What happens to our ways of thinking – our conceptual infrastructures – when our physical world changes in some unfamiliar way? This is one of the countless questions raised by climate change. Disruption is the simple answer, but what gets disrupted, how we adapt, and how our thinking does and doesn’t alter … these are more complex, varied, and interesting matters.
Here are stories about three such changes.
Consider the fascinating case of the line dividing Italy from Switzerland and Austria, which moves as Alpine glaciers shift and melt. How refugees are welcomed, which government collects taxes, whose regulations are in force: because such conditions differ from one side of that border to the other, melting ice has unexpected ramifications. To see some of these ripples, read “As the Climate Shifts A Border Moves” (Elza Bouhassira, Glacier Hub, 2020) and “Climate Change Is Shifting the Border Between Italy and Austria” (Livia Albeck-Ripka, Vice, 2016).
One conceptually rich result of this moving border was Italian Limes, a research-grounded art installation and website, and a subsequent book, A Moving Border: Alpine Cartographies of Climate Change. Limes, Bouhassira explains, is “a word used by the Romans to describe a nebulous, unfixed fringe zone on the edge of their territorial control.” That’s definitely not how we usually think of national borders today.
“How Climate Change Affects Cartography” (Laura Oliver, Atlas Obscura, 2017), a more general look at geographic changes, offers a variety of map-makers’ creative adaptations (both technical and conceptual) to melting ice, receding coastlines, damage from extreme weather, and so forth.
For a quite different story about the intersections between physical and cultural geography in a time of climate change, read “How Climate Change Could Throw Māori Culture Off-Balance” (Ashley Stumvoll, Mongabay, 2019). Here the issue is how habitat changes for a pair of culturally important plants might ripple-out in ways an outsider might not expect.
Finally, just for fun, watch this very short subtitled 2021 video from the Arctic circle town of Salla, Finland. It’s a clever “bid” to host the Summer Olympics in 2032, once the planet has warmed enough that the small town’s snow culture can give way to warm-weather sports. (This location – now often home to world cup competitions in speed skiing – would have many advantages: no heat stroke worries, no wondering whether to move the games by several months, no need to air-condition the outdoors. Makes one wonder.
This series is curated and written by retired Colorado State University English professor and close climate change watcher SueEllen Campbell of Colorado. To flag works you think warrant attention, send an e-mail to her any time. Let us hear from you.