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Slowing Down Climate Services: Climate Change as a Matter of Concern

Artec Sustainability Research Center, University of Bremen, Enrique-Schmidt-Straße 7, 28334 Bremen, Germany
Sustainability 2023, 15(8), 6458;
Submission received: 15 November 2022 / Revised: 3 April 2023 / Accepted: 5 April 2023 / Published: 11 April 2023


This article addresses the appropriate place for and design of climate services drawing upon a case study of three different forms of climate service delivery in a coastal landscape in Northern Germany. Each of these forms addresses different audiences and provides different types of knowledge about climate change and a different orientation toward policy support. The three-part case study includes a regional, a municipal and a social climate service. Drawing upon this comparative, case-based research, I develop the idea of ‘slowing down climate services’, based on the ‘slow science manifesto’ introduced by the science philosopher Isabelle Stengers, by postnormal science and by political ecology as suggested by Bruno Latour. How does climate change become a matter of concern? Slowing down climate services means following the social life of scientific facts, engaging with the public and exploring ways to improve democratic and place-based decision making. I argue that there is an urgent need to overcome the big science orientation of climate services and to add what Stengers calls ‘public intelligence’, the integration of a sense of place and of the social, cultural, political and other performative aspects of climate change in specific landscapes.

1. Introduction

Climate services provide climate data and information on global, national, regional and local scales, and many areas are already well-served. In regions such as Northern Germany, for example, there is a dense infrastructure of climate services. Stakeholders, decision makers, the media and ordinary citizens have access to science-based information about changes in climate [1]. However, data derived from models or empirical observation alone do not provide solutions for complex climate-related problems or roadmaps for the decarbonization of societies. There is an increasing demand for active engagement with stakeholders and decision makers in communities, for taking into account the complexities and uncertainties of climate change and for including a wider range of voices and actors. Research programs such as Horizon Europe, the Joint Program Initiative (JPI) and especially the European Research Areas for Climate Services (ERA4CS) encourage research on policy support and the co-development of climate services. This article results from my participation as a social anthropologist in two of these European projects, ‘Co-development of place-based climate services for action’ (CoCliServ 2017–2021) ( (accessed on 4 April 2023)) and a recently started project about the standardization of climate services and policy support, ‘climateurope2’ (2022–2027) ( (accessed on 4 April 2023)). This change in perspective, from the production of data for climate services to participant observation—the main anthropological method—is the starting point of this article. For whom is climate change a matter of concern, how does climate change come to matter [2], and what does this mean for the practice of climate services?
The shift from providing scientific evidence of climate change and climate risks, which was the main task of climate science for a long time, to actually dealing with climate-related problems on the ground includes an important epistemological aspect. It is not data and information alone that is needed but knowledge about the land, the people and their heritage and the political ecology of climate-related problems [3]. In this article, I present elements for a more inclusive and participatory approach, based on longtime ethnographic research in the coastal landscapes of Northern Germany. The theoretical umbrella for my approach is ‘slow science’, a concept promoted by the science philosopher Isabelle Stengers [4], with its constituent parts based on premises from political ecology and postnormal science. Slow science asks for a more reflective and deliberative approach to scientific research, to engage in dialogue with the public and to develop a sense for the geo-social constitution of the respective locations. Climate change always happens somewhere, in some place, and there is a difference between results gained from a model or a set of data and the actual changes caused by climate in the real world [5].
Postnormal science is a concept introduced by Silvio Funtowicz and Jeremy Ravetz [6], and it indicates situations and cases that cannot be solved by ‘normal’ science. Municipalities, stakeholders or decision makers have to take action despite uncertain knowledge, financial risks and value conflicts. Both concepts, slow science and postnormal science, rest on the assumption that climate is not only a scientific fact but a matter of concern. This distinction goes back to Bruno Latour’s [7,8] conception of political ecology. He challenged the separation of science on the one side and society, law or politics on the other, and he shifted attention to the assemblies of actors that are involved in any given issue where climate data come to matter. This shift from climate as a matter of fact—which played an important role in providing evidence of human impact on climate change and was challenged by climate skeptics [7]—to climate as a matter of concern implies a shift from model and information to practice and collaboration. In this article, I argue for slowing down climate services and closely reconsidering, analyzing and also imagining new forms of provider (climate services) and user (all kinds of public actors) encounters in order to develop new and more effective forms of climate protection.
As an empirical basis for my argument, I discuss three different forms of climate service delivery in a coastal landscape in Northern Germany. Each addresses different audiences, provides different forms of knowledge about climate change and offers different forms of policy support. The three-part case study includes (1) a regional setting in which a science-based climate service provides climate data and information for Northern Germany; (2) a ‘social climate service’ [9], consisting of an emergent, loosely organized group of citizens, which aims to bring climate-related problems into the public sphere, to put pressure on politics and to promote climate-friendly practices; and (3) a municipal setting in which government managers develop place-based climate and energy plans to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and to adapt to climate change impacts. Each of these different forms of climate service application has its own history, which in turn informs its approach to climate change. At a very basic level, the purpose of this article is to step aside and reflect upon climate services as a social practice.

