Fundamental ideologies, beliefs, values, artifacts (technology / tool / literature and poems)), values, assumptions are the things that make up culture. (I am sure I have missed a few but you get the idea.). In our cultural analysis of climate change many of these have been catalogued in one way or another, in one region or another, at one time or another, with one group of people or another. We have learned ‘how people feel about nature’ or ‘how people feel about climate change’ and I have also been made aware of some nice poems. Now, knowledge for knowledge’s sake is a nice luxury but climate change is, we are told, about real danger in need of real pragmatic action, although many ideals are often floated.
Let’s assume for this exercise that climate change is indeed one of the greatest and most dangerous issues facing life (in all of its aspects, as we know it) on Earth. Then what is the pragmatic contribution of cultural studies? (I admit there is probably a great deal I do not know about cultural studies and would therefore be grateful for any examples.)
In a nut shell, so far, culture studiers have given us ‘people’s alternative views of nature’ (Cotgrove), ‘what people think is the proper relationship with nature’ (Cotgrove), a list of ‘cultural orientations and environmental values’ (Kempton), the ‘myths of nature’ (Thompson), some nice poems (eh?), and probably many more things of which I am oblivious. My question is, now that we have this knowledge, how are we supposed to put it to use, or even if that was the intention? After all, we see many many calls these days for the inclusion of culture in climate change and related studies. Its inclusion seems to be imperative if we are to get things right. However, my ignorance prevents me from seeing how to include it.
What if culture studiers borrowed from climate science, standing cultural studies on its head if you will? (The study of culture has typically been a retroactive endeavour.) What if culture studiers took a different perspective akin to response to scenarios? What if they asked ‘How would local culture respond to ...? What would be the cultural implications given such and such a change (the generation of a raft of new poems)? What would be the cultural impacts of differing adaptation strategies? Of course, the what ifs and how woulds would indeed be educated fiction, but if this approach is good enough for the IPCC scenarios then ..
Or, without the scenarios, perhaps something simpler like the response time of culturally dissimilar groups (as already documents) in reacting to different types of situations/impacts? Response time and context are important factors in the selection of strategies for action. How do different groups respond to surprise? How do they respond to potential?
Or if you are too lazy for field work, and have no regard for empiricism, move ahead to a given point, and then imagine yourself looking back from that point documenting the passage of time and cultural change, sort of like cultural tree rings. For inspiration, see Human Engineering and Climate Change (http://www.smatthewliao.com/2012/02/09/human-engineering-and-climate-change Lilliput world!
I too enjoy generating knowledge for the sake of knowledge. It adds a sense of fun to science. But in climate science – in all of its forms – morals have made a poignant appearance. So, if you are a culture studier on the climate change crusade, please add some useable knowledge. If not, then Bob’s your uncle. But don’t try so hard to demonstrate the utility of what you learn, simply be content that you have learned. (Difficult given the availability of funds for non-climate change related cultural studies, I know.)