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Scenarios of Collapse: Climate Change Denial and the Responsibility of Science

2017-01-13 @ 17:15 - 19:00

As a postscript to our “Surviving the Anthropocene” Fall lecture series here at the University of Zurich, we are pleased to announce that Naomi Oreskes, Nicolas Gruber, and Christoph Kueffer will be addressing Scenarios of Collapse: Climate Change Denial and the Responsibility of Science. Our aim is to explore these subjects from the perspective of history, science, and society.

Abstract: Climate change is a fact. And yet, despite the overwhelming scientific evidence, science is facing a strong politically motivated opposition that tries to cast doubt on that evidence. Our guest Naomi Oreskes plays a leading role in the study of the political and rhetorical mechanisms that drive climate change denial, not only through her excellent academic work but also as renowned public advocate for climate action. In our conversation with Dr Oreskes, we will discuss the role of science in the conflict with climate change denialism. Questions like the following will be addressed: How should scientists confront pseudo-scientific statements? How should scientists react when confronted with so-called “facsimile science”? How can trust in science be re-established? Do scientists have a social responsibility that goes beyond the production and communication of scientific knowledge? What role can and should the humanities play in this regard?


Naomi Oreskes is Professor of the History of Science and Affiliated Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Harvard University. Her areas of Research are history of environmental sciences, science policy, philosophy of science, science and religion, technology and society, and women and gender studies. Her 2004 Science article about the scientific consensus on climate change has over a thousand citations and gained wide attention far beyond the scientific community. Her 2010 book Merchants of Doubt, How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco to Global warming, that she co-authored with Erik Conway, provides a comprehensive and careful historical analysis of the mechanisms underlying different forms of anti-scientific denialisms. It was shortlisted for the Los Angeles Time Book Prize, and received the 2011 Watson-Davis Prize from the History of Science Society. It was also released as a documentary film in 2014. In her recent book The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future (also with Erik Conway), she presents a brilliant piece of fact-based fiction that draws attention to the potential consequences of a failure to fight climate change effectively.


Nicolas Gruber is professor for Environmental Physics at the Department of Environmental Sciences at ETH Zurich. After his Matura in 1989, he was among the first students to enter the new Environmental Sciences degree program at ETH Zurich. After completing his PhD studies at the University of Berne, he worked for three years as a postdoctoral researcher at Princeton University. In 2000, he joined the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences and the Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics at the University of California, Los Angeles. Dr Gruber’s research focuses on the study of biogeochemical cycles on regional to global scales and on timescales from months to millennia, with a particular focus on the interaction of these cycles with Earth’s climate system.


Christoph Kueffer is Professor for Urban Ecology at the Department of Landscape Architecture of the University of Applied Sciences Eastern Switzerland and senior lecturer (Privatdozent) at ETH Zurich. He studied Environmental Sciences at ETH Zurich, and completed his PhD in plant ecology and habilitation in plant and global change ecology at the same university. He has long experience in collaborating with social scientists, scholars from the humanities and artists; amongst others as a fellow at the Collegium Helveticum and the Center for Interdisciplinary Research (ZiF) at Bielefeld University, and as a co-chair of Environmental Humanities Switzerland. Dr Kueffer’s research focuses on urban ecology, biodiversity conservation in novel and human-dominated ecosystems, and global change impacts on island and mountain ecosystems.

We are grateful to Karim Bschir at Branco Weiss Society in Society together with Environmental Humanities Switzerland for helping organize this event. As seating will be limited, we request that you register for this program at: