Climate change and museums in France, by Marine Soichot

29 06 2009

I am a PhD student in museum studies at the national Natural History Museum in Paris (France) and my work is on how science museums and science centres can be a place to display climate change.  Bridget asked me for a short presentation of my work for this blog. After a long first draft, I split it into three smaller posts. Here is the first one, a short description of the climate change problem in the French context.

Although the scientific label of climate change is powerful, stakes in this problem largely overrun the traditional academic research field. There are many political, economical and social implications. The problem is all the more impregnating in all fields of society as the focus is on carbon and energy. Climate change has become a subject of public debate and authority interventions and now a full public problem as called by political science. A multiplicity of actors – scientists, politicians, think tanks, companies, journalists and media, NGOs etc. – takes part in the public debate and build together what we call climate change.  The final construction is different depending on who participates in it and on how they participate.

Climate change was first introduced in the scientific and diplomatic sphere (first international discussion in the late 1970 and creation of the IPCC in 1988). Then the problem was developed at a national scale. In France, different actors converged. There was no strong opposition to climate change such as the skeptic movement in the US. Climate change was early recognized as a true problem by scientists, media, politicians and NGO (that is not to mean that there was an early political action to deal with it). In a simplistic way, the following points structure main discourses about climate change in France:

  • We observed a rise of average temperature over several decades. This increase is caused by human activities and first of all by fossil fuel consumption. Indeed, more and more green house gases are released making the atmosphere warmer and warmer.
  • This rise of temperature will cause climate modifications whose consequences are various: sea level rising, ice melting, species extinction and biodiversity loss, storms and flooding.
  • It will affect human society in many ways. It is an emergency. We have to act now and cut off our green house gas emissions at any level.
  • Everybody has a share of responsibility in this problem and has to act at his own level. We all have to change our way of life and become an eco-citizens.

Climate change is also strongly linked with sustainable development and the idea of a new green way of life. It is becoming a cause without opponent such as road safety or genetic diseases.  That is not to say there are no oppositions or controversies but they are limited in specific fields and given low publicity in the public sphere. This situation is quite different from the way climate change was developed in other countries. Indeed, a public problem is different in each country because of the history and the culture.

Marine Soichot


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