Skip to main content

Advertisement

Log in

Socio-cultural dimensions of climate change: charting the terrain

  • Published:
GeoJournal Aims and scope Submit manuscript

Abstract

We have reached a crucial turning point in debates around climate change. A well established scientific consensus regarding the physical causes, dynamics, and at least many likely implications of anthropogenic climate change has thus far failed to result in any substantial movement towards mitigation. For many, then, the most urgent questions regarding climate change are now socio-cultural ones, such as: how do people come to hold and act on certain beliefs regarding environmental conditions and processes; how do institutional forms and histories shape and constrain the views and options of various sorts of actors; and what are relationships among fossil fuels, climate change, and the historical geographies and future trajectories of capitalism? Far from being simpler than physical and life science questions, these social science questions introduce entirely new sorts of actors, dynamics, and methodological challenges into this already complex and dynamic domain. This special issue takes up these topics. In this essay, we chart some of the major contours of contemporary social science thinking regarding climate change and introduce the articles in the special issue. We begin by examining work, from political science and scholarship on the commons, that foregrounds questions of sovereignty, territoriality, and cooperation with respect to environmental governance. Then we examine work from neoclassical economics and radical political economy, which frame climate change in terms of externalities, or contradiction and crisis, respectively. Finally, we examine the rapidly proliferating work exploring how individuals think and feel about these issues, emphasizing concepts of risk, communication, and governmentality.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Subscribe and save

Springer+ Basic
EUR 32.99 /Month
  • Get 10 units per month
  • Download Article/Chapter or Ebook
  • 1 Unit = 1 Article or 1 Chapter
  • Cancel anytime
Subscribe now

Buy Now

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Similar content being viewed by others

References

  • Agrawal, A. (2005). Environmentality: Community, intimate government, and the making of environmental subjects in Kumaon India. Current Anthropology, 46(2), 161–190.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Agrawala, S., & Fankhauser, S. (Eds.). (2008). Economic aspects of adaptation to climate change: Costs, benefits and policy instruments. Paris: Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, (corp. ed.).

    Google Scholar 

  • Anderson, P. (1983). In the tracks of historical materialism. London: Verso.

    Google Scholar 

  • Backstrand, K., & Lovbrand, E. (2006). Planting trees to mitigate climate change: Contested discourses of ecological modernization, green governmentality and civic environmentalism. Global Environmental Politics, 6(1), 50–75.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Berkes, F. (2006). From community-based resource management to complex systems: the scale issue and marine commons. Ecology and Society, 11(1), 45. URL: http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol11/iss1/art45/.

  • Bickerstaff, K., & Simmons, P. (2009). Absencing/presencing risk: Rethinking proximity and the experience of living with major technological hazards. Geoforum, 40(5), 864–872.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bond, P. (2011). Emissions trading, new enclosures and eco-social contestation. Antipode, 44(3), 684–701.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Borras, S. M., Jr., Hall, R., Scoones, I., White, B., & Wolford, W. (2011). Towards a better understanding of global land grabbing: An editorial introduction. The Journal of Peasant Studies, 38(2), 209–216.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Borras, S. M., Jr., McMichael, P., & Scoones, I. (2010). The politics of biofuels, land and agrarian change: Editors’ introduction. The Journal of Peasant Studies, 37(4), 575–592.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Boykoff, M. T. (2011). Who speaks for the climate? Making sense of media reporting on climate change. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Boykoff, M., Bumpus, A., Liverman, D., & Randalls, S. (2009). Theorising the carbon economy: Introduction to the special issues. Environment and Planning A, 41(10), 2299–2304.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bremner, J., Lopez-Carr, D., Suter, L., & Davis, J. (2010). Population, poverty, environment, and climate dynamics in the developing world. Interdisciplinary Environmental Review, 11(2), 112–126.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Byravan, S. and S. Rajan. (2008). The social impacts of climate change in South Asia. Social Science Research Network. http://ssrn.com/abstract=1129346 or doi:10.2139/ssrn.1129346.

