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1.2 ‘Situated Knowledge’: During my PhD research from 2019 to 2022

The scale of the problem

During my three years as a PhD fellow in Denmark, I witnessed and experienced some noteworthy events that may serve as key indicators of the current societal and environmental challenges in which my research is situated. The era in which my research belongs sets the mood and the scene for the opportunities and barriers I have to work with as a product of its time. According to the feminist anthropologist Donna Haraway (1988), it is paramount to situate one’s knowledge in its contextual and historical specificity, providing the background for its potential contestability. In other words, “situated knowledge” is a call toward “epistemic humility,” an ‘acknowledgement of the conditions of possibility from which a point of view emerges’ (Jue, 2020, p.9). It critiques “the myth of objectivity” in research and acknowledges the reality of the “partial perspective” of the researcher (ibid).

   Therefore, to situate my research in its broader context, I noticed that within the relatively short period of three years, the negative impact of climate change reared its ugly head, making it very clear that we are increasingly headed towards the point of no return. I have witnessed several water-related catastrophes with the hottest years on record[15] (Met Office/WMO/WCRP, 2019; Copernicus, 2022; Milman, 2022), leading to severe ocean warming in North America, resulting in the death of one billion mussels, clams, kelp and endangered salmon being cooked alive in the summer of 2021 (Dalton, 2021; Williams, 2021). In the same month, an extreme flood event[16] in Western Germany and Belgium completely swept towns and people due to heavy rain (Cornwall, 2021). Moreover, not even a year later, a similar catastrophe occurred on the east coast of Australia after record-breaking rainfall, where Australia declared its first-ever national emergency due to severe flooding (BBC News, 2022). Furthermore, there was a continual stream of climate change-related catastrophes in 2022, with the worst heatwaves ever recorded to date in China (Le Page, 2022) and, at the same time, the worst flooding in history, killing thousands of people in Pakistan and destroying millions of homes, livestock and crops (Brandon Miller et al., 2022; Harrison, 2022). It is clear that these extreme weather events are becoming more frequent and extreme (UNDRR, 2020). At the beginning of this year (January 2022), Northern Europe also experienced its first major storm called “Malik”, which passed by without any casualties but reached Category 3[17] (very dangerous weather) level in certain parts of Denmark (DMI, 2022b). Although Malik did not cause damage at a catastrophic level, the (storm surge) water level rose very close to the inundation level in many Danish coastal cities (see Vejle and Aalbæk Harbour’s water level rise due to Storm Malik, in Figure 4). Storm Malik indicated that the current elevation above sea level in many coastal cities in Denmark is too close to its tipping point.


Figure 4. (Top image) The impact of Storm Malik on the city of Vejle, the water level in the fjord peaked around 11 o'clock at 144 centimetres above the average water level, which is not enough to inundate the city of Vejle in Denmark but close to its tipping point (Anholm, 2022; DMI, 2022a). The current elevation above the normal water level in Vejle is roughly around 150-160cm (SCALGO, n.d.). Image credit: (DMI, 2022a).
(Bottom image) Before and After Storm Malik’s photo in the town of Aalbæk, Denmark, where water levels reached above the ‘tipping point’ over the harbour pathway (Payne, Anker Pedersen and Fonseca, 2022). Image credit: (Bottom Left) Jørgen Larsen /ANB (Bernhus, 2014) and (Bottom Right) Inger Nielsen (Payne, Anker Pedersen and Fonseca, 2022).

    But more alarmingly, scientists gathered at the end of 2021 to declare a grave warning that a major ice shelf in Antarctica, the size of Great Britain, coined the ‘doomsday glacier’ (Thwaites glacier[18]), is in a fragile condition to “fracture and collapse possibly within five years or less” (Vidal, 2021; International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration, 2022). Thwaites glacier contains enough water to raise global sea levels by more than half a metre, rendering the efforts of current coastal protection plans insufficient (ibid). And there are new research forecasts that predict worsening sea level rise, superseding previous predictions due to accelerating glacial melt (and employing different methods of prediction) that even with emissions reduction, it is too late to prevent sea level rise (Shao, 2022). Evidence indicates that the current global efforts are insufficient to limit warming to 1.5°C (Matthews and Wynes, 2022). However, perhaps the biggest catastrophe of them all is the continual insufficient commitment to tackling the climate crisis from the world leaders at the UN Climate Change Conferences (UNFCCC, 2021). During my research, the IPCC[19] released its sixth assessment report in 2021 (released every six years). The summary of their recent findings emphasised that the “new estimates of the chances of crossing the global warming level of 1.5°C in the next decades, finds that unless there are immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, limiting warming to close to 1.5°C or even 2°C will be beyond reach[20]” (IPCC, 2021a). The IPCC’s warnings are loud and clear. We are in the most crucial decade in human history to make significant changes to ensure the security of human and nonhuman well-being, and we are simply running out of time.  

