Re-Imagining Relationships

Bianca Greeff, Graduate Assistant.

Climate change threatens everything about our social organization. But that shouldn’t immobilize us. Instead, Kari Norgaard, associate professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Oregon, encourages us to view climate change as an opportunity to re-envision our social, political, and economic systems.

Norgaard will show how climate change provides the opportunity to rethink our relationships to the human and other-than-human world at the GCSC Seminar Series on Tuesday, Jan. 9, 4-5 p.m. in 210 ASB.

In her seminar, Norgaard will discuss the phenomenon of socially organized denial. Norgaard suggests that it isn’t the lack of information that leads people to inaction, but rather the emotions that climate change invokes.

“Denial is a form of environmental privilege,” explained Norgaard. “People who have benefited more from the current system find it harder to grapple with the idea of very large system change and experience a lot of guilt, helplessness, fear of future and present.”

Norgaard suggests the normalization of climate change is an avoidance mechanism. While we can make daily changes in our lives to help reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere, individuals alone will not be able to slow or stop climate change. There is also an urgent need to rethink many larger aspects of our current systems—like reducing our use of fossil fuels or changing cultural norms of over-consumption.

In her seminar, Norgaard will bridge her work on the social organization of climate denial with her recent work with the Karuk Tribe. The Karuk are an indigenous community in Northern California and are highly mobilized around climate change. The biggest problem they face is the increasing forest fires. Climate change has been producing warmer, dryer conditions in the region—the ideal environment for larger, hotter, and more destructive wildfires. Future mega-fires threaten local ecosystems and cultural practices.

The Karuk have used controlled burns to manage wildfire threats and cultivate traditional plants for generations, but their use of fire has continually been suppressed by management agencies. Recently, wildfire research has begun showing the importance of controlled burns for fire risk management and indigenous practices. Thus, creating an opportunity for cultural and ecological revitalization.

Re-introducing controlled burns is one example of how climate change has created a new possibility for cooperation across worldviews and communities. By incorporating elements of Norgaard’s subtitle—imagination, responsibility, and community—we can start a discourse that inspires action and moves our society to become a more socially and ecologically equitable place.

The “imagination” in Norgaard’s subtitle is defined by the idea of the sociological imagination, which generates awareness between the individual experience and society. It shows how the society we live in shapes what we understand, what we don’t understand, and influences what we think is possible. Norgaard sees that we all have a “responsibility” to be engaged in the world. Feeling overwhelmed, hopeless, or guilty doesn’t mean we should give up or disengage from climate change action. Despite these feelings, we still have a responsibility to act. Closely related is Norgaard’s third term, “community”. No one can tackle climate change on their own. Rather, we need one another. We need to know how to work together and understand each other to create a community of action.

To learn more about the opportunities to re-imagine our relationships to one another and the natural world, attend Norgaard’s seminar, “Climate Change as Strategic Opportunity: Imagination, Responsibility, and Community” on Tuesday, Jan. 9, 4-5 pm in 210 ASB.

 

Cover Photo: “Wildfire” by NPS via flickr. Public Domain Mark 1.0.

 

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