Climate Services as an Object of Research: Background and Methods

During my extended fieldwork in Northern Germany, I both observed and initiated various encounters between different climate service providers and the public [10]. In this first part of the article, I will provide some background concerning my research, followed by epistemological reflections on the concepts of slow science, postnormal science and political ecology. In the main parts, I will provide descriptions and vignettes of these encounters and discuss them accordingly. Maybe more than figures and tables, anecdotal depictions are a method to keep the heterogeneity, complexity and messiness of real-life situations alive.
My starting point in the research about the co-development of climate services was my interest in ‘narratives of change’, in the role that climate and weather and its changes play in all kinds of past and present narratives, including those of climate services [11]. In this context, I practiced the ethnographic method of participant observation in the strict sense of the term: I both observed and initiated communication and interaction between climate services and the public. In current anthropology, participant observation has turned into the co-design of research and para-anthropology, which is a more precise terminology. Both co-design and para-anthropology entail active collaboration with local partners for a shared matter of concern and are methods that have evolved as a result of the increasing integration of anthropology in inter- and transdisciplinary research projects [12]. In the first part of the CoCliServ project, I worked with the ‘North German Coastal and Climate Office’, a regional climate service from the Helmholtz Center Geesthacht and partner in the CoCliServ project. Together, we organized a workshop with local and regional decision makers, stakeholders and concerned citizens. In the second part of the project, I engaged with local climate activists, with whom I co-developed a citizen’s initiative. During this time, I also followed the successive implementation of municipal climate protection managers in this area, an initiative by the German government. Altogether, the coastal landscape of Northern Germany provides a dense and diverse network of climate services. It reflects the European and German efforts to initiate a transformation of society toward decarbonization. However, recent surveys of this process show that there is no plausibility that Germany will reach its ambitious climate goals with current measures [13,14]. At the same time, these surveys highlight the role of social movements and public pressure on politics for a successful transition toward decarbonization. As a consequence, climate services have to expand their scope and situate themselves in a highly politicized and complex environment, and they have to follow the communal life of facts [2], too, in order to make an impact.
Global climate discourse, from the IPCC to climate services and everyday talk, is science-based, managerial and technology-oriented [15]. For climate services, this raises many difficult questions. Climate services are based on the premise that appropriately configured data and information about climate will enable better political decisions. However, commentaries in Nature or Science concede that there is no undisturbed transfer of knowledge [16]. This is especially true when the knowledge base is uncertain, stakes are high, morals are included and action is urgent—which is the situation for postnormal science as defined by Funtowicz and Ravetz [6]. Climate services and decision makers alike have to deal with these ‘postnormal’ situations, and there is a need for experimenting with different forms of interaction with local or regional actors. It is a long way from providing data and information to the co-development of climate services for action. One of the main preconditions is to understand climate science and climate services as part of an assemblage of actors concerned with climate change. In a regional setting such as the coastal landscapes of Northern Germany, climate services have to deal with administrations, municipalities, dike and sluice organizations, various forms of stakeholders, farmers and NGOs, and most of them are climate-literate [10]. In order to make a meaningful and especially place-based contribution, climate services have to go beyond the mere purveying of data derived from models and observation. This challenge demands a certain level of introspection and self-reflection, as well as a sense of place, the geo-social formation of the coastal landscapes and the actual political constellations [17].
The science philosopher Isabelle Stengers discusses in her book ‘Another science is possible: A manifesto for slow science’ [4] the example of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). On the one hand, genetic modification was praised as the solution for poverty and hunger in the world, while on the other hand, there was significant protest of field scientists, local farmers and environmental groups. Stengers illustrates how the laboratory conditions under which scientific knowledge is produced have little to do with ‘those situations we are confronted with as citizens’ ([4], p. 2f). As a consequence, she argues that political ecology has ‘to put the sciences into politics, but without reducing them to politics. This requires fully developing, around each issue, the primordial question: who can talk of what, be the spokesperson of what, represent what, object in the name of what?’ ([4], p. 148).
Stengers suggests slowing down science, engaging in a debate with the ‘public intelligence’ ([4], p. 14) and integrating additional aspects of reality, instead of only opting for science-based technological solutions for all problems. Conway [18] defines the concept of public intelligence as a collective phenomenon, ‘an intelligently distributed and contested arrangement of roles, defined by the agents themselves’. This can also be understood as a call for climate services to engage with a wider range of users, defined as those segments of society that understand climate change as a matter of public concern. In order to do so, climate services have to leave the comfort zone of science and confront climate change as a political object. This implies the virtue of self-reflection, of their own role in the field and in society.
At the same time, climate service providers are professionalizing and becoming competitors in a contested knowledge market. Either they have to professionally compete for third-party funds, or they are private consultant agencies developing a new market segment in cooperation with insurance companies and other interested parties. This tendency is also reflected in science-based climate discourse and its terminology. In official documents from the IPCC to regional climate services, neo-liberal concepts, such as innovation, markets, growth, providers, users, decision makers, stakeholders and others, are commonplace [19]. Everything is pressed into the narrow imagery of a market terminology with the result that climate services become agents for market expansion. In many climate service programs, including the IPCC, there is little focus on the need for climate protection, for care and well-being, or emphasis on the catastrophic situation we are in [19]. The reduction of climate to numbers and statistics does not help; numbers have agency, too, they frame the perception of climate, and in doing so, the solutions are designed accordingly [20]. The political, economic and social causes of climate change are turned into technical problems which supposedly will be solved by engineering, by technical solutions for adaptation and mitigation. The call to ‘follow the science’, popularized by Fridays for Future, has a flipside, which is the strong belief in the ‘general authority’ [18] of science. Stengers [4] argues sarcastically that the public is supposed to trust in science, ‘but they have to know how to wait, and understand that scientists owe it to themselves to remain deaf to any noisy or anxious demands’, and that people should not ‘be urged to get involved in questions they are not, in any case, capable of understanding’.
In the context of European governance strategies, climate services are understood as competitors in an emerging knowledge market, and there is hardly any mention of climate protection or care for the environment. The European Green Deal is easily depicted as a Janus-faced strategy that either serves to develop new—climate-friendly—markets or serves to change the system of growth and depletion of natural resources. In between are the municipalities, landscapes and nations that have to make decisions about how to proceed into the future. For them, there is more at stake than only markets and statistics; landscapes are also life-worlds, where people interact with geo-social conditions which were formed over a long time and materialize in everyday activities, the sense of place, identities and customary laws [21,22]. This is where social anthropology and interdisciplinary landscape studies intersect with the concept of slow science.
The term ‘slow science’ has roots in the ‘slow food’ movement, which originated in Italy as a form of regional protest against the standardization of food [23]. The slow-food movement emphasized regional identity and the singularity of the geo-history of European landscapes and their people. For slow-food protagonists, the acquisition and preparation of food is a matter of concern. This provides support for Stengers’ argument that ‘matters of concern’ have to be taken as seriously as ‘matters of fact’. Slow science means here not only the quality control of the scientific process but also the integration of what Stengers ([4], p. 14) calls ‘public intelligence’. Scientific facts have a social life, they travel through landscapes and households, and they change global and municipal policies as well as individual ways of life. In reference to the slow-food movement, Stengers asks for ‘connoisseurs of science’ who act as ‘agents of resistance against a scientific knowledge that pretends it has general authority; they partake in the production of what Donna Haraway calls ‘situated knowledges’’ ([4], p. 19). This is where the concept of slowing down climate services comes in: climate services are privileged to coproduce these situated knowledges and to instigate climate action, as demanded in the European calls for the co-development of climate services for action. In my participation in two of these European projects, I put this call for action into practice, as an anthropological observer, as a participant and as an instigator of climate service action.

