Anthropology, Weather & Climate Change

How can observing swallows help us adapt to climate change? Biodiversity perceptions as drivers of local understanding of environmental changes
Location British Museum - Studio
Date and Start Time 27 May, 2016 at 14:00
Sessions 2


  • Anne Sourdril (UMR 7533 Ladyss - CNRS) email

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Short Abstract

In this panel we will explore how anthropologists investigate the way individuals and communities make sense of and adapt to global climate change through observations of biodiversity and natural resources at a local scale and on a daily basis.

Long Abstract

In this panel we will explore how individuals and communities make sense of climate change, which can be difficult to understand because its processes operate at spatial and temporal scales that are different from those at which we operate on a day-to-day basis. We hypothesize that individuals' observations of local biodiversity change inform their understandings of climate change. Flora and fauna, many of which are important natural resources for human communities, respond to the pressures of environmental change, and people observe those responses at a local scale and on a daily basis, even when they may not be able to observe the drivers. Ethnographic inquiry is, in this case, particularly important to understanding local perceptions and knowledge of climate change.

We invite presentations that seek to understand how biodiversity and its transformations are used as local indicators of climate change and that address how these locally-derived understandings of climate change can aid in resource management and small-scale climate adaptation. We also welcome contributions showing how these local perceptions and understandings influence citizen action and policy making at different scales. We are interested in contributions from researchers and practitioners in a variety of organizational types and would welcome papers that discuss how local environmental knowledge can be made useful for managers and resource users as well as for policy making and implementation.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


People, water, fish and plants: Interactions between environmental and social changes in a floodplain of the Brazilian Amazon

Authors: Esther Katz (IRD)  email
Annamaria Lammel (Université Paris 8)  email

Short Abstract

Over the last 20 years, stronger floods and dryer dry seasons have been affecting the inhabitants of the Curuaí floodplain, on the Amazon river, as well as crops, vegetal formations and fish species. Is it only climate change’s fault ? or rather an intertwining of environmental and social changes?

Long Abstract

In the Lago Grande de Curuaí, a floodplain of the Amazon river, located close to the city of Santarém (Brazil), the inhabitants have adapted their activities (centered on agriculture, fishing, cattle-raising) to the seasonal fluctuations of the water level. Strong floods used to happen about every 20 years, but recently they have been occuring every 2 or 3 years, reaching water levels previously unrecorded. In recent years, dry seasons have also been drier. People have lost fruit trees and have given up cultivating some annual crops on the lakeside. They also observe a decline in some fish species as well as in forest animals. But climate change, and environmental change in general, are totally intertwined with social, economic and political changes. It is therefore difficult to attribute nature transformations only to climate change. We will present here how these different changes have been interacting with each other, how transformations in animal, plants or ecological formations have been indicators of major environmental changes, but have also been impacted by social and environmental changes. Inhabitants have also led some actions, in particular in order to preserve the fish of the lake. Within the interdisciplinary project in which this research was led, biologists and hydrologists also studied elements of the environment only visible through a microscope. With the help of the social scientists, they established a dialogue with the inhabitants, so that they can cope better with the environmental changes.

Who's climate ? Who's change ? Various views from rural Northern Cameroon

Authors: Christine Raimond (CNRS)  email
Eric Garine (Université de Paris Ouest Nanterre)  email
Markus Bakaira (University of Ngaoundere)  email

Short Abstract

Narratives about weather events and climate change are different according to one's economic and cultural profile. Formal education level, economic strategy and autochtony vs migration are promising explanatory variables to account for the heterogeneity of discourses about so called climate change.

Long Abstract

Weather conditions, especially the timing of rainfall, are highly variable from one year to another in the sahelo soudanian part of Africa. Rationales developped by local stakeholders to account for these variations are based on various sources of knowledge depending on their primary socialization within a local territory and their direct experience of it, their formal schooling and linguistic competence, their faith to monotheist religion and their commitment to conservation and development programs. Commenting some quotes from various people in the same region, the communication is a tentative presentation of the differing voices on local changes : global climate change is not necessarily the main relevant explanation.

Observing wild flora to understand local perceptions of climate change in a temperate rural area of the South-Western France?

Authors: Anne Sourdril (UMR 7533 Ladyss - CNRS)  email
Cecile Barnaud (INRA)  email
Louise Clochey  email

Short Abstract

Local discourses on wild flora management in a French rural area give insight on how is (or not) perceived climate change by local communities, on adaptation strategies as well as social tensions emerging from the facing of environmental and social transformations.

Long Abstract

Rural areas of the european temperate countries are affected by climate changes that are not always perceived by local communities. In this communication we want to focus on how local discourses on biodiversity, and in our case study on wild flora, can give us insight of what people see as changing in their environment. This research is part of a larger interdisciplinary and comparative program on local perception of environmental changes funded by the French ANR. We conducted ethnographic investigations and participant observations on perceptions of biodiversity changes in the Bas-Comminges, French rural area which agriculture is based on extensive mixed farming.

Wild flora managements there are shaped and impacted by traditional agricultural practices, rural and agricultural policies or warmer temperatures and climate change. We will show that (1) wild flora is seen as growing and expending positively and negatively due to changes in agriculture and to warmer temperatures, (2) discourses on those impacts reveal different types of knowledge and uses of local flora and (3) social conflicts emerge around its management and reveal tensions as well as different objectives for the land within a changing community. We will demonstrate that warmer temperatures are not linked to climate changes and that environmental and social changes can not be apprehended separately. More broadly, we want to understand how rural populations are facing and adaptating to strong environmental transformations ; local, ad hoc, and iterative efforts based on local, non-scientific knowledge derived from observation and lived experience will be critically important in adaptation to change.

