The anthropology of climate change: a challenge for humanity and the discipline in the 21st century
(P09)
Location C
Date and Time 10th December, 2008 at 08:30

Convenors

Hans Baer (University of Melbourne) hbaer@unimelb.edu.au
Kay Milton (Queen's University, Belfast) k.milton@qub.ac.uk
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Short Abstract

Climate change is arguably the most serious environmental issue ever faced, in terms of its potential impact on human societies. We are seeking papers that demonstrate anthropology's contribution to the discourse on climate change from both ethnographic and theoretical perspectives.

Long Abstract

This session is a follow-up to the one on 'The Anthropology of Global Warming: Processes of Adaptation and Mitigation', convened at the 2007 Australian Anthropological Society conference. Climate change is arguably the most serious environmental issue ever faced, in terms of its potential impact on human societies. Climatologists' predictions suggest that many currently populated areas could experience major changes to their ecosystems during the next century, making some of them uninhabitable. We are seeking papers that demonstrate anthropology's contribution to the discourse on climate change from both ethnographic and theoretical perspectives. Anthropologists are well aware that socio-cultural systems do not last for ever, either at the local, national, regional, or even global level. Some anthropologists and other scholars, as well as social activists, have argued that any serious effort to mitigate the effects of climate change requires a paradigm shift in organisation of the present global political economy from a system oriented primarily to profit-making and economic growth to one committed to processes of social parity, democracy, and environmental sustainability. Bearing these thoughts in mind, we envisage papers on the following themes:

• Anthropology of the future: what human societies and cultures will/should be like in a warmer world.

• How communities respond to dramatic changes in their environment on a scale comparable with those predicted to take place as the climate changes.

• What motivates people to change their behaviour and how they might be persuaded to do so.

• Analyses of the discourse of climate change.

Chair: Kay Milton

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Carbon cultures, CDM projects & travelling packages

Author: Graeme MacRae (Massey University Auckland) G.S.Macrae@massey.ac.nz

Short Abstract

This paper reports on a waste management project in Bali, Indonesia that has re-invented itself as a "climate change" project as a strategy to attract funding.

My argument draws on Anna Tsing´s notion of "traveling packages" of knowledge, that move, taking on new meanings, and end up taking unintended forms in unlikely places.

Abstract

‘Climate Change’, until recently the preserve of scientists and well-informed environmentalists, has recently and suddenly taken on new public meanings, rhetorical power, economic value and political currency. On one hand the burgeoning climate change economy has spawned a raft of new consultancies, enterprises, exchange systems and entrepreneurial opportunities. On the other, ‘climate change’, ‘global warming’ and indeed ‘carbon’ itself have become powerful cultural symbols carrying a complex range of meanings.

This paper reports on research which includes a history of the culture and political-economy of carbon, a case-study of a waste management project in Indonesia that has re-invented itself as a ‘climate change’ project as a strategy to attract funding, and a preliminary attempt to bring them into theoretical focus by drawing on Anna Tsing’s notion of ‘traveling packages’ of knowledge, that move from the places of origin, taking on new meanings as they travel, and often end up taking on unintended forms in unlikely places.

Disempowerment and climate change inaction in the Marshall Islands

Author: Peter Rudiak-Gould (Oxford University) Peter.Rudiak-Gould@anthro.ox.ac.uk

Short Abstract

I examine local reactions to climate change in the Marshall Islands, including disavowal (emerging as silence or faith in God’s promise) and pessimism (ecological doomsaying or prediction of a second Flood). Both strategies support inaction and stem from a historically inspired sense of victimization by, and reliance on, powerful outsiders.