2. Regional Climate Service

In the ERA4CS project about ‘the co-development of place-based climate services for action’, I worked together with one of our project partners, the North German Coastal and Climate Office. This climate service is the outreach of the Helmholtz Center of Geesthacht (now Hereon), and its service includes the Hamburg area and Northern Germany. It serves as a contact point between climate science and the public, and one of its main tasks is to provide an overview on regional climate change in Northern Germany, serving interested citizens, scientists, educators, economic actors, public authorities, media, civil society organizations and political officials [24,25].
For several months, we practiced a division of labor; while the Climate Office documented existing climate services in the coastal area, I interviewed mayors, administrators, representatives of NGOs, farmers and other stakeholders. We realized early that there was a qualitative difference between the information provided by climate services and the narratives that I collected in the field. One example involved the extreme weather events during our research period in this area, namely an unusually warm, dark and wet winter, followed by a drought in the summer. For the climate services in this area, this was a matter of statistical interest (sometimes followed by general warnings), while for my interlocutors, these changes occurred as an aspect of their daily ‘weatherworld’ ([26], p. 120). During the winter, the fields were inundated by water, and the farmers had difficulties applying manure, while in the summer, many had to sell cattle because of a lack of feed, which became exceptionally expensive in the international market [10].
Finally, we organized a public workshop in the coastal village of Dangast and invited about 30 persons, chosen from our field sites. In the invitation, we asked for ‘the regional effects of climate change and for possible answers, from the world climate council, the IPCC, to the municipal council, from climate research to local knowledge’ (translation by the author). As our goal, we wanted to start a conversation among diverse members of the public and asked what it takes to make the region climate-friendly and fit for the future.
The organization of the workshop reflected our division of labor: the first part was organized by the Climate Office and the second part by me, an anthropologist from the university. The two parts could not have been more different: in the first half, the moderator of the Climate Office presented data about global and regional climate change, followed by an intensive Q&A section. In the second part, I organized a discussion among our guests. While the first part was orderly and quiet, the second part was like a marketplace, loud and chatty with people moving around in groups. Like a mirror ball, these different settings reflected our different backgrounds and origins and also the different conclusions we drew from this event.

