Climate, Technology, and Society

Reinhold Martin

This new course will introduce key questions, concepts, and strategies for thinking about how technology and society meet within the ongoing climate crisis. Open to students of the built environment at all levels, as well as to all others, the course will be run as a seminar with weekly mini-lectures, the focus of which will be on the “change” in climate change. Topics will include histories and theories of anthropogenic environmental change, the political economy of fossil capitalism; biopower, race, and climate; the unevenly distributed effects of planetary warming, climate migrations, and the dialectics of decarbonization and adaptation. Historical and contemporary examples from architecture, urbanism, landscape, and civil engineering will furnish case studies for analysis and critique. Examining technological, social, and metabolic processes at all scales, students will encounter ways of thinking and acting historically in unprecedented times, with material drawn—like the Earth’s atmosphere—from around the planet.

In particular, the course will consider the mediating role of technology and technological systems, from building systems to infrastructure, in both contributing to and addressing planetary warming and its unequal effects, including the formation and isolation of “front line” or “fence line” communities. We will also consider a wider context: for example, the role played by the techniques and infrastructures of finance capital, such as risk management, in planning for and exploiting environmental effects such as drought, sea level rise, desertification, and wildfires. We will read the work of prominent public intellectuals responding to these processes, as well as selections from the technical literature accessible to non-specialists, alongside accounts from activists and members of affected communities. Combining the insights of science and technology studies, media studies, and environmental history, we will consider situations—South and North—where the technopolitics of climate change is especially apparent. Overall, the goal will be to introduce students to the scope and scale of societal transformation associated with climate change, by providing critical tools for understanding technological processes as social processes, and vice versa.