Governing Climate: Griffth Taylor’s Climographs and Contemporary Blind Spots

lcj-16Chris O'Brien

LCJ: Special Edition: Governance, 15, pp. 26-31

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O'Brien, C. (2015). Governing Climate: Griffth Taylor’s Climographs and Contemporary Blind Spots. Learning Communities: International Journal of Learning in Social Contexts [Special Issue: Governance], 15, 26-31. DOI:



The lines tell the story. Indeed they tell so many stories – linear narratives with a beginning, middle and an end. These are stories about climate, particular stories, from a particular time: which places are ideal for “civilisation”, which are merely suited to it and which locales are beyond the climatic pale. This was a time European prejudices about Indigenous people combined with an understanding that the atmosphere could only be understood with instruments, numbers and tables, a confuence which precluded the invaders from learning about climate from those who had long experienced it. It was a time when data, lines and graphs told the stories of climate. The story of the climographs is that northern Australia is climatically unsuited to European society – beginning, middle and end.

The lines were innovations when they appeared. Their creator, Thomas Griffth Taylor, (1916) was Australia’s most distinguished geographer, an infuential public intellectual and one of this continent’s more prominent academic exports.  His creation circulated way beyond his 1 own publications and the Commonwealth Bureau of Meteorology’s Bulletins. In 1920 Griffth Taylor’s lines attracted comment in no less a journal than the American Meteorological Society’s Monthly Weather Review.

Are these lines governing or governed? For many decades they shaped policy. They informed decisions about who would live where in Australia: what development could take place in northern Australia; who could undertake it. These lines set limits on the possible. Or, were they just refecting climatic impediments? If climate is reduced to averages of temperature and humidity, that might be the case. But as climatologist H. H. Lamb (1982, p.8.) has argued, climate is not just enumerated means; but also extremes and patterns across time (decades usually). So these lines govern a particular understanding of climate, which governs what can and can’t be done in Northern Australia. However, these lines are governed by a particular modern European way of grasping climate. They are applied to a peculiar way of defning territory and slicing up spaces of governance.


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