History and Philosophy of Science Research Seminar: ‘Earth System Science in Political Context’

Part of the History and Philosophy of Science Research Seminar series

Speaker: Professor Ursula Klein (Max Planck Institute, Berlin)

Abstract: Earth System science (ESS) provides the major scientific background in the current debate about the Anthropocene. ESS practitioners study the Earth as a single, integrated system. They highlight systems thinking as the best way to achieve insight into large-scale planetary processes such as the global climate, the dynamics of the biosphere, and the planetary impact of the anthroposphere/technosphere.

ESS was institutionalised in the 1980s through a number of initiatives on national levels, mainly in the U.S, and by founding new international organisations such as the World Climate Research Programme and the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme. Such kinds of international organisations have encouraged ESS practitioners to elaborate mixed politico-scientific declarations and publications which address the broader scientific community as well as policy makers.

Politico-scientific publications are now the main vehicle that allows ESS practitioners to reflect about and articulate their overall understanding of the Earth System beyond the technicalities of modelling.

My talk will address epistemological consequences of this constellation. It will also show that ESS practitioners’ overall understanding of the Earth System has undergone significant, but largely silent, changes during the last four decades. 

For an introduction to Earth System Science, see Steffen et al. ’The Emergence and Evolution of Earth System Science’.

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