Changing the Atmosphere: Expert Knowledge and Environmental Governance. (Book Reviews/Comptes Rendus)

By Murphy, Raymond | Canadian Journal of Sociology, Spring 2003 | Go to article overview

Changing the Atmosphere: Expert Knowledge and Environmental Governance. (Book Reviews/Comptes Rendus)


Murphy, Raymond, Canadian Journal of Sociology


Clark Miller and Paul Edwards, eds., Changing the Atmosphere: Expert Knowledge and Environmental Governance. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2001, 385 pp.

This book of readings argues that climate change is becoming a critical site in the shifting world order. It examines how scientific research is transforming conceptions of nature underlying international politics, how scientists persuade people to think about climate in global terms, and how people then modify their values, behaviours, and institutions. The approach is constructivist, examining practices whereby accounts achieve the status of reality.

The first section explores computer modelling and climate politics. Edwards constructs a history of changing scientific research into climate change, concluding that computer models became the only way to manage the data deluge produced by new technologies of observation. Scientific modelling also became a tool to mobilize support for reducing greenhouse gases and world building. Norton and Suppe defend computer climate modelling against its critics, arguing that all scientific work involves epistemologically similar modelling. Shackley divides modelers into three epistemic lifestyles: climate seers using simple models having a few key variables to gain insight into atmospheric dynamics; model builders incorporating detailed, comprehensive aspects of physical processes to improve the realism of models; and a hybrid of the two. These epistemic lifestyles differ between countries and reflect varying cultural and institutional approaches to science.

The second section connects scientific organization with political order. Kwa argues that in the U.S.A. proliferating weather modification of the 1960s collapsed in the early 1970s not because it failed to work, but because of a shift in values from the desired mastery of nature to the belief that attempted mastery will disrupt nature's human sustaining, self-regulating dynamics. The goal of protecting humans from nature was abruptly replaced with that of protecting nature from humans. Miller composes a history of the World Meteorological Organization from 1947 to 1958 relating modifications in the organization of meteorology to changing world politics through meteorology's pursuit of resources and political legitimacy.

The final section probes the uptake of expert advice into political discourse, institutions, and policy concerning climate. Edwards and Schneider examine the controversy over the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's 1996 conclusion: "The balance of evidence suggests that there is a discernible human influence on global climate." They refute the accusation of political bias made by contrarian scientists and the energy industry, arguing that the IPCC report involved an inclusive peer-review process advantageous for consensus building and the incorporation of expert knowledge into global governance. Miller's examination of the operation of the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice concludes that it succeeded in making scientific advice globally credible, particularly in developing countries and even concerning contested climate negotiations. Jamieson argues that explicit discussion of equity and responsibility for greenhouse-gas emissions will facilitate consensus in both North and South . He proposes the normative principle of equality of greenhouse-gas emission rights per person with respect to a baseline year. An early year would force the North to accept responsibility for past emissions and force the South to avoid using demographic irresponsibility as an excuse for future emissions. A late year would promote emissions irresponsibility by both. Jasanoff argues that the images from satellites of planet Earth suspended in space promoted a popular understanding of its finiteness, indivisibility, and fragility, and she studies how these images have been used to promote global environmental governance. Such images are contested because they can lead to the invisibility of local environmental problems and loss of national sovereignty. …

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