“The Emotions of Popular Environmentalism: Fear, Empathy and Hope in the Campaign for a World Park Antarctica”

Monday, October 30, 2017
HGS 204
Emma Shortis, Fox International Fellow, Yale University

Abstract:  In 1988, after six painstaking years of negotiations, it seemed certain that the parties to the Antarctic Treaty would allow mining to begin on the continent. But by 1991, a concerted international campaign led by the French celebrity Jacques Cousteau and international environmental organisations had persuaded the parties to the Antarctic Treaty to agree to ban mining indefinitely and commit to the comprehensive protection of the entire continent. This paper offers a first look at the role of emotions in the World Park Antarctica campaign, offering a case study of how emotions can be deployed as an analytical category in environmental history more generally. In their campaign to protect Antarctica from mining, activists successfully positioned the continent into the broader ‘structures of feeling’ of contemporary environmentalism. Through appeals to fear, empathy and hope, the World Park campaign helped to propel the Antarctic into a new position as a symbol of humanity’s role in global environmental destruction, and our hope for the future. The profound emotional resonance of the campaign is crucial to understanding the adoption of international legal protection for what Jacques Cousteau once called ‘the last remaining unspoiled world.’


Emma Shortis is a Fox International Fellow at the Yale MacMillan Center for 2017-18, and a final year PhD Candidate in the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies at the University of Melbourne (Australia), researching the campaign to protect the Antarctic continent from mining in the 1980s and 1990s.