  • Carr, D. L., & Norman, E. S. (2008). Global civil society? The Johannesburg world summit on sustainable development. Geoforum, 39(1), 358–371.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Cash, D. W., Adger, W. N., Berkes, F., Garden, P., Lebel, L., Olsson, P. & Young, O. (2006). Scale and cross-scale dynamics: governance and information in a multilevel world. Ecology and Society, 11(2), 8. http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol11/iss2/art8/.

  • Crate, S. A. (2011). Climate and culture: Anthropology in the era of contemporary climate change. Annual Review of Anthropology, 40, 175–194.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Dessler, A., & Parson, E. (2010). The science and politics of global climate change: A Guide to the Debate (2nd ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Dietz, T., Ostrom, E., & Stern, P. C. (2003). The struggle to govern the commons. Science, 302(5652), 1907–1912.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Feeny, D., Berkes, F., McCay, B. J., & Acheson, J. M. (1990). The tragedy of the commons: Twenty-two years later. Human Ecology, 18(1), 1–19.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Foster, J. B. (2011). Capitalism and the accumulation of catastrophe. Monthly Review, 63(7), 1–17.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Foster, J. B., Clark, B., & York, R. (2009). The Midas effect: A critique of climate change economics. Development and Change, 40, 1085–1097. doi:10.1111/j.1467-7660.2009.01613.x.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Frank, E., Eakin, H., & Lopez-Carr, D. (2011). Social identity, perception and motivation in adaptation to climate risk in the coffee sector of Chiapas Mexico. Global Environmental Change, 21(1), 66–76.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Freudenburg, W. R., & Muselli, V. (2010). Global warming estimates, media expectations, and the asymmetry of scientific challenge. Global Environmental Change, 20(3), 483–491.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Giddens, A. (2009). The politics of climate change. Cambridge: Polity Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Giordano, M. (2003). The geography of commons: The role of scale and space. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 93(2), 365–375.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hardin, G. (1968). The tragedy of the commons. Science, 162(3859), 1243–1248.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Harrison, K., & Sundstrom, L. (Eds.). (2010). Global commons, domestic decisions: The comparative politics of climate change. Cambridge: The MIT Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Henwood, K., Pidgeon, N. F., Sarre, S., Simmons, P., & Smith, N. (2008). Risk, framing and everyday life: Epistemological and methodological reflections from three socio-cultural projects. Health Risk and Society, 10(5), 421–438.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Herbert-Cheshire, L. (2000). Contemporary strategies for rural community development in Australia: A governmentality perspective. Journal of Rural Studies, 16(2), 203–215.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Heynen, N., McCarthy, J., Prudham, S., & Robbins, P. (Eds.). (2007). Neoliberal environments: False promises and unnatural consequences. New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Huber, M. (2009). Energizing historical materialism: Fossil fuels, space and the capitalist mode of production. Geoforum, 40(1), 105–115.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hulme, M. (2009). Why we disagree about climate change: Understanding controversy, inaction, and opportunity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Li, M. (2009). Capitalism, climate change and the transition to sustainability: Alternative scenarios for the US, China and the world. Development and Change, 40(6), 1039–1061.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Liu, J., Dietz, T., Carpenter, S. R., Alberti, M., Folke, C., Moran, E., et al. (2007). Complexity of coupled human and natural systems. Science, 317(5844), 1513–1516.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Liverman, D. (2009). Conventions of climate change: Constructions of danger and the dispossession of the atmosphere. Journal of Historical Geography, 35(2), 279–295.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lorenzoni, I., Nicholson-Cole, S., & Whitmarsh, L. (2007). Barriers perceived to engaging with climate change among the UK public and their policy implications. Global Environmental Change, 17(3–4), 445–459.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Mackinnon, D., & Derickson, K. (2013). From resilience to resourcefulness: A critique of resilience policy and activism. Progress in Human Geography, 37(2), 253–270.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Marx, K. (1976). Capital (Vol. 1). New York: Vintage.

    Google Scholar 

  • McCarthy, J. (2013). We have ever been ‘post-political’. Capitalism Nature Socialism, 24(1), 19–25.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • McCarthy, J., & Prudham, S. (2004). Neoliberal nature and the nature of neoliberalism. Geoforum, 35(3), 275–283.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • McKibben, B. (2012). Global warming’s terrifying new math.” Rolling Stone. July 19.

