The Sustainability Agenda

Hosted ByFergal Byrne

Exploring today's sustainability questions with leading experts.

Episode 104: An interview with Professor Kari Norgaard

In this episode, we dive into understanding denialism and justice dimensions that are gaining visibility with Professor Kari Norgaard. She talks about how we collectively experience and shape things as a society, and how denialism pertains to the various interconnected issues and movements of our time. 
Dr. Norgaard has been reflecting on how the COVID-19 pandemic has brought various issues to more of a public light. She has been focused on climate change and racial inequality for a long time, and in her 2011 book, Living in Denial: Climate Change, Emotions and Everyday Life, she explores the issues of denialism, how we do it culturally, and in the United States in particular, how we have formed the capacity to ignore really large problems and try to put everything on the individual. There is more to denial than individual attributes. We live in this society where you can’t really talk about things that are disturbing. 
Fortunately, Dr. Norgaard says that there is starting to be greater recognition and awareness of our capacity for denial, and pursuit of change. Movements like Black Lives Matter bring people to collectively address and feel accountable for the society around us, changes we need to make, choices we make, and what we think is possible. Dr. Norgaard also sees the intersectionality of many different justice issues, acknowledging that everyone will have their own sense of immediacy based on their own family history.
Dr. Norgaard has also worked closely with the Karuk tribe and sees that native peoples have extensive knowledge about the ecological sciences and fire.
Lastly, Dr. Norgaard talks about the importance of language; only when we collectively have the words to describe the important concepts and issues of our time can we talk more fluently about the world we live in.

Professor Kari Marie Norgaard (B.S. Biology Humboldt State University 1992, M.A. Sociology Washington State University 1994, PhD Sociology, University of Oregon 2003) is Associate Professor of Sociology and Environmental Studies at University of Oregon. Dr. Norgaard trained as a postdoctoral fellow in an interdisciplinary IGERT Program on Invasive Species at University California Davis from 2003-2005 and from there joined the faculty as Assistant Professor at Whitman College in Walla Walla, WA from 2005-2011. She joined the University of Oregon faculty in 2011. Over the past fifteen years Dr. Norgaard has published and taught in the areas of environmental sociology, gender and environment, race and environment, climate change, sociology of culture, social movements and sociology of emotions. She currently has two active areas of research: work on the social organization of denial (especially regarding climate change), and environmental justice and climate work with the Karuk Tribe on the Klamath River.

Norgaard is Past Chair of the Environmental Sociology Section of American Sociological Association and author of Living in Denial: Climate Change, Emotions and Everyday Life (MIT 2011). She is recipient of a University of Oregon Faculty Excellence Award in 2017, the University of Oregon Graduate Mentoring Award in 2011 and the Pacific Sociological Association’s Distinguished Practice Award for 2005. Her latest book Salmon and Acorns Feed Our People: Colonialism, Nature and Social Action was published by Rutgers