Science, Technology, and Society Seminar: STS Circle at Harvard


Monday, September 17, 2018, 12:15pm to 2:00pm


CGIS South Building, 1730 Cambridge Street, Room S050

"Multiple Carbons: Ontologies and Governance in the Climate Regime"


Stefan Schäfer, Post-Doctoral Fellow, Science, Technology and Society Program, Harvard Kennedy School; Scientific Project Lead, Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies, Potsdam.

Co-sponsored by the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Harvard University.


Shana Ashar


Sheila Jasanoff, Faculty Associate. Pforzheimer Professor of Science and Technology Studies, Harvard Kennedy School.

Lunch is provided if you RSVP via our online form by Thursday, September 10th.


This talk discusses how the scientifically, politically, economically and ethically complex phenomenon of a changing climate came to be represented and governed via a “single carbon”: carbon in its literally and figuratively atomized representation, a timeless and placeless universal element bound to two oxygen atoms to form a carbon dioxide molecule. Positioned as the Archimedean point from which to raise a global regime of scientific-political reason, CO2, the gaseous bearer of the single carbon, was assigned a Global Warming Potential of 1; all other greenhouse gases became “CO2 equivalents.” Individuals leave behind carbon footprints that can be neutralized through carbon offsets; carbon accounting allows investors to engage in carbon trading on carbon markets; countries are carbon emitters; forests are carbon sinks. This talk traces the coproduction of the single carbon and climate change governance through the history of the climate regime, from the adoption of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1992 via its extension in the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, the "failure" at Copenhagen in 2009, and the most recent adoption of the Paris Agreement in 2015. It places these developments next to pertinent writings in political theory, contrasting and complementing these accounts with a reading of coproductionist Science and Technology Studies—and in particular the concept of sociotechnical imaginaries—as a political theory that takes account of the politics of knowledge.


Stefan Schäfer is a Post-Doctoral Fellow in the Science, Technology and Society Program at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. He also leads a research group at the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) in Potsdam, Germany, and is an Associate Fellow at the Institute for Science, Innovation and Society at the University of Oxford. His research draws on approaches from Science and Technology Studies to examine questions at the intersection of science, technology, democracy and sustainability, with a focus on the global governance of climate change.