Calls from climate activists, world leaders, and business leaders alike have been for the public to simply “listen to the scientists” when it comes to understanding and responding to the climate crisis. But, does just listening to the scientists fuel reductionist interpretations of the crisis and politicized ways to solve it?
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), one of the leading international climate-knowledge-generating organizations, has called for the expeditious phase-out of fossil fuels and a rapid cut of greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050 to remain under 1.5°C of global warming. However, the IPCC made no recommendations as to who should conduct this phasing out and decrease of carbon dioxide emissions. Without the context of uneven industrial development since the 1880s, there’s no understanding that developed countries have caused the cumulative carbon dioxide emissions we see today—the key determinant of the anthropogenic climate crisis. This could especially punish developing countries, such as India and Brazil, as they begin to industrialize and grow their economies in the current century, which is critical for global poverty alleviation and reaching sustainable development goals.
The IPCC claims to be policy-relevant, as opposed to policy-prescriptive, to remain apolitical, empirical, and objective. As an international organization, the IPCC must appear neutral in theory, so all countries can consider the knowledge disseminated valid and free from bias. This framing encourages a disaggregation of climate science and policy creation, even though they actively inform and shape each other. As Canadian philosopher Ian Hacking reminds us, “Counting is hungry for categories,” meaning that it’s impossible to remain scientifically objective when knowledge creation is a political process.
Without context, statistical analyses and empirical observations can be distorted to achieve a particular political goal or fit within a certain paradigm. To devoid the IPCC of context does a disservice to both science and society, as well-rounded science has always included the history, geography, politics, and social development that informed its creation. With context, science can be interrogated and problematized for a greater understanding of the applicability of the results.
As more researchers include their positionality and situatedness in their research, there’s a more nuanced, complex understanding of the anthropogenic climate crisis. As political science and sustainability scholars Åsa Knaggård, Barry Ness, and David Harnesk write, when diving into a reflexive practice, researchers often find that their personal worldviews may impact the findings of their work, challenging normative understandings of the Earth System and society. Additionally, including more disciplines in climate science enriches how we understand different geographies and the potential for climate solutions within those spaces. With these practices, we can make way for a cosmopolitics—a way of knowing and understanding how the world operates across boundaries of knowledge—building solidarity along the way.