Weather in the Anthropocene: Extreme Event Attribution and a Modelled Nature-Culture Divide

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Abstract

Using a new modelling methodology known as “extreme event attribution”, or EEA, climate scientists can now connect extreme weather to anthropogenic forcings. This paper seeks to uncover the significance of extreme event attribution for the epistemology of climate change, nature, and culture in the Anthropocene. First, we examine how EEA is emblematic of a larger turn in climate modelling, one that seeks to deploy anthropogenic climate change as an explanatory tool for an increasing number of socio-natural phenomena. While some theorists have argued that the Anthropocene heralds the end of the nature-culture divide, we argue that EEA and similar modelling technologies seek to separate human influence from the natural variability of weather, thus establishing a new form of nature-culture divide mediated by computer simulation: a divide which we call “partitioned causality”. Secondly, we demonstrate that partitioned causality is enabled by the relative hegemony of modelling technologies in climate change knowledge, as scientists retain substantial influence over who gets to “speak for” climate impacts. Finally, however, interviews with EEA scientists, journalists, and policymakers on the 2011-2017 California drought reveals that extreme event attribution remains a nascent scientific framework, one marked by epistemic slippage and divergent results. Thus, it serves as a powerful example of how emergent attempts to “domesticate” climate often become caught up in sociopolitical conflicts around who – or what – has the power to shape discourses of climate change in the Anthropocene.

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
JournalTransactions of the Institute of British Geographers
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 18 Apr 2020