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‘Climate Does Not Change’: Agricultural Capitalism, Climatology, and the Stabilization of Climate, 1850s-1900

Fri, August 31, 9:00 to 10:30am, ICC, E5.3


The present paper provides an account of trajectories in climatology, roughly from the 1850s to 1900, the period during which climatology emerged as an organized branch of meteorology and related sciences. The historical narrative traces the development of climatology both as a professional/institutional project and as components of a larger governmental logic. In particular, through textual analysis of climatologists’ reports, books, maps, and professional organization, the paper provides a sociological explanation for the emergent ‘stabilization’ of climate as a geographic-statistical category. The central argument is that climatic stability, or the view that climate was unchanging and legible upon clearly demarcated spatial units, was advanced in a way that linked the interests and material practices of climatologists with the broader administration of commercial agriculture, trade and finance. I situate the significance of developments in climate ‘stabilization’ over the 1850-1900 period with reference to prior efforts to govern climate through its changes. The chapter concludes by placing climatology and industrial governmentality within a broader genealogy of ‘climate stabilization’, one which continues to develop today through dominant approaches to climate policy and within geoengineering research.