Indigenous Tea Farmers' Responses and Adaptations to Climate Change

Author: John Richard Stepp (University of Florida)  email

Short Abstract

Tea is a cultural keystone species and is being impacted by climate change. This paper explores indigenous knowledge, responses and adaptations to climate change. Consensus and decision models were developed to explore future scenarios.

Long Abstract

Tea (Camellia sinensis (L.) Kuntze) is an important cultural keystone species for indigenous communities in the Southern Highlands of Yunnan, China. Widespread economic growth and the rise of a consumer class in China has led to a great demand for tea grown by indigenous communities in small plots following organic principles. While production has increased in the region, demand has exceeded this growth. Climate change in the region is having an impact on crop quality and production. This paper explores indigenous knowledge of climate change in the region and details farmers' responses and adaptations. Specific questions include: How do tea farmers perceive the effects of climate on their agro-ecosystems and crop quality? What are shared farmer perceptions and knowledge on climate change? What cultural, cooperative and socio-economic variables are associated with greater farmer adaptive capacity to climate change? Farmer surveys exploring knowledge, social networks, perceptions, practices and decisions regarding tea management in the context of climate variability and socio-environmental change are presented. Cultural consensus analysis identified characteristics that allow farmers to perceive and adapt to changing climatic conditions. We explore future scenarios using ethnographic decision modeling.

Sámi reindeer herders' perspectives on tundra shrubification

Authors: Tim Horstkotte (University of Lapland)  email
Bruce Forbes (University of Lapland)  email
Tove Aagnes Utsi (UIT- The Arctic University of Norway)  email
Åsa Larsson Blind (University of Lapland)  email

Short Abstract

Reindeer herders’ observations in Fennoscandia testify changes of their pastoral landscape due to interacting environmental drivers and anthropogenic landscape change. These transformations challenge the management of social-ecological systems and indigenous livelihoods in the Fennoscandian North.

Long Abstract

Many indigenous livelihoods are confronted with accelerating effects of resource exploitation and environmental change. The often close connection of indigenous populations to their lands provides them with detailed observations of how environmental changes transform their landscapes of daily activities. Here, we report on Sámi reindeer herders' perspectives on transformations of the tundra in Northern Fennoscandia.

Reindeer herders report among others changes in seasonality, rising tree line, more extreme events, unstable weather (i.e. unreliable). If and where the tree line rises, the arctic and alpine biota of Fennoscandia will suffer from habitat loss, as well as the herding practices need to be adopted to these changes. However, the drivers of tree line expansion into hitherto open mountain vegetation are diverse and differ across the Fennoscandian study region. An important driver to affect the tree line dynamics are the direct and indirect effects of reindeer, which might offer new strategies of ecosystem management to counteract a potential encroachment of the tundra by woody plants.

If the magnitude of these transformations exceeds the adaptive capacity of indigenous livelihoods to react, and no actions are taken to protect and strengthen them, the cultural survival of indigenous populations may be threatened. Novel solutions in environmental governance are therefore confronted with difficult trade-offs involved in ecosystem management for ecologically reasonable, economically viable and socially desirable management strategies.

Rethinking Culture and Climate Change with Animals: Upper-Palaeolithic Perspectives

Author: Stephanie Koerner (Liverpool University )  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores contributions that examining the how and why of thinking with animals in Upper-Palaeolithic drawings can make to appreciating the importance and diversity of mimetic practices for how humans make sense of and adapt to deep and far reaching environmental contingency.

Long Abstract

"Until recently, the how and the why of thinking with animals were never posed as questions; far more attention has been paid to whether it is good or bad to do so. 'Anthropomorphism' is the word to describe the belief that animals are essentially like humans, and usually it is applied as a reproach" (Daston, Thinking with Animals, 2005). It is rather remarkable that Anthropology (so long defined as the study of the human) may be where one is most likely to find the longest standing interest and the widest range of materials bearing precisely on such questions.

This paper explores contributions that examining the how and why of thinking with animals in Upper-Palaeolithic drawings can make to jointly contextual and comparative studies of the importance and diversity of mimetic practices for how humans make sense of and adapt to deep and far reaching environmental contingencies. Emphasis falls upon the importance to such approaches of fresh anthropological approaches to the emergence, the how and the why of mimetic practices.

Waiting for the Season-Birds: Climate Change in the Eastern Himalayas Through a Multispecies Lens

Author: Alexander Aisher (University of Sussex)  email

Short Abstract

Through a multispecies lens this paper explores changing seasonality in the Eastern Himalayas through indigenous observation of changes in the migration and hibernation cycles of five species of birds, one insect and one frog—all taxonomically identified as "season-birds".

Long Abstract

In the tribal state of Arunachal Pradesh in the Eastern Himalayas, a biologically rich but under-researched area of South Asia, climate change is already influencing the migration, hibernation and reproduction cycles of animals. This is already having significant knock-on effects for indigenous cultivators in the region. Responding to recent calls for social scientific study of climate change "from the inside" this paper examines indigenous perceptions of changes in the migration and hibernation of five birds, an insect and frog—all taxonomically identified as "season-birds". Through a multispecies lens, the paper examines how such observed changes in the behaviour of these locally significant companion species produce friction as they scrape and grind against established oral narrative accounts of the temporal alignment of human practices with seasonal changes in the landscape required for successful cultivation of rice. An indigenous cosmological portrait arises of climate change in this part of the Eastern Himalayas as both a threat to the more-than-human social contract between swidden cultivators and the surrounding landscape and its spirits, and as a trigger for adaptation.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.