I have drafted a quick activity to get input that extends this multi-party conversation from 2000 about “How do we know there is a population-environment problem?” to bring in the following additional 3 discussants:
Novelo–Novelist concerned that climate change has been omitted from most literature
Futuro–Sci Fi writer concerned with gender and race as well as the usual fantasizing about scientific and technological developments
Litero–Interpreter of literature who is prepared to branch out from fictional literature to all discourses about knowledge.
I welcome comments on this blog post so as to a) glean ideas to weave into a Part 2 of this multi-party exchange and b) begin to address the issue Activo points to at the end: what are the “conditions make interactions among people from different fields as open as our were today”? (This activity relates to Project 2 in a course on gender, race, science, and literature.)
[From the end of the 2000 version]
Activo: I can see another angle on the question of why Ecolo and Philoso want to focus on scientific analysis. Reso has identified weaknesses, conceptually and in terms of evidence, of simple models in which population growth leads to environmental degradation. And I hinted at the undesired consequences of policy that invokes those models. Suppose some scientists who had used simple models heard these critiques and found them plausible. They might then decide to investigate the differentiated relationships among population, social organization, technology, and environment. However, the resources they would need would be complex and varied, like the socio-environmental situations they would study. Even though Reso and I know this, we might focus on our critique of the science and leave it up to the scientists to rework their particular tools, collaborations, models, funding, and so on.
Reso: So when we separate analysis of how science is made from analyses of environment or society could be made, we might have made one of my kind of in-between propositions.
Sociolo: I understand, but it’s hard for me to accept this. I feel that the more comprehensive my account of the science, the more helpful it will be to scientists attempting to modify the direction of their work. But I realize this is inconsistent with my position that the actual state of the world is insufficient to account for what becomes established as knowledge of the world.
Reso: Don’t get too upset, Sociolo, about this inconsistency. Helping scientists understand the complexity of the situation that enables their work may be no guarantee that they’ll be able to effectively reshape that situation. But who needs guarantees? Wouldn’t it be interesting and revealing if scientists could think systematically about the situatedness of their research at the same time as they probed complex ecological and social situations?
Activo: How would you do that?
Sociolo: That’s a challenge I need to think more about.
Reso: It seems that each of us has identified questions we need to work more on.
Sociolo: And we’ve had questions opened up by interaction with each other.
Philoso: That’s what our host claimed would happen when he invited us to meet, but I’m not sure that this is typical.
Sociolo: And I’m not sure that others reading what we’ve said would decide to take up these different questions.
Activo: So we’ll have to ask our host to think about which conditions make interactions among people from different fields as open as ours were today.
[New material from 2017]
[The doors burst open and three characters fall in. They had obviously been leaning against the door eavesdropping. They pick themselves up and move toward the circle.]
Futuro: Finally we’re allowed in!
Ecolo: We didn’t know you were trying to get in.
Litero: Sure [said with sarcasm]
Futuro: Yeah, sure [also said with sarcasm]. I know that you science geeks–and I include all of you under that label: after all, each of you places a high importance on developing coherent accounts of the reality you observe–I know enough of you read my books for me to make a living. So you knew we had something to say.
Novelo: Don’t give them quite so hard a time Futuro. After all, there’s a lot of science to get absorbed by. AND, as Ghosh claims, novelists ourselves haven’t done so well yet in taking up the challenge “posed by the climate crisis… of imagin[ing] other forms of human existence.”
Litero: Novelo, are you interpreting their discussion about population-environment problems to be an allegory about the wider realm of climate change problems?
Novelo: I could well be.
Futuro: Anyway, if we’d been let in 17 years ago, I wouldn’t have lost 17 years of making a “significant distortion of the present” (as Samuel Delaney said in 1984 of Sci Fi) to draw attention to such problems.
Activo: I don’t really think you have been doing nothing, just waiting around while scientists resolve the science, right?
Philoso: Whatever–we’re happy to listen to you all talk for a while.