Ella Goldblum

Three Yale scholars discussed the threats of climate change and explained how their humanities fields are researching the impending global crisis at a panel at the Whitney Humanities Center on Wednesday.

Abigail Fields GRD ’24, the event organizer and graduate coordinator of Yale’s Graduate Certificate in the Environmental Humanities, introduced the panel members, who discussed the conceptual underlying issues of climate change to a crowd of around 50. The three featured scholars included English professor Michael Warner, Sarah Pickman GRD ’21 and associate professor of the history of Science Bill Rankin. Each scholar chose a keyword — “infrastructure,” “extremity” and “temporality” respectively — to frame their talk.

“We’re at a really critical time in relation to our environment,” Fields said. “And in relation to how we as humans and we as societies interact with the larger concepts of climate change and nature.”

Warner discussed the relationship between infrastructure and climate change.

He said that while the public is generally unaware of the realities of development, it is an important topic for environmental scholarship because “it conditions everyone’s relationship to resources” and defines how humans view the natural world.

“I really liked some of the phrases that came out of the talk on infrastructure,” Mikaela Bradbury, a graduate student in the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and the School of Management. “This notion of the invisible that’s driving everything we’re doing.”

In speaking about the keyword “extremity,” Pickman emphasized that human definitions of extreme environmental conditions are changing as climate catastrophe intensifies. She also said that past American and British ventures in places with extreme climates demonstrate how environmental issues impacted colonialism.

Finally, Rankin also historicized climate change through the lens of “temporality” and the passage of time. He said the pace of climate change is critical to his scholarship because it is too fast for humans to adapt yet too slow to notice or formulate an adequate political response. Rankin compared climate change to the classic “boiling frog” dilemma, in which a frog will not notice he is dying if he is slowly boiled.

Fields said the Yale Environmental Humanities program is essential because “we as humanists are really turning to ways that we can also talk about the environment” with a perspective that differs from those of scientists. Though such scientists from a variety of fields are working on climate issues, the work is “not really penetrating into the deeper consciousness,” Fields said. She added that humanities scholars can play a key role in filling in knowledge gaps on climate change.

“It really scratched an itch I was having,” Bradbury said of the panel, which was followed by a question and answer session as well as a reception.

The panel took place in Room 208 of the Whitney Humanities Center.


Ella Goldblum | ella.goldblum@yale.edu