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Transcending place boundedness

This article examines how science and technology enables climatic knowledge to transcend its place-bound origins.

When climatic knowledge transcends its place-bound origins, local climate knowledge turns into global climate knowledge. This is possible because of the new social technologies which emerged through imperial patronage.

The 19th century heralded new social technologies such as the North American railroad and national newspapers. With this, humans discovered new methods to connect things across scales – we have begun to comprehend distance and space differently. This expansion in technology heavily impacted the science of climatology. We see this from how scientists began to assert that atmospheric and oceanic phenomena could be connected on larger scales. With this, our conception of climate expanded from local to global.

We see how empires and colonies first become more interlinked through technologies that enabled trans-global mobility and communication. As these disparate places became more connected materially, so did the conception of climate transform into a globally interconnected idea. For example, as the Habsburg Empire extended its territories, it also found a need to understand the diverse landscapes and climates of different regions under its control. Hence, scientists under the Habsburg pioneered new cartographical devices to study and investigate these different atmospheres.

Although we have noted that our understanding of climate as global stemmed from European imperialism, it is ironic that much of this new climatic knowledge that has been gathered actually comes from local projects. For example, Sir Gilbert Walker was stationed in India under the British Empire between 1903 and 1920. Utilizing the connections of the British Empire, Walker had access to an expanse of climatic data which allowed him to be the first person that made statistical linkages between climatic fluctuations on a quasi-global scale.

Therefore, our main takeaway is that science and technology has enabled humans to create climatic knowledge that transcends the limitations of its place boundedness. However, it is important to note that what we often view as global climatic knowledge actually stems from local and regional projects.

© Adam Smith Center, Singapore
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Environmental Ethics

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