Climate change as a 'hyperobject': a critical review of Timothy Morton's reframing narrative

6 June 2016

Article by Elizabeth Boulton published on-line in Wires Climate Change, June 03, 2016. 

Climate policy, climate communication and cognitive science researches have identified that better ways of conveying the climate change story are needed; specifically, a new frame or narrative is required. There are also increasing calls for the arts and humanities to play a greater role in the ‘meaning‐making’ task around climate change. Philosopher and literary theorist Timothy Morton has created a new approach, one which frames global warming as a ‘hyperobject’.

Morton's work demonstrates the value of artistic and philosophical approaches in helping people perceive climate change, as well as understand how it may feel. It opens up a potentially crucial discussion about ontology (the study of ‘Being’ and existence) illuminating the difficult emotional and conceptual territory humans must cross.

His work is intended to awaken people abruptly but debate exists as to whether Morton's approach is too harsh and disempowering, or whether it is the spur required for humans to adjust cognitively and emotionally to a new climate reality. Morton's frame vividly captures human vulnerability, but his association of vulnerability with shame and humiliation is concerning. Morton's narrative style, brilliantly evocative at times, is at others contentiously obscure. While this engenders what may be a necessary experience of dislocation, it also risks rendering his more valuable ideas impenetrable to many readers.

Read the article on the Wiley Online Library

Citation:  Boulton Elizabeth. Climate change as a ‘hyperobject’: a critical review of Timothy Morton's reframing narrative. WIREs Clim Change 2016. doi: 10.1002/wcc.410