Cultures and Knowledge Workshop Reading List: "Working on a Deadline: Climate Emergency"

February 25th, 2021

On March 1, the Stevanovich Institute on the Formation of Knowledge will present the third in their Cultures and Knowledge Workshop series for the Winter Term. This workshop, titled "Working on a Deadline: Climate Emergency," will be presented by Prof. Jo Guldi.


Scientists and UN advisory bodies have identified our lives as a historical moment of crisis, writ in terms of a limited opportunity for the planet’s inhabitants to decide to keep carbon in the ground. In the university, scholars have proposed a variety of indirect supports to the problem of adjustment, but little environmental scholarship from the humanities and social sciences embodies a truly pragmatic response. Historians of science (and humanists in general) have a major role to play in modeling engagement with the discourse of climate change. The work that follows applauds the (typically narrative) practice of “auditing” histories of evidence and public discourse as undertaken by historians of science like Oreskes and Conway. Such approaches can help us to re-imagine creative and scholarly collaboration as a machine for creatively and effectively engaging climate inaction, driving the work of data and discourse analysis in the direction of meaningful engagement.

About the presenter: Dr. Guldi is a scholar of the history of Britain and its empire who is especially involved in questions of state expansion, the contestation of property under capitalism, and the how state and property concepts are recorded in the landscape of the built environment.

Below is a list of further reading on the topic of the workshop, compiled by Dr. Guldi:


A Perfect Moral Storm: The Ethical Tragedy of Climate Change (Oxford University Press)
Stephen M. Gardiner

Climate change is arguably the great problem confronting humanity, but we have done little to head off this looming catastrophe. In The Perfect Moral Storm, philosopher Stephen Gardiner illuminates our dangerous inaction by placing the environmental crisis in an entirely new light, considering it as an ethical failure. Gardiner clarifies the moral situation, identifying the temptations (or "storms") that make us vulnerable to a certain kind of corruption. First, the world's most affluent nations are tempted to pass on the cost of climate change to the poorer and weaker citizens of the world. Second, the present generation is tempted to pass the problem on to future generations. Third, our poor grasp of science, international justice, and the human relationship to nature helps to facilitate inaction. As a result, we are engaging in willful self-deception when the lives of future generations, the world's poor, and even the basic fabric of life on the planet is at stake. We should wake up to this profound ethical failure, Gardiner concludes, and demand more of our institutions, our leaders and ourselves.


Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming (Bloomsbury Publishing)
Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway

The U.S. scientific community has long led the world in research on such areas as public health, environmental science, and issues affecting quality of life. But at the same time, a small yet potent subset of American scientists leads the world in vehement denial of these dangers. Merchants of Doubt tells the story of how a loose-knit group of high-level scientists and scientific advisers, with deep connections in politics and industry, ran effective campaigns to mislead the public and deny well-established scientific knowledge over four decades. Remarkably, the same individuals surface repeatedly. "Doubt is our product," wrote one tobacco executive. These 'experts' supplied it. Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway, historians of science, roll back the rug on this dark corner of the American scientific community, showing how ideology and corporate interests, aided by a too-compliant media, have skewed public understanding of some of the most pressing issues of our era.


Radical Markets: Uprooting Capitalism and Democracy for a Just Society (Princeton University Press)
Eric A. Posner and E. Glen Weyl

Many blame today’s economic inequality, stagnation, and political instability on the free market. The solution is to rein in the market, right? Radical Markets turns this thinking on its head. With a new foreword by Ethereum creator Vitalik Buterin and virtual reality pioneer Jaron Lanier as well as a new afterword by Eric Posner and Glen Weyl, this provocative book reveals bold new ways to organize markets for the good of everyone. It shows how the emancipatory force of genuinely open, free, and competitive markets can reawaken the dormant nineteenth-century spirit of liberal reform and lead to greater equality, prosperity, and cooperation. Only by radically expanding the scope of markets can we reduce inequality, restore robust economic growth, and resolve political conflicts. But to do that, we must replace our most sacred institutions with truly free and open competition—Radical Markets shows how.


New State Spaces: Urban Governance and the Rescaling of Statehood (Oxford University Press)
Neil Brenner

In this interdisciplinary work, Neil Brenner develops a new interpretation of the transformation of statehood under contemporary globalizing capitalism. Whereas most analysts of the emergent, post-Westphalian world order have focused on supranational and national institutional realignments, New State Spaces shows that strategic subnational spaces, such as cities and city-regions, represent essential arenas in which states are being transformed. Brenner traces the transformation of urban governance in western Europe during the last four decades and, on this basis, argues that inherited geographies of state power are being fundamentally rescaled. Through a combination of theory construction, historical analysis and cross-national case studies of urban policy change, New State Spaces provides an innovative analysis of the new formations of state power that are currently emerging.


Roads to Power: Britain Invents the Infrastructure State (Harvard University Press)
Joanna Guldi

Roads to Power tells the story of how Britain built the first nation connected by infrastructure, how a libertarian revolution destroyed a national economy, and how technology caused strangers to stop speaking. In early eighteenth-century Britain, nothing but dirt track ran between most towns. By 1848 the primitive roads were transformed into a network of highways connecting every village and island in the nation—and also dividing them in unforeseen ways. The highway network led to contests for control over everything from road management to market access. Peripheries like the Highlands demanded that centralized government pay for roads they could not afford, while English counties wanted to be spared the cost of underwriting roads to Scotland. The new network also transformed social relationships. Although travelers moved along the same routes, they occupied increasingly isolated spheres. The roads were the product of a new form of government, the infrastructure state, marked by the unprecedented control bureaucrats wielded over decisions relating to everyday life. There are lessons here for all who would end poverty or design their markets around the principle of participation. Jo Guldi draws direct connections between traditional infrastructure and the contemporary collapse of the American Rust Belt, the decline of American infrastructure, the digital divide, and net neutrality. In the modern world, infrastructure is our principal tool for forging new communities, but it cannot outlast the control of governance by visionaries.

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