  • Meadowcroft, J. (2002). Politics and scale: Some implications for environmental governance. Landscape and Urban Planning, 61(2–4), 169–179.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Meadows, D. H., Meadows, D. L., Randers, J., & Behrens, W. W, I. I. I. (1972). The limits to growth: A report to the club of Rome. New York: New American Library.

    Google Scholar 

  • Newell, P., & Paterson, M. (2011). Climate Capitalism. In After Cancún (pp. 23–44). VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften.

  • Nordhaus, W., & Yang, Z. (1996). A regional dynamic general-equilibrium model of alternative climate-change strategies. The American Economic Review, 86(4), 741–765.

    Google Scholar 

  • O’Brien, K., & Leichenko, R. (2000). Double exposure: Assessing the impacts of climate change within the context of economic globalization. Global Environmental Change, 10(3), 221–234.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • O’Brien, K., & Leichenko, R. (2003). Winners and losers in the context of global change. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 93(1), 89–103.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • O’Connor, J. (1988). Capitalism, nature, socialism: A theoretical introduction. Capitalism Nature Socialism, 1(1), 11–38.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Okereke, C., Bulkeley, H., & Schroeder, H. (2009). Conceptualizing climate governance beyond the international regime. Global Environmental Politics, 9(1), 58–78.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Oreskes, N., & Conway, E. (2010). Merchants of doubt: How a handful of scientists obscured the truth on issues from tobacco smoke to global warming. New York: Bloomsbury Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ostrom, E. (1990). Governing the commons: The evolution of institutions for collective action. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Ostrom, E. (2009). Understanding institutional diversity. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Page, E. (1999). Intergenerational justice and climate change. Political Studies, 47(1), 53–66.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Parks, B., & Roberts, J. T. (2010). Climate change, social theory and justice. Theory, Culture, & Society, 27(2–3), 134–166.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Pidgeon, N. F., & Butler, C. (2009). Risk analysis and climate change. Environmental Politics, 18(5), 670–688.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Prudham, S. (2009). Pimping climate: A critique of Richard Branson’s entrepreneurial activism. Environment and Planning A, 41(7), 1594–1613.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Robertson, M. (2011). Measurement and alienation: Making a world of ecosystem services. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 37(3), 386–401.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Robertson, M. (2012). Renaturing the economy. In T. Barnes, J. Peck, & E. Sheppard (Eds.), The Wiley-Blackwell companion to economic geography (pp. 372–384). New York: Wiley-Blackwell.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  • Sayer, A. (2009). Geography and global warming: Can capitalism be greened? Area, 41(3), 350–353.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Shove, E. (2010). Social theory and climate change: Questions often, sometimes and not yet asked. Theory, Culture and Society, 27(2–3), 277–288.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • St. Martin, K. (2001). Making space for community resource management in fisheries. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 91(1), 122–142.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Swyngedouw, E. (2010). Apocalypse forever? post-political populism and the spectre of climate change. Theory, Culture & Society, 27(2–3), 213–232.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Turner, B. L., Kasperson, R. E., Matson, P. A., McCarthy, J. J., Corell, R. W., Christensen, L., et al. (2003). A framework for vulnerability analysis in sustainability science. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 100(14), 8074–8079.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Wainwright, J., & Mann, G. (2013). Climate leviathan. Antipode, 45(1), 1–22.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Walker, J., & Cooper, M. (2011). Genealogies of resilience: From systems ecology to the political economy of crisis adaptation. Security Dialogue, 41(2), 143–160.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Weber, C., & Peters, G. (2009). Climate change policy and international trade: Policy considerations in the US. Energy Policy, 37(2), 432–440.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Wrigley, E. A. (2010). Energy and the English industrial revolution. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Young, O. R. (1994). International governance: Protecting the environment in a stateless society. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to James McCarthy.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

McCarthy, J., Chen, C., López-Carr, D. et al. Socio-cultural dimensions of climate change: charting the terrain. GeoJournal 79, 665–675 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10708-014-9546-x

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10708-014-9546-x

Keywords

Navigation