Knowledge Politics

Climate science politics and policy: USA

My earliest work involved multi-sited ethnographic exploration of the variety of scientists and their scientific sub-communities engaged in U.S. science politics around global warming, including “mainstream”, “skeptical mainstream” and staunchly “contrarian” scientists advancing contending interpretations of whether climate change is anthropogenic and what policies it calls for, if any. It identified differences in worldviews that structure their conflicting interpretations of climate science and policy needs and traced prominent divergences to worldviews partly structured by differences in historical experiences and scientific subcultures [14-16], some of which has transnational and global dimensions [17]. My most recent article discusses how norms, needs, and power in global environmental science and coordinating global institutions obstruct transformations towards sustainability [7].

(Geo)politics of environmental science and policy: Brazil

Expanding my US-focused research to Brazil and to a broader range of sustainability issues at the postdoctoral level, I studied the dynamics of environmental science, policy and politics in Brazil, including in the Brazilian Amazon, as well as geopolitical aspects and international environmental science and policy arenas [10, 17-27]. My research in Brazil helps fill the Global South knowledge gap in comparative environmental politics research and to identify North-/US-centric assumptions in current scholarship. Examples are assumptions about what constitutes (1) proper and strategic framings of climate change and weather-inflected disasters [28, 29], and (2) expressions of anti-environmentalism [30]. Earlier work has shed critical light on concepts such as “epistemic communities” and presumed shared norms and factual knowledge by revealing distrust among Brazilian scientists and decisionmakers of what they perceive as power and domination effected through science and multilateral environmental policy forums.


Anti-environmentalism is a formidable force obstructing transformations towards sustainability. My writings analyze anti-environmentalism, with central attention to knowledge politics and issues of culture and power, including vested interests’ disproportionate power over public understandings of climate realities [31]; the impacts of anti-environmentalism on how mainstream environmental natural scientists and social scientists research, discuss, and frame climate change [7, 14, 16, 17]; and call for critical reflection and reflexivity among scientists and scholars in their understanding and communication of climate change impacts and responses. I argue that perpetuating idealized understandings of science and tendencies to marginalize critical investigations of practices within the scientific mainstream inadvertently may increase rather than avert public support of anti-environmental backlash campaigns [7, 32]. I also suggest that efforts to protect mainstream science from anti-environmentalists’ attacks sometimes serve as a convenient shield against critical questions and vital discussions about what research should be prioritized to enhance its relevance to society and transformations towards sustainability [7].

In forthcoming work, I explore the particularities of how anti-environmentalism expresses itself in Brazil and in the United States (among other rich, Northern countries), inflected by different historical, cultural, (geo)political factors, and how Northern-dominated scholarship on climate skepticism therefore has tended to be blind to its manifestations in Brazil. I argue that the Brazilian variant of climate skepticism centers on science and policy proposals that challenge beef production, using analysis of media coverage of climate change to expose a deep taboo on the topic in national media communications on climate change [19].



1.           Lahsen, M., Seductive simulations? Uncertainty distribution around climate models. Social Studies of Science, 2005. 35(6): p. 895-922. Link

2.           Lahsen, M., Experiences of Modernity in the Greenhouse: A Cultural Analysis of a Physicist “Trio” Supporting the Conservative Backlash Against Global Warming. Global Environmental Change, 2008. 18(1): p. 204-19.

3.           Lahsen, M., Anatomy of Dissent: A Cultural Analysis of Climate Skepticism. American Behavioral Scientist, 2013. 57(6): p. 732-753.

4.           Lahsen, M., Digging Deeper into the Why: Cultural Dimensions of Climate Change Skepitcism Among Scientists. Climate Cultures: Anthropological Perspectives on Climate Change. Yale University Press, New Haven, 2015: p. 221-248.

5.           Lahsen, M. and E. Turnhout, How Norms, Needs, and Power in Science Obstruct Transformations Towards Sustainability. Environmental Research Letters, 2021. 16(2): p. 025008.

6.           Lahsen, M., Brazilian Epistemers’ Multiple Epistemes: An Exploration of Shared Meaning, Diverse Identities, and Geopolitics, in Global Change Science. 2002: Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs (BCSIA) Discussion Paper 2002-16, Environment and Natural Resources Program, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. 

7.           Lahsen, M., Transnational locals: Brazilian experiences of the climate regime, in Earthly Politics, Worldly Knowledge: Local and global in environmental politics, S. Jasanoff and M. Long Martello, Editors. 2004, MIT Press: Cambridge, MA. p. 151-72.

8.           Lahsen, M. and G. Oberg, The role of unstated mistrust and disparities in scientific capacity – Examples from Brazil. 2006. Report published by The Swedish Institute for Climate Science and Policy Research, Linköbing University, Sweden. CSPR report series.

9.           Lahsen, M., Large-Scale Biosphere-Atmosphere Experiment in Amazonia, S. Draggan, Editor. 2008:

10.         Lahsen, M. and C.A. Nobre, The challenge of connecting international science and local level sustainability: The case of the LBA. Environmental Science and Policy, 2007. 10(1): p. 62-74.

11.         Lahsen, M., Knowledge, Democracy and Uneven Playing Fields: Insights from Climate Politics in – and between – the U.S. and Brazil, in Knowledge and Democracy: A 21st-Century Perspective, N. Stehr, Editor. 2008, Transaction Publishers: London. p. 163-181.

12.         Nobre, C., M. Lahsen, and J. Ometto, Global environmental change research: Empowering developing countries. Annals of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences, 2008. 80(2): p. 1-7.

13.         Lahsen, M., A science-policy interface in the global south: the politics of carbon sinks and science in Brazil. Climatic Change, 2009. 97(3-4): p. 339-372.

14.         Lahsen, M., The social status of climate change knowledge: an editorial essay. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews-Climate Change, 2010. 1(2): p. 162-171. Link

15.         Lahsen, M. and J.M. Domingues, Pope Francis’s Environmental Encyclical in Latin America: Mutual Influences. Environment, 2015. 57(6): p. 20-23.

16.         Beck, S., et al., The Making of Global Environmental Science and Politics, in The Handbook of Science and Technology Studies. 2016, MIT Press: Cambridge, MA. p. 1059-1086.

17.         Lahsen, M., G. de Azevedo Couto, and I. Lorenzoni, When climate change is not blamed: the politics of disaster attribution in international perspective. Climatic Change, 2020. 158(2): p. 213-233. Link

18.         Lahsen, M. and J. Ribot, Politics of Attributing Extreme Events and Disasters to Climate Change. WIREs Climate Change 2021 (forthcoming).

19.         Lahsen, M., Buffers Against Inconvenient Knowledge: Brazilian Newspaper Representations of the Climate-Meat Link. Desenvolvimento e Meio Ambiente, 2017. 40.

20.         Lahsen, M., Technocracy, democracy and U.S. climate science politics: The need for demarcations. Science, Technology and Human Values, 2005. 30(1): p. 137-169.

21.         Lahsen, M., Climategate: the role of the social sciences. Climatic change, 2013. 119(3-4): p. 547-558.

22.         Broadbent, J., et al., Conflicting climate change frames in a global field of media discourse. Socius, 2016. 2: p. 1-17.

23.         Kukkonen, A., et al., International organizations, advocacy coalitions, and domestication of global norms: Debates on climate change in Canada, the US, Brazil, and India. Environmental Science & Policy, 2018. 81: p. 54-62.

24.         Lahsen, M., et al., COMPON – Comparing climate change political networks: Social network analysis for Brazilian institutions. 2018: Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais – INPE. São José dos Campos, Brazil.

%d bloggers like this: