we brought back to campus Bowdoin alum Paul Miller (a.k.a., DJ Spooky That Subliminal Kid) to perform his major work, Terra Nova: Sinfonia Antarctica.

Paul’s work is a beautiful illustration of how one artist has been able to put a human touch on climate warming.  His show was packed with a hyped-up audience that cut across a wide swath of young and old.

Try doing that with a science seminar.

Amanda Little reminds us that there are no silver bullets for solving climate warming, only silver buckshot.   Paul’s work (and the work of other popular artists like him) is a great example of one of those buckshot.


Photo Credit:  Tiffany Gerdes, Bowdoin Orient

2 Responses to “The humanities are key to environmental messaging”

  1. [...] audience that cut across a wide swath of young and old. Try doing that with a science seminar. More… Posted on February 13th, 2010 in Sustainability | Leave a [...]

  2. Kim Smith says:

    Although I’m sure you’re right that the humanities do play an important role in spreading environmental values, the heart of the humanities is something entirely different: teaching us to evaluate critically our received values and opinions–including our pro-environment values. The humanities are not best understood as a way to advertise the values of environmental studies faculty.


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