Climate rhetoric: Constructions of climate science in the age of environmentalism
Lahsen, Myanna Hvid
Marcus, George E.
Doctor of Philosophy
This doctoral thesis analyzes the scientific and political debate about human-induced climate change, popularly known as "global warming," and describes the shaping influence of larger U.S. social dynamics and political entities (Congress, President, federal policies, NGOs, the right-wing, and industry groups) on the climate debate. Environmental concern and new science funding practices have profoundly altered the social dynamics and distribution of resources and recognition within meteorology. At a time where funding for scientific research is more difficult to come by, new levels of status and resources are available to climate modelers. This conflicts with a traditional hierarchy within the sciences which granted theoretical mathematicians and physicists the greatest levels of prestige. The older hierarchy often ranked climate modelers below higher-status scientists, labeling them as "engineers," "technicians," or "computer-operators." While their new status is contested, climate modelers presently enjoy increased levels of access to status, funding, and influence, because they respond to needs of policy makers and the environmentally concerned public. At the same time, empirical meteorologists and scientists in other fields doing less policy-relevant science have found their access to resources reduced--resulting in resentment among some scientists, particularly when the climate projections are known to be more uncertain and problematic than sometimes suggested. The thesis suggests that status competition among scientists, a tightening national funding situation, and environmental concern, can encourage favorable public claims concerning the reliability of computer-based climate projections. The strongest scientific critics of climate projections tend to be empirical meteorologists and theoretical or defense-related physicists. They object to projections of significant human-induced climate change by pointing to large uncertainties in the science. In addition to resistance to recent changes inside and outside scientific circles, the arguments of "contrarian" scientists--a small subgroup of vociferous critics--reflect competition for access to funding, status, and political influence, and staunch political convictions which converge with the far Right. An older elite of highly influential physicists forms one contrarian subgroup. The thesis discusses manifest differences in historical consciousness, values, and subcultural styles, between this old scientific elite of physicists and emergent scientific elites of environmental scientists.
Cultural anthropology; History of science; Political science