EASA2014: Collaboration, Intimacy & Revolution

(P090)

Himalayan climate change: conflicts and related effects

Location S-233
Date and Start Time 03 August, 2014 at 09:00

Convenor

Ben Campbell (Durham University) email
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Short Abstract

Himalayan climate change challenges anthropologists and communities. How far has the discourse of human-induced climate change travelled as an effective discourse of mobilisation? Whose voices are silenced and whose legitimised? In what conflicts of livelihood and meaning can it gain traction?

Long Abstract

Anthropologists can engage creatively with climate change. Vernacular idioms of meteorological patterns are notable, as are accounts of resilient forms of collective environmental use. This panel will draw on ethnographic insights and cultural commentary to consider the local visibility of environmental changes, and local actors' methods of making sense communicating to outsiders in secular and sacred registers. The formulation of climate change in a scientised form of naturalistic risk expertise can present difficulties for social scientists and members of our communities of research to connect with, but provides opportunities for institutions in positions of authority over marginalised groups in locations of greater vulnerability. How far has the discourse of human-induced climate change travelled as an effective discourse of mobilisation, or of preventive response? Whose voices are silenced and whose legitimised? In what conflicts of livelihood and meaning can climate change get traction? There are methodological issues about how to recognise climate change in the field, how to interpret incidentally collected data, and how to introduce deliberation on outsiders' fascination with rates of glacier melt, species retreat, and anticipation of floods. There is evidence of extreme events foretold, of moral retribution, and of climate change used as a stick to beat back people from encroaching on protected areas, putting at risk the benefits of recent decades' work to extend participatory environmental conservation. As would be characteristic of regional Himalayan studies, we can expect immense diversity and cross-currants of explanation, recycled religion and science, and new resources for mitigation and adaptation.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Dev Pratha as a social democratic practice in climate change mitigation

Author: Syed Shoaib Ali (Microsoft Research)  email

Short Abstract

An ethnographic enquiry into sustainability of horticulture practices in marginal landholdings of Western Himalayas amidst climatological uncertainties, price fluctuations. It notes the fundamental importance of social networks and democratic practices in effectuation of sustainability.

Long Abstract

Although agriculture, climate change, environmental conservation among others have been central issues in Himalayan studies, there is a pertinent lack of rich ethnographic material exploring the social dynamics of risks and sustainability in these practices. This paper presents preliminary ethnographic insights from a longitudinal study of mechanisms of agrarian change in the widely visible shift to horticulture in Banjar Valley in Western Himalayas. It argues that the sustainability of horticultural livelihoods is facilitated by networks that are a part of the Dev Pratha. It further explores the importance of Dev Pratha, as a democratic, regional, village level religious institution in channelling mobilization for transition to horticulture and facilitating networks across which information on new technologies is experimented and shared in face of increasing climatological uncertainties.

Obstructing the era of demerit: ceremonial performance as disaster prevention

Author: Andrea Butcher (University of Exeter)  email

Short Abstract

In August 2010, a cloud burst and subsequent flash flooding devastated settlements and farmland in the Himalayan region of Ladakh, North-West India. The paper explores the critical reflection that followed the flood. Anthropologists are well placed to analyse the impact of climate change in human terms due to the detailed knowledge anthropology generates of those affected. The benefits of this can spread beyond the cataloguing of resource vulnerability, social and material adaption, and the compilation of data for interdisciplinary research. An anthropology of climate change can elucidate the local or moral governance systems that fall outside the normative scientific and bureaucratic mechanisms of international climate change management.

Long Abstract

The paper emphasises the persistence of such moral systems through an examination of the vernacular idioms used to describe the causes of the cloud burst, and the local technologies used to formulate a response. The local response highlighted the interpenetration of voices in the singular space of the tragedy: scientific explanations of climate change, local narratives of weather anomalies and supernatural guardians, and the moral discourse of karmic retribution. Locally, the tragedy was understood to be a sign of decline into an era of demerit: the inevitable degeneration in the protective capacity of the Buddhist teachings, an age characterised by increasing climate instability, disease, war and violence. The paper examines the ceremonial strategies and ritual technologies currently being deployed to remove the ritual and material pollution in both a moral and physical sense, to increase merit, restore stability, and prevent further instances of conflict and disaster; strategies whose historical legacy extends back to the time of the Tibetan empire and righteous kingship.

Sensing the winds of climate change

Author: Ben Campbell (Durham University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper will explore vulnerabilities in contemporary Tamang livelihoods in northern Nepal. The state, the market and strange weather converge in twists and turns of accidental and patterned effects which different generations and genders are trying to make sense of and do something about.

Long Abstract

While a host of scientific disciplines have made contributions regarding Himalayan evidence of temperature changes, glacier melt and drought, seemingly few anthropologists have joined the movement to see not only how they can work on climate change, but how it can work for them. This paper will explore the sense of vulnerable connectivity in contemporary Tamang livelihoods in northern Nepal. Here the state, the market and strange weather converge in twists and turns of accidental and patterned effects which different generations and genders are trying to make sense of and do something about. There are direct impacts of climate change in the frequency of failed winter crops. There are indirect manifestations of climate change in the ways that state institutions have re-equipped themselves with a new scientific agenda to challenge the entitlement of villagers to forests and pastures in protected areas. There are combined effects of political economy (especially labour migration) and winter drought that conspire to leave the older generation describing themselves as 'walking dead'. On the otherhand climate change offers the educated Tamang youth opportunities for contact with international NGOs, renewable energy technology initiatives, conservation advocacy and eco-tourism. The argument for taking on the agenda of climate change provides anthropologists of the Himalayas with possibilities for reassessing our understandings of long-term change in human-environmental interactions, and exploring the translations of global climate change discourse into the diversity of lived worlds and shifting relationships between ecological and cultural zones of the Himalayas.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.