2.1. A Regional Climate Service in Action

When I arrived at the venue maybe an hour before the workshop started, the climate service team was already there. They had prepared the room like a theatre: in front of the chairs for the audience, there was a lectern, framed by two standing posters. The photos on the posters displayed a dramatic scene, with a research vessel cutting through the waves of a stormy sea. In the center of the poster there was the logo of the Helmholtz Research Center and the motto ‘erkennen, verstehen, handeln’ (identify, understand, act). On a table next to the desk, there were two computers for public use, introduced as ‘web tools’ where people could navigate climate scenarios. Everyone entering the room could not help but be aware of the scientific authority of Helmholtz research, of big science.
The workshop started with a presentation by the moderator of the climate service. She outlined how climate changed globally, followed by an outlook into the future. The forecast effects of emission reduction and mitigation were presented in the form of model outputs based on IPCC findings and data, showing the different scenarios from worst- to best-case. The data for the regional development, which were mostly derived from empirical research, attracted the greatest attention from the audience. There has been a 0.8 degree rise in temperature since 1961, the beginning of apple blossom starts two to three weeks earlier (while late frost remains unchanged), and there are now more heat days (from 1–2 to 4–5). Rainfall in the summer remains fluctuating, while winter becomes warmer and wetter, sea level rise (20 cm) conforms with global tendencies, with an increased threat of more and higher storm surges. As a result, the moderator stated that the North German coastline is one of the hot spots of climate change in Germany.
The presentation lasted maybe 30 min, and it left the audience in a state of shock. The confrontation of the global scenario with data from the region made climate change real, in an uncomfortable way. Climate change is not somewhere out there, but in front of our own doorsteps, as one discussant stated. In the following discussion, people expressed concern with discrepancies in climate discourse and politics. As one of the first questions, the moderator was asked how she perceives the discrepancy between existing knowledge about climate change and the less-than-adequate political action. Another aspect was the discrepancy between knowledge about mitigation technology and its lack of implementation. There was also a discussion about the gap between knowledge about climate change and actual consumer behavior, a discrepancy that was attributed to the powerful marketing strategies of the industry. In the meandering discussion, the issue was raised of which strategy might be best for the farmers to bring the livestock through a drought, organic or conventional farming. The moderator put great efforts to maintain a neutral position, as with other controversial issues that were raised. She insisted on the neutrality of climate services, as she summarized in her report:
‘Thus, a place based climate service for action implies that the role of science needs to be neutral. Rather than supporting a particular favoured action, science can support decision-making processes by analysing how certain decisions, compared to others, may initiate specific changes and impact developments’ ([25], p. 53).
For the climate service, the job was done, followed by the anthropological part. The second part of the workshop was dedicated to the question of what it takes to achieve a climate-friendly regional future. One of the main goals was to bring together different actors who normally do not meet or engage in discussions, such as a mayor and a member of an NGO, a priest and a farmer or a student and a coastal manager. We carefully organized an incremental discussion with random groups of four, who in the end, presented their conclusions to the plenary. After the strict discipline of a Q&A discussion in the first part, here people discussed freely their ideas in various constellations.
As a result, there were dozens of cards with keywords on the whiteboard, which we tried to group into themes such as mobility, energy, water management, consumption, habitation, land use and agriculture. The response to the exercise was lively and appreciative. In conversations at the end, people pointed out that they learned a lot during the afternoon and that they hoped for a follow-up workshop to discuss things in more detail. The workshop was considered a first step, and we promised to send feedback and to organize a second step, which unfortunately never happened, at least in this constellation and due to the different understandings of the public role of a climate service.

