Letter: Climate change is as much a cultural and political problem as it is technical


To The Lafayette,

I had a different interpretation of a recent talk by author Amitav Ghosh than the one summarized in “Acclaimed author claims humanity cannot stop climate change.” My understanding of Ghosh’s point was that until we reckon with the deeper imperial and colonial underpinnings of global energy systems, we won’t truly be able to tackle climate change. Rather than suggesting that humanity cannot stop it, that is, I heard the speaker arguing that presenting data more effectively or simply developing new energy technologies would not address the deeper cultural patterns that need to be confronted, such as colonial practices (which are not new) and hyper-consumer-based economic models.

Of course we also need stronger communication and better energy technologies. It’s not either/or. But to focus on those alone would be insufficient and perhaps misleading. Ghosh expands that view in his book, “The Great Derangement,” showing that we lack cultural narratives to deal with the kinds of environmental and cultural transformations wrought by climate change.

We moderns need to confront not just our carbon compulsion but our inability to reckon with the institutions that produced this problem in the first place. Nobody but humanity, starting with everyone at Lafayette, can do that.

Benjamin Cohen is a professor engineering studies and environmental studies.