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A Sense of Urgency

How the Climate Crisis Is Changing Rhetoric

A Sense of Urgency

How the Climate Crisis Is Changing Rhetoric

A study of how the climate crisis is changing human communication from a celebrated rhetorician.

Why is it difficult to talk about climate change? Debra Hawhee argues that contemporary rhetoric relies on classical assumptions about humanity and history that cannot conceive of the present crisis. How do we talk about an unprecedented future or represent planetary interests without privileging our own species? A Sense of Urgency explores four emerging answers, their sheer novelty a record of both the devastation and possible futures of climate change. In developing the arts of magnitude, presence, witness, and feeling, A Sense of Urgency invites us to imagine new ways of thinking with our imperiled planet.

272 pages | 32 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2023

Biological Sciences: Ecology

Earth Sciences: Environment

Language and Linguistics: Anthropological/Sociological Aspects of Language

Rhetoric and Communication


“With inimitable creativity, Hawhee shows that climate change is not immune to comprehension but rather open to wildly curious rhetorical fashioning. She provides a fully embodied account of rhetoric and climate, time and temperature, showing that such supposed abstractions are actually glimmering sensations that blend feeling and knowing in the most intimate ways. This book is a gift.”

John Durham Peters, Yale University

“The unfolding climate crisis poses unprecedented challenges that require not only new scientific diagnostics but also a new social imaginary that reassesses dominant values, ways of knowing, and collective aspirations. One can hope we are all ready to heed this book’s call to reimagine communication—and the world.”

Phaedra C. Pezzullo, University of Colorado Boulder

A Sense of Urgency compels us to acknowledge that the magnitude of climate change courses through everything—including facts and feelings, information and sensations. Hawhee demonstrates just how intense rhetoric must become to meet these unprecedented challenges. Working with an extinct glacier, youth activists, a multisensory art installation, and more, Hawhee helps us once again consider an approach to rhetoric that we could not before fathom, but now must.”

Casey Boyle, University of Texas at Austin

Table of Contents

List of Figures

1. Introduction: Intensifications
2. Glacial Death: Making Future Memory Present
3. “In a World Full of ‘Ifs’”: The Felt Time of Youth Climate Rhetors
4. Learning Curves: COVID-19, Climate Change, and Mathematical Magnitude
5. Presence and Placement in Maya Lin’s Ghost Forest
6. Epilogue: Fathoming


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