Online Seminar

Governing Climate in the U.S.: An Historical Sociology

By Dr Zeke Baker, online, 24 April 2023, 08:00 PDT (UTC-7)

ICHM Annual Seminar Series

Join us for the next seminar in our 2022-23 series, when the environmental sociologist, Dr Zeke Baker (Sonoma State University) will be speaking about his research on the history of climate governance in the US.

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This talk explores how history, society, and the environment have shaped meteorology and climate science over the long term, with a focus on the United States from the 1780s until the present. The central argument is that climate expertise developed through three periods characterized by distinct logics within which science related to climate patterns and to problems of government in that period. Within the first logic, climate expertise from the late-eighteenth to mid-nineteenth centuries treated climate as domain between human bodies and the atmosphere. As such, climate expertise centered strongly on medical analysis and moral discipline. In the second, roughly from the mid-nineteenth to early-twentieth centuries, climate was given voice by the new field of climatology and understood as a geographic-statistical “stable” (or, unchanging) entity tied to the rational administration of industrial capitalism. Within the third logic, beginning in the mid-twentieth century, science and government came to regard climate as a fundamentally global and radically unstable system, but one that might be predicted and governed in terms of risk to national and global security. This historical narrative raises new questions for the history of meteorology while also indicating plausible trajectories for expertise regarding efforts to govern climate crisis today. Through analysis of the more recent history of “climate security” expertise, I argue climate science could end up facilitating the unequal distribution of power and resources.


Zeke Baker is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Sonoma State University in California. Dr. Baker uses historical-comparative and qualitative social research methods to explore how climate science relates to power in society. He is presently completing a solo book project, called Governing Climate: History, Power and the Struggle over the Future, along with a co-edited volume, Climate, Science, and Society: A Primer. Recent work has appeared in Weather, Climate & Society, Environmental Sociology, and British Journal of Sociology.