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Humboldtian Science, Creole Meteorology, and the Discovery of Human-Caused Climate Change in South America

Gregory T. Cushman
Osiris
Vol. 26, No. 1, Klima (2011), pp. 19-44
DOI: 10.1086/661263
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/661263
Page Count: 26
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Humboldtian Science, Creole Meteorology, and the Discovery of Human-Caused Climate Change in South America
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Abstract

AbstractThe belief that human land use is capable of causing large-scale climatic change lies at the root of modern conservation thought and policy. The origins and popularization of this belief were deeply politicized. Alexander von Humboldt’s treatment of the Lake Valencia basin in Venezuela and the desert coast of Peru as natural laboratories for observing the interaction between geophysical and cultural forces was central to this discovery, as was Humboldt’s belief that European colonialism was especially destructive to the land. Humboldt’s overt cultivation of disciples was critical to building the prestige of this discovery and popularizing the Humboldtian scientific program, which depended fundamentally on local observers, but willfully marginalized chorographic knowledge systems. In creating new, global forms of environmental understanding, Humboldtian science also generated new forms of ignorance.

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