Is there a place for the humanities in climate change policy?

Written by Sarah Connors, CSaP Policy Intern.

Last week’s CSaP annual conference featured a discussion on the multiple dimensions of climate change with a particular focus on the incorporation of the humanities. This session, chaired by Professor James Wilsdon from SPRU at the University of Sussex, welcomed three speakers from backgrounds in both academia and the private sector.

To listen to a recording of this session, click here: //

“Issues of equality, justice and fairness arise with respect to mitigation” – IPCC

Arthur Petersen, Professor of Science, Technology and Public Policy, kicked off the talks by discussing his experiences with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). He observed the processes as a Humanist Observer for the Dutch Government. Intergovernmental processes require the collaboration, negotiation and compromise of representatives across all work fields. Professor Petersen stated that although the IPCC has little input on the role of the humanities in this process, there is a place for ethics and judgement when informing policy representatives. He suggested that scientific advice becomes more reflective, and should incorporate a wider range of evidence when considering the future implications of climate change.

Dr Paul Warde, reader in Early Modern History, then spoke on how historians could have a key role in policy. He used his research experience in the history of energy policy to exemplify this. Historically, the mistakes or successes of previous energy policies seem to never be considered when analysing the then current decision-making processes. Dr Warde stated that prior decisions, even if proved to be ill-advised, seemed to have little impact on a country’s energy regime. This lack of applied hindsight seemed pointed considering current society must now consider our implications on future generations.

“Is there no nook of English ground secure from rash assault?” – William Wordsworth

Amy Mount, Senior Policy Advisor for the Green Alliance, gave a thought provoking talk about how the humanities can contribute to the policy advice process more so than to the content. She drew from a poem written by Wordsworth in protest of a planned extension to the Yorkshire railway in 1844. Although Wordsworth’s poem was unsuccessful in stopping this development, Ms Mount spoke of how she used this poem in a launch event for a Green Alliance report advising on policy for infrastructural development. She admitted the reading performed a similar function as the evidence within the report itself. In her closing remarks, she stated three common and interacting practices which play a critical role in good policy making. These are present in the humanities ‘in a particular modality’ than in other scientific areas: criticism, creativity and curating.

Download the slides here.


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The Centre for Science and Policy is helping to bridge the gap between academia and government by promoting engagement between researchers and policy makers.
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