The Senses of Climate Change: The Politics of Belonging in the Age of the Climate Crisis
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This dissertation examines the challenges to belonging, attachment and identity created by the current climate crisis. It looks at how the alterations in the climate’s patterns and peoples’ expectations of them (e.g. seasonal temperatures, weather, and storm intensity and frequency) are creating practical, cultural and affective disruptions. It focuses on how the material and affective dimensions of climate change are destabilizing our sense of place, attachment to place, and ultimately a mode of belonging that I call “place-belonging.” The first chapter establishes the deep connection with place by contrasting the symbolic understanding of land in nationalist discourse and literature with an affective, sensorial attachment illustrated by our visceral response to landscape and abstract art. The second chapter argues that we must supplement the notion of territory with that of place-belonging. Unlike national or civic belonging, both of which rely on formal, abstract territorial frames, place-belonging puts the emphasis on more personal engagements with surroundings: familiarity, bodily imbrication and solace. Climate and the rhythms it establishes in our lives are the themes of the third chapter. Looking at both the violence of altered storm activity and the more subtle shifts in seasons and weather, I argue that climate change is causing a kind of homesickness, unease and anxiety. The final chapter gives special attention to the impact of climate change in the Arctic and small island states, two regions experiencing the phenomenon at a faster pace than the rest of the planet. Residents in these places are acutely aware of the threat that climate change poses to their homes and sense of belonging and self-consciously articulate their plight as the “canary in the coal mine” cautionary tale to the rest of the world. The dissertation concludes that the impact climate change is having on a sense of belonging is an important, but underappreciated, facet of the climate crisis. Taking this facet seriously will not only alert us to the broad stakes of the crisis, but also to the reality that it is not a disaster to come, but rather one that we are living and experiencing already.