This chapter discusses some cornerstones of the current United States debate on climate change and the environment, its socio-cultural and historical backgrounds, and some potential perspectives. It provides a macro-typological—and thus necessarily in many ways reductive and incomplete—introduction into a complex and controversial topic currently in the midst of rapid development. This chapter does not claim to represent ‘the’ American mindset towards nature or ‘the’ US view on the question of whether man-made activities are the cause of global warming or not, but aims at providing a primary and generalistic framework for analysing cultural aspects of views on climate change and the environment in the US. It thereby touches on more specific issues and trajectories found in the following chapters of this book.
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, the birthplace of the Greenpeace movement, has been a significant site for the articulation and enactment of multifaceted environmental consciousness. Since 2010, First Nation groups and environmental NGOs have come together to oppose the construction of the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline in the form of public protests and demonstrations. Using a social networks perspective, we closely examine the nature of these protests and the convergence of First Nation groups and environmental NGOs. We argue that the Vancouver protests ultimately failed to transform into a social movement and had limited impact. While a common concern for the environment links both stakeholders in their opposition to the pipeline project, their motivations are rooted in very different epistemic concerns. For First Nation groups, resistance to the Enbridge pipeline is primarily tied to deeper political processes of regaining territorial control and ongoing struggles for cultural revival within British Columbia.
In order to promote national economic development projects in the course of climate change, it is important to understand how locals have been coping with climate change and building a community in accordance with an ecological and cultural historical context of locality. Employing Japanese sociologist Kazuko Tsurumi’s Endogenous Development Theory, this chapter shows that southern Greenland’s community created a tradition of sheep farming by incorporating external knowledge, technology, and institutions. The development of sheep farming is a good example of adaptation to climate change at the local level with government support. Today, in order to establish a self-sufficient economy Greenland is seeking to develop an energy industry in the course of climate change. Greenlanders’ livelihood and industry include traditional hunting, fishery, sheep farming, and the energy industry. It would not be sound to make a development plan for each industry and livelihood separately. This chapter argues that a government development plan should not nullify local efforts to cope with climate change and to build a resilient community. It is necessary to make an integrated resource management plan and to have climate change remedies within it, so that development projects and adaptation to climate change will work in concert.
This contribution explores the role of culture in relation to local knowledge and values as displayed in the interpretations and actions of distinct groups of residents, concerning adapting to climate change in Dorchester County. Situated in the Mid-Atlantic area on the East Coast of the US, Dorchester County is at risk due to projected high sea level rise, flooding, salinisation and increased erosion. The research is based on a theoretical position that interpretation of risks and responses by distinct groups are shaped by frames or systems of cultural knowledge and values. For our study region, we were interested in which ways local knowledge and values of major cultural groups (e.g. watermen, farmers, winemakers, trappers), shape their understanding and perceptions of climate change risks, and in turn the consequences of that cultural knowledge in terms of vulnerability, adaptation and resilience. Our research also includes perspectives of under-represented, poor African Americans for whom threats posed by natural hazards and anthropogenic changes are disproportionately proximate. Furthermore, we incorporate perspectives of employees from the local zoning and planning department, views that allow us to better understand the policy contexts of our study groups’ different cultural perspectives. Methodologically speaking, our findings are based on ethnographic methods (including qualitative interviews with key cultural groups in Dorchester County, and a quantitative survey from a workshop with coastal authorities from several Chesapeake Bay counties) as well as document analysis. In particular, we focus on images of nature, sense of place and change, risk perception and barriers. In addition, we also consider socio-economic factors such as economic development and public and private (coastal) property issues. We found that the beliefs and values of a distinct group of people in a given region shape their perceptions of climate change and hence their responses to changes in the environment and their communities.