     However, unexpectedly, the overall global growth patterns came to a grinding halt, and the earth stood still six months into my PhD as the COVID-19 virus took the world by storm. A global pandemic that posed a much more immediate and comprehensible threat to human well-being resulted in aeroplanes being grounded, shops closed, people working from home, and everyone unanimously staying enclosed inside for the virus to be put at bay. However, when experts analysed the world's GHG trajectory during the lockdowns (or semi-lockdowns) disrupting the global supply chain, we are still on an uphill trajectory of our global emissions. Global fossil CO₂ emissions peaked in 2019, followed by a drop of 5.6% in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic (Met Office/WMO/WCRP, 2019). Nevertheless, in 2021, global CO2 emissions rebounded to reach their highest annual level – a 6% increase from 2020 (IEA, 2022). A global crisis opened a window of opportunity for systems change we desperately needed, yet not much changed, and we are right back on track to business as usual (B-A-U). Even a global halt of all activities for a few months only resulted in reducing 5% in emissions, still far from the 50% of global GHG reductions needed by 2030 (IPCC, 2018).


   What do these events all mean for my research? It highlights that political, social, and economic factors hinder addressing the global climate crisis. Numerous complex factors are at play, both predictable and increasingly unpredictable. The past three years highlighted the growing impacts of the climate crisis, especially in the form of water-related catastrophes and the current infrastructures at the brink of tipping points. The inertia of our current political and economic structures prevents paths to addressing these issues at a rapid and large-scale pace. Furthermore, other issues are taking our attention away from the climate crisis, be it wars[21], pandemics, refugee crises or fake news, delaying further our ability to address the emergency of the climate crisis.

     There is little doubt that humanity has made a huge impact on the fundamental transformation of the biosphere, threatening the planet’s life-supporting capacities. This reality is encapsulated by the ever-increasing popular term “The Anthropocene”, which proposes to define the current geological age as the age of the human. This concept has been influential in bringing forth questions about how humans and organisations and various processes, such as urbanisation, fit within the network of life and reshape the planet (Moore, 2016). However, as important as this term might be in setting off the alarm, as pointed out by Moore (2016), it is also quite limiting in its capacity to explain exactly how these alarming changes have originated. As Moore writes: “Questions of capitalism, power and class, anthropocentrism, dualist framings of ‘nature’ and ‘society,’ and the role of states and empires – all are frequently bracketed by the dominant Anthropocene perspective” (Moore, 2016).


[15] Last year in 2021 saw the hottest ocean temperatures in recorded history (Cheng et al., 2022; Milman, 2022). “As the world warms from fossil fuel-based human activity, more than 90% of the heat generated over the past 50 years has been absorbed by the ocean” (Milman, 2022). Denmark also reached its highest recorded temperature for the month of July in 2022 (Abildgaard, 2022).

[16] The German Weather Service reported that the quantity of rain in some areas of Germany was the highest in over 100 years, possibly higher than any seen in the last 1,000 years (Watts, 2021).

[17] Three different levels of severe weather in Denmark by Danish Meteorological Institute (DMI): Category 1: Severe weather, Category 2: Dangerous weather, and Category 3: Very dangerous weather - Be prepared that there is a high risk that weather development can affect one’s surroundings and disrupt the functions of society (DMI, 2022b).

[18] There is an “International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration” made up of scientists from various countries. Scientific articles on the Thwaites Glacier can be found on:

[19] The Paris Agreement in 2015 agreed to keep global warming below 2 degrees and ideally at 1.5 degrees Celsius in order to avoid irreversible impacts of global warming. It means halving (45%) global GHG emissions by 2030 and net-zero by 2050 from 2010 GHG levels to stay within the recommended limit of 1.5°C of global average temperature rise (IPCC, 2018).

[20] The IPCC has been urging drastic action for a while, so this statement is nothing new. Even the last IPCC’s fifth assessment report (Climate Change Synthesis Report) released in 2014 states that "stabilising temperature increase to below 2°C relative to pre-industrial levels will require an “urgent and fundamental departure from business as usual” (IPCC, 2014).

[21] This is in reference to the war in Ukraine that started on 20th February 2022 by Russia.

water level vandstand.jpg



Section 1.2 footnote
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