2.2. Discussion: Regional Climate Services

In the evaluation of events, we came to different conclusions. For the North German Coastal and Climate Office, the purpose of the discussion was to identify knowledge gaps and information needs, while I looked for possibilities to expand the range of climate change issues and to motivate the audience for further collaborations. We had different understandings of ‘matters of concern’, and thus we followed different epistemologies. In the first part, the Climate Office confirmed the separation between scientific facts on the one side and local matters of concern on the other, in a hierarchical way. The result was the identification of further knowledge needs and information gaps, which now can be added to the already existing corpus of place-based climate knowledge. From this perspective, the workshop served as a venue for performing the general authority of climate science. The slogan of ‘identify, understand, act’, displayed on the posters, left the public in a position where they have little choice but to trust the science and wait until it presents the solution, as Stengers puts it. The public is left in a state of helplessness: either they confirm the power of science, or they are viewed as biased, ideological and non-objective. The main mantra of the climate service is that science and politics have to remain neatly separated: once and again, the moderator of the Climate Office stated that it is up to politics to decide what to do. Both the public and politics are left in a double bind: if they make a decision, they are at risk that the decision will easily be dismissed as ‘non-scientific’ or not up to scientific standards; if they ask science what to do, they are told that it is up to political decision makers. Due to our different interpretations of the event, our cooperation ended here. We did not agree on a common evaluation for the audience, nor did we manage to stage a follow-up event. There were other obstacles, too: the partners from the Climate Office did not even share the recordings of the event with me, due to new data policies of the Helmholtz Center. They had already enough material for their project deliverable and moved on, while I stayed for the rest of the project in the region. This kind of sad story unfortunately is common in projects and is a tribute to the permanent pressure in a research landscape, where the duration of projects is short and dependency on third-party funding is high. However, serendipity is an important feature in life and in anthropological fieldwork [27] and so did not disappoint me. The experimental co-development of climate services, together with ‘the public’, found its continuation in another place, a few months later.

3. Social Climate Services

In November 2019, I organized a follow-up workshop in the neighboring district of Ammerland. The initiative came from an environmental activist, who had already participated in the previous workshop in Dangast, and she wanted to carry the format of public participation to her district. The workshop was held in November 2018, and this time, ‘the co-development of place-based climate services for action’ was successful. As a result of the workshop, we founded a citizen’s initiative, the ‘Klimamarkt Ammerland’ (climate market). It is a loosely organized group of concerned citizens, whose goal is to bring climate change into the public sphere, put pressure on politics and help turn Ammerland into a climate-friendly district.
The term ‘social climate services’ was coined by Bremer et al. [9] in their article ‘Recognizing the social functions of climate services in Bergen, Norway’, where they propose ‘a field of ‘social climate services’ that configures relationships between scientists and social actors, built on technologies of humility, for enriching the ongoing culturally and politically charged debates and practices around climatic change in informal institutional settings’ ([9], p. 1).
I use the term social climate service for the purpose of this article, even though the members of the Klimamarkt would never do so. In everyday German, the term ‘service’ is associated with institutions such as banks, administrations or public transport—institutions where citizens are turned into ‘consumers’ or ‘clients’. The Klimamarkt identifies as a public forum, a network, a multiplier or perhaps even—though we did not discuss that yet—as diplomats between science, the public and the landscape of Ammerland. The Klimamarkt has no preconceived agenda, and there are hardly any strategic debates. In my terms, as the participant anthropologist, we organize public performances of climate change as a matter of concern. For press releases, brochures or public communication, we use, in variations, the following text module:
‘The Climate Market Ammerland was launched at the end of 2019 to express concern about climate change in Ammerland. Ideas for a climate-friendly Ammerland from the areas of energy, mobility, food and agriculture, land use, water, construction and renovation and health were collected by concerned citizens. Together, projects are now being initiated that will help avoid CO2 and prepare the communities in Ammerland for the effects of climate change. The Klimamarkt Ammerland is independent, autonomous and open to everyone. It is a public forum to initiate debates and initiatives in order to make a difference. The Klimamarkt wants to help shape a sustainable Ammerland.’ ( (accessed on 4 April 2023)).
Currently, the Klimamarkt consists of a core group of seven people, most members are engaged in environmental organizations and other forms of public life. We fit maybe in the category of public intelligence as suggested by Stengers [4]: we are able to read and understand scientific assessments, some have a long career in environmental activism, and some of us are specialized in certain areas such as biology or, in my case, in environmental anthropology, and we are widely connected, in Ammerland and in climate research, from Scientists4Future to local activism of all kinds.

3.1. A Social Climate Service in Action

From the first workshop in 2019 until today, the Klimamarkt developed a series of activities. While the terminology of climate services is borrowed from the neoliberal market economy, the term Klimamarkt reminds of a farmers’ market, a public place where different people meet and exchange the produce of the soil as well as news and gossip. The idea of the Klimamarkt is to bring climate change into the marketplace, or into the public sphere, as a matter of concern. Our trademark is the organization of climate markets in the literal sense of the term.

