22 Feb 2023
 | 22 Feb 2023
Status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal HGSS.

The role of history in and for climate science – Social context and oral accounts

Hans von Storch

Abstract. The history of ideas is a key ingredient for understanding the knowledge generated and maintained by any science. In the case of western climate science this history is long has undergone various significant changes – beginning with climatic determinism, to physics of the atmosphere and oceans to a determinant of climate policies in recent times. These ideas went along with significant societal perceptions of climate, of ”us” and ”them”, and using climate change as a tool to govern people.

As a natural science field, also climate science invests relatively little on the history of ideas, forgetting significant past personalities as well as past falsified concepts. In order to keep history alive, to ”put people behind the science”, in option is to resort to the old method of ”oral history”, to interview contemporary personalities about what happened, but also how they, and their social milieu, perceived the dynamics and role of climate. To do so, the author has archived many interviews with both matured climate scientists at the end of their career, but also with younger scholars.

Hans von Storch

Status: open (extended)

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Hans von Storch

Hans von Storch


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Short summary
Climate science underwent a rapid expansion in the last decades, associated with ever growing significance for climate policy. On the other hand, climate science is, as all sciences, also a social process. Confronted with these developments, several different series of oral interviews with climate scholars, of different seniority, were done and archived. The present article gives an overview of these interviews, and tries to briefly describe the social context of climate science.