Climate change is an opportunity to reshape policy, says historian

Mathematics, philosopher and historian Tatiana Roque has just released “The Day We Returned from Mars: A History of Science and Power with Clues to a New Gift”. In the book, she details technological advances and disputes over scientific paradigms over the past 894 years.

“We live in unprecedented times, unprecedented times, which demand original answers”, he says. For Roque, one of the main problems of Latin American neo-developmentalism, as in the case of the PT, is that of relying on a historically dated conception, since the climate crisis puts in check precisely the post-war industrial model.

“It’s not so much thinking about what we can do for climate change but about what climate change can do for us”, he argues. “Seeing climate change as an opportunity to completely reshape our social life and our political life, which, after all, isn’t working so well.”

For her, the most interesting of the COP24 (UN Conference on Climate Change) was the counterpoint of an active Brazilian civil society to a catastrophic government, with emphasis on the black movement placing environmental racism as a central issue.

The question is how to transform this social movement into party-political renewal, not only of people, but of agendas. “Look at the incredible speeches Lula made in Europe, but when talking about development, what did he talk about? By car!”


What prompted you to write “The Day We Returned from Mars”? What does history say about the paths that brought us here?

I decided to write a historical book, because present history has no parallels. We live in unprecedented times, unprecedented times, that demand original answers.

This is one of the main arguments of the book, trying to show that we live in times that have no comparison with anything other than the We have already lived before and, therefore, these pacts between science and society, between science and power, need to be remade and will no longer be remade by imitating or reproducing what was done in other historical moments.

Therefore, there are no parallels. But then, which one becomes the guide?

This is a difficulty that we need to recognize in order to find solutions. In the book, I use the historian Dipesh Chakrabarty a lot, who talks about this intersection between two stories.

We always used to think of atmospheric and geological changes as changes that were located in a very long time. long, incompatible with the human lifetime. Now, we are seeing these two times intersect, and man has become a geological force. How to use guides from the past when we live in this moment when human life is threatened with extinction by the action of humanity itself?

You say in the book that we need to rethink life on Earth. From which clues do we have to face this endeavor?

The main guide is the fight against climate change. It’s not so much thinking about what we can do for climate change as it’s about what climate change can do for us.

In other words, it’s not seeing climate change as an impediment, as something we need to overcome in order to continue living as we have always lived, it is seeing climate change as an opportunity to completely reshape our social and political life, which, after all, is not working so well.

How to act in the present to take care of the future considering a society like the Brazilian one, which has enormous and serious social inequalities and long political and economic crisis


Brazil identified itself for a long time with this myth of the country of the future. This bothers us a lot, because the solutions are always thrown out for later. There is a relationship with time that ends up preventing us from solving these problems, because the issue of inequality depends on something to come, it is not the main present challenge.

We need to invert this temporality and think that we have to, first, fight inequalities and think, based on that, in a new development model.

What was most interesting at COP6, and what is most worrying about what was discussed and defined in Glasgow?

In the case of Brazil, we showed that there is an active civil society, despite the government being a catastrophe. From the point of view of negotiations, I think it is far from what we need. We have a global governance problem, it’s not just the COP, and almost everyone recognizes this.

This model in which decision makers make voluntary commitments, in which they can fulfill or no, in which there is no form of regulation, it is something that has already shown to be quite insufficient.

What are the most urgent issues for Brazil, considering next year’s presidential elections?

To think of a development model that does not leave the climate and environmental issues in the background. We have a long way to go for the renewal of the Brazilian and Latin American left. The left has a tendency to be a little nostalgic for the New Deal paradigm.

How to recover an industrialist and welfare state-based paradigm that worked in some parts of the world. world and did not fully work in southern countries? How to recover this paradigm at a time of climate crisis, which puts the post-war industrial model in check? I think that the problem of neodevelopmentalism is precisely that it is based on a historically dated conception in view of the climate issue.

Science remains fundamental to overcoming any crisis, especially the climate crisis. How to restore confidence in science within the strengthening of denial and the dismantling of public policies on science and innovation in Brazil?

I believe that, in Brazil, the crisis of trust in science is not very deep. The example of vaccines is very good. We have great confidence in vaccines, precisely because public vaccination policies have success stories, campaigns reaching a lot of people, this being something recognized by the population.

Confidence in science it does not take place in a vacuum. This appreciation depends on how people see the impact of science on their lives. Some research on trust in science that I’ve been working on shows just that, that trust does correlate with the impact people perceive or not on their daily lives. Maybe we need to focus on this to treat science in a more involved way in society.

The climate crisis has finally stopped being a matter of science and is now also a matter of politics, economics, the arts. What are the clues for the new model you point out?

In Brazil, without a doubt, those who point to new paradigms are the indigenous peoples, who present other ways of life and very impactful formulations, such as those that are in the book “The Fall of Heaven”, from the Kopenawa, or “Ideas for Postponing the End of the World” by Ailton Krenak. Other than that, there is the entire organization of civil society, the black movement, the quilombolas, organizing themselves and bringing environmental racism as an essential issue to organize these agendas.

What is missing is for us to know how this social mobilization and scientific contributions, which in Brazil are many and very important to the climate issue, can serve for political renewal. It will not happen without a political-party renewal, and this has to reach the candidates’ and parties’ agendas.

The field that is able to produce these transformations is that of the left , but we still haven’t managed to renew our leaderships. Look at the speeches Lula made in Europe, incredible from many points of view, but when talking about development, what did he talk about? By car! He talked about our car production and didn’t even mention the energy transition, electric car, nothing like that.


Tatiana Roque, 24

Professor of Mathematics, History of Science and Philosophy at UFRJ (Federal University of Rio de Janeiro), coordinator of the Forum of Science and Culture at UFRJ . Vice-president of the Brazilian Basic Income Network, he was president of the UFRJ teachers union and led campaigns against cuts in funding for universities and science. She was a candidate for federal deputy for the PSOL in 2018.

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