Our very understanding and experience of climate change has been shaped by an all-encompassing scientific interpretation of the weather. However, the statistical graphs of emission scenarios and other data diagrams have not only enforced a division between the scientific and the human realm—increased levels of data and abstraction coupled with the lack of a representational means of seeing ourselves as actors within these data—but has for a long time suppressed other perceptions of this unprecedented phenomenon. In order to understand global warming we need to consider it within a broader context of discourses and narratives, which implies an awareness of social and cultural spheres through which climatic changes are brought to the fore. Literature and the imaginary realm are thus of importance to the project of communicating the complexity of climate change, evoking feelings about it and of raising questions about the ethical and socio-political ramifications of climate change. This article aims to make a contribution to the only recently emerging discourse on climate change fiction. After a general discussion and contextualisation of literature and climate change, this article analyses two climate change fictions, T.C. Boyle’s novel A Friend of the Earth and Kim Stanley Robinson’s Science in the Capital Trilogy, in order to discuss how literature deals with the representational challenges of climate change, focusing on the issue of time and the communication of risks and uncertainties.
The environmental movement in the United States has undergone substantial changes during the last century. From its approximate beginnings in the conservation movement toward the end of the 19th century, the movement has evolved from a relatively narrow preoccupation with the conservation of local resources and the preservation of scenic areas, parks and forests to the broader concerns of toxic pollution, biodiversity protection and the prevention of global climate change. Early organisations and activists were primarily conservationists and preservationists. While conservation and preservation still exist within the movement, the organisations, activists and ideologies of the movement have expanded to encompass a framework more adequately depicted as ‘environmentalist’ or even ‘ecologist’. This paper provides a broad outline of how the American environmental movement has evolved and how, in doing so, it has responded to the evolving social context in which it exists.
This chapter analyses the role which domestic and international norms and their respective socialisation processes play in the determination of a state’s foreign policy. It therefore focuses on the empirical case of US foreign climate policy from its start in 1972 up until 2005. After developing a theoretical framework based on the concept of social constructivism in political science, the analysis is carried out over two distinct periods of time, each time period representing a new phase of international climate negotiations.
The results of the analysis are twofold: Firstly, norms within climate policy work as determinants and thus define how much a government can manoeuvre on any given theme. Socialisation processes, meanwhile, are able to push a government slightly in one direction or another. Additionally, a predominance of domestic norms with a stronger domestic socialisation can be observed in the case of US foreign climate policy—albeit, particularly since the 1990s, the phenomenon of a polarised domestic response to climate policy is immediately observable. To sum up the findings: this chapter uses the results of the foreign policy analysis as a framework for creating a norm-stage-model that looks to map formations and back-formations of climate norms onto other democracies.
North American climate history represents a new but rapidly growing field of interdisciplinary research. Relative to Europe and Asia, documentary data for historical climate reconstruction in the present US and Canada remain scarce. However, research into physical climate proxies such as tree rings, the archaeology of Native American (or First Nation) societies, written sources, and early instrumental measurements has begun to extend knowledge of the continent’s past weather and climate and their historical impacts. This chapter presents a brief overview of the historiography and sources for the field, followed by a longer chronological summary of the role of climate and weather in North American history since the first human arrivals.
This chapter explores the question what the first generation of French settlers of the Louisiana Gulf Coast and New Orleans knew about hurricanes, and how they and later generations of creoles and newcomers adapted to the recurring hurricane hazard. The article starts out with a snapshot of French Louisiana’s first group of settlers in order to establish the state of early hurricane knowledge in the colony. The hurricane and flood hazards, which both affect the city—the former less frequently than the latter—are juxtaposed and adaptation measures compared before diving into three hurricane case studies spanning the French (1718–1762) as well as the Spanish colonial period (1762–1803) of New Orleans. The case studies show that the city’s societies remained vulnerable to hurricane impacts throughout the eighteenth century and that disaster migration—permanent migration in the aftermath of disasters—was resorted to in particular after back-to-back hurricane events.
This essay uses the event that was Hurricane Katrina as its endpoint for an analysis of the history of ecological and socio-cultural change in Louisiana. After displacing and transforming Indigenous societies, European settlers had to decide how to establish a different kind of community in such a precarious landscape. This essay argues that a particular understanding not only of the environment but also a conception of Being Human, that of secular Man (if initially only partially so), remained equally relevant. Within the logic of this self/social understanding, a system of levees to address hurricane and storm surge, would be implemented—initially with convict and slave labour, and after the US Civil War, with poorly-compensated (i.e. ‘cheap’), predominantly Black labour. The cultural and environmental questions that emerged in the wake of Katrina should compel a rethinking of the viability of contemporary approaches to organising complex technological societies, and especially, as it relates to the faith in ever-increasing economic growth.