Abstract

Climate change challenges the habitability and very existence of the low-lying nation of the Marshall Islands, a threat which has been communicated to Marshallese people secondhand via the radio and firsthand via coastal erosion. Nonetheless, local efforts to confront and broadcast this plight have been sluggish. To understand this inaction and suggest how to combat it, I examine Marshallese perceptions of global warming. The country's history of colonial domination, nuclear testing, and foreign aid has fostered a mentality of victimization by, and dependency on, foreign powers. This leads to a widespread belief in cultural and moral decline at the hands of Western money, individualism, and radiation. Against this backdrop, Marshallese people favor two reactions to climate change. The first is disavowal, manifesting either as silence or as Christian faith that the Flood will never be repeated, and bolstered by a nuclear-inspired distrust of scientists. The second strategy is pessimism, manifesting as environmental doomsaying or prediction of a second Biblical Flood. In the first approach, distrust of outside influence extends to Western climatologists; in the second, the master narrative of societal decay at the hands of outside forces provides a ready template for understanding global warming. Both strategies presuppose inaction and stem from a historically inspired sense of disempowered dependency. Encouraging adaptation therefore requires challenging this feeling of helplessness - but this will be as difficult as it is important, because climate change, a malevolent force inflicted by indifferent foreigners, will bolster the same sense of powerlessness that must be overcome.

The General and Regional Scope of Anthropological Research on Climate Change Adaptation

Author: Thomas Reuter (University of Melbourne) thor2525@gmail.com

Short Abstract

This paper argues that anthropologists are well placed to investigate the role of cultural practices, social contexts and ethical considerations in enabling communities and individuals to respond effectively and humanely to the potentially catastrophic consequences of those global climatic changes that most scientists now hold to be inevitable (Parry et al., 2007). This is illustrated with examples of research pertinent to Australia and the Southeast Asia-Pacific Region.

Abstract

Anthropologists are well placed to investigate the role of cultural practices, social contexts and ethical considerations in enabling communities and individuals to respond effectively and humanely to the potentially catastrophic consequences of global climatic changes (Parry 2007). This paper provides a model for, and examples of, anthropological research on climate change adaptations. General questions anthropologists are able to address include: 1) How moral considerations need to be incorporated into climate change policies; 2) How such moral considerations are framed within earlier representations of natural or environmental disaster; 3) How such culturally mediated moral considerations inform how communities in our region are already responding to early climate change impacts. These questions highlight the knowledge gap that needs to filled by bringing the 'ecological humanities' (Griffiths, 2007) to bear on the problem of climate change adaptation. Within our region, and on a more practical level, some of the most pressing questions anthropologists can address include 1) how communities in rural Australia are preparing to face this challenge and how they can best be supported in this. 2) How Pacific nations are responding to displacement due to rising sea levels, and 3) How Southeast Asian nations are responding to climate-change related pressures to revise forestry and agricultural policies as well as dealing with the potential displacement of millions of people who live in low-lying coastal cities or prime agricultural areas. The paper draws on the preliminary findings of a collaborative project (Reuter, Lynch, Rigby, Millner, Rose, Broderick and Williams) on climate change adaptation.

The role of the motor vehicle-oil-military complex in generating war and global warming: a political ecological perspective

Author: Hans Baer (University of Melbourne) hbaer@unimelb.edu.au

Short Abstract

The motor vehicle-oil-military complex constitutes the principal engine of production and consumption within the capitalist world-system. This paper presents a political ecological analysis of the role of this complex in contributing to both war and global warming as well as the interaction between these two phenomena.

Abstract

The motor vehicle-oil-military complex constitutes the principal engine of production and consumption within the capitalist world-system. It has been estimated that nearly half of the global oil consumption is devoted to the products of the global auto industry. The world now has over 800,000 million registered passanger vehicles and this number continues to grow as certain developing imitate developed societies in their adoption of the culture of auto-mobility. Oil is also a major resource utilised in road construction. In addition to motor vehicles, militaries with their heavy reliance on airplanes, battleships, aircraft carriers, tanks, and other military equipment rely heavily on oil. While states and empires have for long engaged in 'resource wars,' the discovery of oil in the late 19th century added a new dimension to warfare, as is evidenced in the characterisation of the War in Iraq as a 'war for oil.' While war is contributing to global warming vis-a-vis greenhouse gas emissions, the latter in turn may already be contributing to conflicts in drought-stricken regions of sub-Saharan Africa amd threatens to pose larger-scale conflict as the 21st century unfolds. Most analyses of global warming tend not to factor the contribution that war makes to this phenomenon which in turn is having a dramatic impact upon the environment and human societies. Bearing this thought in mind, any proposal for mitigating global warming needs to include a massive restructuring of the motor vehicle-oil-complex into a peacetime global economy committed to social parity, democracy, and environmental sustainability.