3.1.1. Climate Market #1

The structure of our first ‘Klimamarkt’ was similar to the workshop in Dangast which I described in Section 2. We publicly invited people to the workshop, and about sixty of them attended. There was one main difference in the staging of the workshop: there was no official climate service involved. The climate data set about global and regional developments is publicly available, so we presented it ourselves as an introduction. For the public discussion, we posed the question ‘How does a climate friendly Ammerland look like in 2030?’ We organized this conversation along seven main topics: energy, water, land use, health, mobility, food and construction. We staged whiteboards and encouraged the audience to walk around and fill in cards and pin them down. At each of the stands, there were lively discussions. In the end, the seven stands presented the results to the public. Many issues were addressed, from sustainable household management to the circulation, distribution and consumption of regional products, from communal gardening and the conception of heat islands as protection from heat waves to the rewetting of the moors and the fight against a new Autobahn which is supposed to cross the local moorlands. Despite the concrete measures and proposed actions, the event was an exercise in reclaiming the public sphere and facilitating civic engagement. The Klimamarkt brought the climate problem into the public sphere, in the marketplace where opinions, no matter how qualified, can be expressed. Climate as a matter of public concern goes far beyond the reduction of climate to its physical and chemical composition; it is an exercise in democratizing climate.

3.1.2. Climate Market #2

The second climate market was staged as a result of collective confusion and emotional upheaval. In the summer of 2020, forest fires in California, Southern Europe and Germany made the news, COVID-19 brought public life to a halt, and the new IPCC report was published with dire projections for the future. Many people were concerned about this culmination of bad news, and so were we. How to deal with such a situation? We spontaneously organized another public Klimamarkt. Maybe 20 or more people met in an old barn; many of them engaged in care activities in schools and public institutions, others were environmental activists and concerned citizens, there were a couple of mothers with recent-born babies, and the district administrator made her appearance, too. We did not necessarily discuss possible solutions or activities. Instead, we tried to situate ourselves in a world where climate change was not merely a statistical construct but a lived reality. Instead of using words for a final statement, we formed a human exclamation mark and sent the photo to a regional newspaper, where it was published. Climate change as a public concern includes emotions, and the Klimamarkt served as a place where these feelings could be responsibly expressed, before people returned again to their families and to their jobs in the kindergarten, the school or the administration. It is not only individual well-being that matters; climate as a matter of concern means taking care of people and the environment. The Klimamarkt served to embody this sense of place and care, a sense that informs this kind of social climate services for action.

3.1.3. Climate Market #3

The title of the third climate market was ‘Climate (protection) needs to be down-to-earth’ (Klimaschutz braucht Bodenhaftung). We invited twenty different private or communal initiatives to exhibit their work in an old railway station which now serves as a community center. Among the presenters were local bee-keepers, a bicycle organization, environmental educators, a repair shop, a one-world shop, collectives presenting their herb garden or their communal gardening, an initiative of retired citizens who drove electric busses to maintain public transportation in the countryside, a clothes swap initiative, regenerative energy collectives, municipal climate managers and others. There was a café and folk music, and the public enjoyed strolling through this emergent venue of climate-friendly alternatives on a rainy Sunday afternoon. The district administrator took the stage and delivered a welcome speech, in which she outlined her program to turn Ammerland into a climate-friendly district. Our goal was to present activities that represented sustainable and climate-friendly forms of living, consuming and producing. It was a playful and friendly atmosphere that invited people to think about climate change without being indoctrinated or educated. As a motto served a quote from the anthropologist Margret Mead that it only takes a handful of people to change the world. In retrospect, this was again an epistemological exercise in alternative market metaphors; metaphors of care, exchange, circulation and sustainability were performed and subtly replaced the usual neoliberal terminology of innovation, management, stakeholder, participation or growth. From an anthropological perspective, we performed what it means to be ‘down to earth’ in the sense of Bruno Latour’s manifesto for ‘Politics in the new climate regime’ [28]. Recently, soil has become a prominent feature in research about the effects of climate change and life in the Anthropocene. In Ammerland, there is a surprising variety of lifestyles and activities that practice a down-to-earth mentality in the literal sense of the term. Our third climate market brought these human resources into the public sphere with the intention to create networks and cross-connections for sustainable and climate-friendly forms of land use.

3.1.4. Mixed Activities

Before the national elections in 2021 and the elections in Lower Saxony in 2022, we organized public debates with the political candidates, we made a workshop about water management and webinars about agriculture, which all were well attended. We organized an art competition ‘Dem Ammerland ein Gesicht geben’ (Give the Ammerland a face), and currently we have a call for a writing contest, ‘Klimageschichten aus dem Ammerland’ (Climate stories from the Ammerland). These activities make climate real, bring it into everyday life and give climate a face, a history and make it part of our life. Most of all, we have managed to become a household name in the area and an address for networking. The non-partisan nature of the Klimamarkt, its support by the head of the district and municipal climate managers, the public events and the networking activities make it indeed a social climate service.

