Editor's note: This is the latest in a series of stories about how climate changed and is changing our world -- spiritually, physically -- as a result. Find more climate change coverage here.
The risks of CO2 capture, solar geoengineering, nuclear fusion, diet modification, and other proposed solutions to climate change concern Mike Hulme, professor at Cambridge University in England, one of the featured speakers at the Nobel Conference at Gustavus Adolphus College in September 2019.
“Climate change is not a problem like mercury pollution or asbestos in buildings. It is rather a symptom of the expansion of human numbers, technologies and material transformations that have occurred over the past two centuries,” Hulme said. “Just as humanity has irrevocably embedded itself in the physical workings of the planet, transformed the land and ocean, our own and other people’s bodies, and those of non-human species, so too, we are now transforming the climate.”
Climate change is a more complex problem than many of the issues faced by scientists and other researchers in the past, according to Hulme. It is likely too large a concern to be remedied by a single new technology or procedure.
“We need to remember that technologies do not merely solve problems, they are also generative of new worlds in ways that are usually unpredicted and unpredictable,” Hulme said. “Technologies are world-changing in their own right. The coal fired steam engine or the internal combustion engine seemed like pretty good ideas at the time.”
He referred to climate change as a “wicked problem,” meaning that it cannot be precisely defined and offers no clear solution. Such problems are insoluble because the solution to one aspect of the problem could reveal or create other more complex problems which require additional research and further solutions.
A broad approach
Because of this, Hulme believes that “we should use the realities of climate change to think and act more profoundly and carefully about what it is to be human, about the nature and quality of our relationships with the material world and about the goals of our political life together.”
The complex nature of climate change and the polarizing effects it has had on society and politics cause Hulme to propose a broader view of how to handle the issue.
“For many traditional societies, their material, social and ethical worlds are deeply interdependent, a state of existence we might describe as a moral ecology,” Hulme said. “Disturb any one element of these relational webs and the other elements feel the disturbance.”
With this view in mind, Hulme suggests that the solution to climate change “is not merely some technical or engineering maneuver or intervention that is needed to redeem or restore the climate. It demands a reordering of everything, of all human, social, material and spiritual relations.”