Climate Change Adaptation through the Feminist Kaleidoscope

Climate Change Adaptation through the Feminist Kaleidoscope -- Toward a Feminist Philosophy of Climate Science

Principal investigator: Prof. Dr. Julie Jebeile

Over the last century, Earth’s climate has warmed significantly due to anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. For several decades, climate science has provided the necessary insight to both understand the past and present climate, and to project future climate impacts. Today, a major remaining challenge is to provide adaptation information at fine geographical scales that addresses the diversity of concerns, needs and values of stakeholders. In order to enable civil society, policy-makers, and the private sector to design adaptation strategies, the predominant methodology in climate science is to derive local projections from high-resolution regional climate models. However, there is a so-called usability gap between the projections climate models yield, and what stakeholders need to know for climate change adaption. This raises intertwined epistemic and ethical issues, insofar as climate change increases social inequalities and injustices. To overcome the gap, there is a flourishing area of climate science known as climate services, which seeks to carry out practices of information distillation.

The philosophy of climate science has mainly focused on the adequacy of the climate models employed for the purpose of providing reliable information to decision-makers. Only recently has attention been paid to the regional climate models and associated climate services. Yet an adapted philosophical approach is required to tackle the intertwined epistemic and ethical dimensions of the usability gap. This is what feminist epistemologies can offer. They study how power imbalances, mirrored within science in the underrepresentation of marginalised groups, shape knowledge production. Moreover, for knowledge to support social justice, they put forward normative recommendations regarding the aims scientific theories and models should pursue, and the ways the scientific community should operate to guarantee sufficient critical reflexivity and diversity of points of view.

The project aims to employ the recommendations from feminist epistemologies in order to investigate how adaptation information can meet the needs of stakeholders in a reliable but also a fair way. It explores four avenues. First, the values of stakeholders should be taken into account in climate services. We will study how this can be done while maintaining scientific objectivity, and explore the procedural account of objectivity developed by feminist empiricist Helen Longino, and the concept of strong objectivity developed by standpoint theorist Sandra Harding (part A). Second, whereas stakeholders have different kinds of concerns, being environmental, ecosystemic or socioeconomic, the predominant methodology tends to locate the physical climate at the heart of the modelling process. We will study how the plural development of alternative modelling strategies can enrich perspectives on climate change (part B). Third, stakeholders encompass cultural groups with distinct knowledge systems. We will explore how Indigenous and local knowledge can provide usable adaptation information (part C). Fourth, taking into account a plurality of values, modelling strategies, and knowledges (parts A, B, C) requires that in the practice of science one gives due credit to the underrepresented communities and populations. We will study the attempts to overcome epistemic injustice — a term coined by feminist epistemologist Miranda Fricker — which, in the context of climate science, might well be a form of climate injustice (part D).




The Project is funded by Swiss National Science Foundation, SNSF professorships