3.2. Discussion: Social Climate Services

Following the work of Bremer et al. [9] about citizen science, I dubbed the Klimamarkt as a social climate service. The Klimamarkt discusses the coastal landscape in terms of categories such as energy, water, land use, etc., and it adds a sense of place which is not covered by the algorithms of top-down climate software tools. Besides its networking activities, the Klimamarkt emphasizes the performative foundations of our climate interactions and creates its own vernacular climate narrative. In the opening remarks of the first Klimamarkt, we argued that climate is more than statistics and highlighted the importance of bringing climate into democracy. The second Klimamarkt was dedicated to climate change as a reality that has no precedence and is emotionally frightening. The third Klimamarkt was literally place-based and down-to-earth. The exhibition of alternative forms of life and care expanded the scope of climate service activities into the public and social sphere. These performative acts provide an additional meaning to Stengers’ ‘public intelligence’, understood as an emergent, community-based effort with situated knowledges at disposal. A citizen’s initiative such as the Klimamarkt serves well as an occasional mediator, as a networker, diplomat and producer of new forms of climate knowledge and, importantly, as a productive counterpart to institutionalized climate services, such as municipal climate managers in the next example. It is also important to keep in mind that the Klimamarkt is not an established institution or NGO. The website is only updated occasionally, activities depend on the individual time schedules and ideas of its members, and they are voluntary and spontaneous. From an informed everyday perspective, the activists of the Klimamarkt address many aspects of the long-term and also immediate effects of climate change which are not captured in official discourse. The goal is not only to include climate change into existing political and administrative structures but also to challenge the current forms of decision making in order to make democracy fit for climate change.

4. Municipal Climate Managers

The implementation of a municipal climate (protection) manager program is a recent development in the national climate service market and in Northern Germany. The main task of a climate manager is to produce an integrated climate protection plan in order to translate international and national climate goals into municipal practice. A governmental program, the National Climate Initiative ( (accessed on 4 April 2023)), promotes municipal climate protection projects, such as plans for emission reduction, renewable energies or the production of communal energy and climate balances. The program is quite successful; by the end of 2019, 3650 municipalities had employed a climate manager [29]. The focus on this new form of climate service goes hand-in-hand with my current and ongoing participation in the Horizon project about the standardization of climate services. What can actually be standardized, and where are the limits of standardization? In the following, I will present a first description of this kind of service.
During my research, I interviewed several climate managers and followed their activities in two municipalities. There is a shift in perspective from the model of regional climate service to this form of municipal planning activity. It is a shift from the provision of climate data and information to the actual design of municipal planning and politics. Municipal climate managers introduce a new matter of concern, climate, into the municipal agenda, and they do so in the form of a standardized procedure.
The implementation of the program is highly contested in many places. For example, I followed discussions in the municipality of Varel, in the district of Friesland, where the majority of the local council vehemently argued against ‘another administration’, another ‘bureaucratic nuisance’ or a ‘green paper tiger’ expected to cost a lot of money in the long run. Others considered climate managers as agents of the ‘green ideological agenda’, and the mayor proudly argued that their municipality already does a lot for climate protection and is not in need of special advisory services. NGOs, concerned citizens and the local Agenda 20 group campaigned for several years for the implementation of a climate manager, until finally a young graduate from a nearby university was hired. In other municipalities and districts, the process went more smoothly; climate managers were welcomed and served as a sign that climate change is a matter of municipal concern.
In my interviews, several climate managers complained about how difficult it is to find their place in the hierarchy of the municipal administration. As one recently installed manager puts it, ‘When you are fresh out of university, you first have to build a reputation. For a start, they gave me a small room under the rooftop, which I had to share with the nature conservation representative’. Communal politics more often than not are based on established networks between an administration, personal and/or party affiliations and representatives of various public interests, and it can be difficult to establish new issues on the political agenda. Climate managers have to start from scratch in a political and administrative environment with a long tradition and well-established hierarchies. In any case, statistics and general opinion suggest that the implementation of climate managers is a valuable program.

4.1. Standardization of Municipal Climate Services

In 2019, the municipal council of Edewecht in the district of Ammerland decided to hire a climate manager. Between January 2020 and June 2022, this climate manager produced an integrated climate protection plan for the municipality, involving the participation of local actors and the following criteria:
‘The climate protection concept serves the municipality of Edewecht as a strategic basis for decision-making and a planning aid for its climate protection activities. With the help of the climate protection concept and the climate protection management, climate protection is sustainably anchored in the municipality as a cross-sectional task. These (tasks) include the analysis of the climate protection situation, the calculation of a municipal energy and greenhouse balance according to the territorial principle, the determination of potentials for the generation and utilization of renewable energies and energy efficiency, the calculation of a climate protection scenario until 2050, the development of strategies to increase the climate protection potentials and the derivation of prioritized fields of action’.
[30], p. VIII (Translation by the author)
The production of the climate plan is supported and guided by a software program called ‘Der Klimaschutzplaner’ [31], which offers guidance in climate monitoring. This software is standardized and certificated by BISKO, a systematic communal greenhouse gas emission balancing tool provided by the Federal Environment Agency. It offers guidance regarding energy use in the municipality, provides optional paths and enables comparability with other municipalities in Germany.
The six main fields of action covered in the final report of the climate protection plan are (1) construction, sanitization and heat transition, (2) renewable energies, (3) mobility, (4) education, advisory and participation, (5) climate adaptation and emission sinks and (6) a climate neutral administration. The final plan provides detailed insight into the infrastructure of the municipality, identifies the main sources of emissions and discusses potential sinks and other details. To create and track accountability, there are in-built controlling mechanisms and incentives such as the ‘Edewecht climate bonus’ for the transition toward climate-friendly housing.
There were several workshops with local actors, including young people. Due to the pandemic, the workshops were mostly online. Additionally, there were online tools such as a map of the municipality, where the public could write comments, share impressions and make suggestions. An online portal provides access to resources for use by individual households, for spatial planning, communal energy saving and so on. The mayor and especially green politicians and activists considered the completion of the plan a great success.

