May 11: Tipping Points: Climate Change, History and the North
The Wall Catalyst Emeriti cohort meet monthly to share research experience and engage with guest lecturers on the topic of the “Climate and Nature Emergency”. These lectures and panel sessions are hosted at the Institute and will be open to the public as well as available over Zoom in the months ahead.
In this talk, Langston explores tipping points, caribou/reindeer restoration, and the possibility of hope in the Anthropocene. In climate models, tipping points are critical thresholds that, if crossed, can lead to self-perpetuating, runaway warming in an ecosystem. Societies may contain social tipping points, where small changes in behavior can trigger—or possibly slow–runaway warming. Reindeer (which are the same species as caribou in North America) are critical partners in the effort to prevent runaway Arctic warming, because their browsing can reduce brushy shrubs, increasing albedo effects and cooling local climates. But now, across the Arctic, reindeer and caribou populations are crashing. They have retreated from roughly half their 19th century range, and their populations have dropped by 56% in the past decade. Restoring them across the north may be critical for resilience in a warming world. Langston examines the history of caribou/reindeer translocations across the global north as a controversial tool for a green transition. She argues that moving wildlife about the world has never been just about taking an individual or herd and putting is somewhere else. Rather, it has always involved questions of power, social relations, and visions of a desired future. Langston ultimately asks: what can we learn from the past to sustain our fellow creatures and ourselves in a warming, politically-fractured world?
Dr. Nancy Langston
Nancy Langston is a Distinguished Professor of Environmental History at Michigan Technological University. In 2021, she was awarded the Distinguished Scholar Award from the American Society for Environmental History, and she is the author of five books on climate history, Great Lakes history, forest and wetland history, and toxics history.
Her most recent book is Climate Ghosts: Migratory Species in the Anthropocene (Brandeis University Press), based on her 2019 Mandel Lectures in the Humanities at Brandeis University.