4.2. Discussion: Municipal Climate Managers

Municipal climate services narrow the scope of climate services and intervene in municipal politics. They do so on the basis of a standardized process, which is accountable and calculable and enables various forms of control. The fragility of these plans is obvious: the implementation of the suggested measures to reduce the climate impact is not binding, even after the approval of the municipal council. At least, this is my latest information. It seems to be indeed a question of standards and liabilities, what is binding and what is optional. This means that each of the suggested measures has to be debated, leaving it unclear what might be lost along the way and what is actually implemented. In terms of making use of public intelligence, it is a double-edged tool; because the framework is based on scientific calculations, the goals are reduced to technical and economic possibilities within the jurisdiction. Many potentially relevant factors fall outside their scope, such as major transport systems, economic processes and the management of territory, as well as infrastructure and buildings that are in private hands. Thus, the climate protection plan is reduced to a narrow window of opportunity for municipal politics. There is public participation, but it is channeled and constrained by the conditions of the standardized procedure and its technical framing. However, within this framework, climate indeed becomes part of the political agenda, the administration, spatial planning and communal life.
In the course of the current EU project ‘climateurope2’, I will bring together municipal climate managers, the Klimamarkt, selected stakeholders, administrators and local politicians in order to discuss what actually is and should be standardized, what is not and should not be standardized and what it takes to assure trust, transparency and the implementation of climate proposals and projects. To establish those encounters, it takes long-term research, and it takes time. Most climate services work in the rhythm of short-term projects, and it is another serendipity that this research can be stretched over two project terms.

5. Conclusions: Slowing Down Climate Services

In Northern Germany, like in many other regions in Europe, many people are what I call climate-literate. Climate services are needed to downscale global data and to provide long-term empirical observations about local changes in temperature, sea level or the frequency of extreme weather events. There is a dense infrastructure, and many administrations have their own experts and routines to gain relevant climate data. In the public sphere, scientific facts about climate change are framed as a matter of public concern and, as such, gain their own social life. The close relation of climate services to climate science makes them prone to call the public to order, to return to the science of climate. In this article, I argue that it is time to change direction and engage with the manifold performances of climate change in public life.
Slowing down climate services means situating climate science within the complex reality of the geo-social landscapes where climate change actually happens. It means overcoming the reduction of climate to statistics, of service to information and of solutions to technology. It implies a willingness to move beyond simple co-production exercises and the immersion of climate data, information and tools within the performative arenas of local life-worlds. Ideally, slow climate services take their time to explore the many contours of climate change in the everyday world, to link the insights from the laboratory with the experiences in the field, the statistics with the sense of place. Last but not least, slow climate services carefully situate themselves in the respective landscape instead of viewing it from above; place-based climate protection is based on partial knowledges, and science is one among other actors whose concerns are as meaningful as scientific facts. Slow sciences slowly follow the social life of climate data and how they come to matter in public life.
In this article, I portrayed three different forms of climate services that are active in the same area. Each type of climate service provides different contours: there is the statistical view of regional climate services, the applied statistics and planning of local climate services and finally the encompassing view obtained through social climate services. Slowing down climate services means wandering from one perspective to the other, back and forth, in order to get a more complete picture of what climate services can and should do. We should keep in mind that current climate politics and climate services are far from decarbonizing society within the goals set by the Paris Treaty, and thus it takes the reflection of current practices and courage to test new forms of climate activism, inside and outside of established institutions.


This project has received funding from the German Ministry for Education and Research BMBF, grant agreement FK 01LS1701B (ERA4CS project Co-development of place-based climate services for action CoCliServ) and from the European Union’s Horizon Europe research and innovation program under grant agreement No. 101056933 (project Climateurope2).

Institutional Review Board Statement

Not applicable.

Informed Consent Statement

Not applicable.

Data Availability Statement

Not applicable.

Conflicts of Interest

The author declares no conflict of interest.


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