ROYAL ANTHROPOLOGICAL INSTITUTE AND THE DEPARTMENT OF AFRICA, OCEANIA AND THE AMERICAS OF THE BRITISH MUSEUM

Anthropology, Weather & Climate Change

(P16)
Himalayan Climate Change
Location Senate House - Court Room
Date and Start Time 28 May, 2016 at 14:30
Sessions 1

Convenors

  • Ben Campbell (Durham University) email
  • Andrea Butcher (University of Exeter) email

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Short Abstract

The panel invites anthropological analysis of climate science, its evidence and policy discourse in Himalayan regions, and how institutional interventions interact with local material and interpretive contexts.

Long Abstract

Anthropology can engage with observable processes and lived experiences of Himalayan climate change. The panel invites anthropologists' analysis of climate science, its evidence and policy discourse in Himalayan regions, and how institutional interventions interact with local material and interpretive contexts. These include political economic change as well as vernacular registers of rains, droughts, and moral narratives. The impact of Himalayan climate change and its discursive social uptake is extremely variable, as are engagements with the Anthropocene. Even for scholars not environmentally trained, anthropological theories and methodologies offer critical focus to climate and conservation policy worlds, allowing them to understand and measure the wider social or cosmological complexities that affect the outcomes of their interventions. In what surprising locations can we perhaps find narratives of climate and environment? How can the observance of practices of everyday religion and the state contribute to understanding local perceptions of climate, conservation, and choices being made? Who are the "other" (non-human) participants in the political discourse of climate change that are not considered by external interventions? How do normative, managerial or hegemonic approaches to tackling climate change at local level open up new opportunities and close down others? Anthropologists can reflect on how altered livelihoods, loss of habitat, or territorial restriction impact resilience and sustainability of environmental interactions.

In order to consider possible trans-disciplinary or trans-institutional collaborations, the panel welcomes papers from anthropologists contributing to projects of conservationists, engineers, governmental and non-governmental organisations working with climate change agendas.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Actors, Assemblages and Future Directions: Ontologies of Climate in the Himalaya

Author: Andrea Butcher (University of Exeter)  email

Short Abstract

In this paper, I combine local conceptions of interdependence with the theoretical innovations of ontological anthropology and Science and Technology Studies, with the aim of introducing new ways to explore and discuss the complexity and diversity of climate change management in the Himalayas.

Long Abstract

Unpredictable weather is a challenge for the high altitude desert of Ladakh, the Indian Himalaya. Untimely snowfall, reduced glacial runoff, more rainfall and an increasing human presence all contribute to changing conditions and increasingly unstable weather. Proposed solutions assemble local environmental knowledge and external development interventions that focus upon sustainability, conservation and/or transformation of livelihood strategies and technical approaches. What tends to be concealed from public discourse, however, is the nature of the relationship between villagers, ritual specialists, and the supernatural guardians of weather and sources of water. Here, moral discourses, mythical histories, magical practices, and performances of "everyday religion" act together to produce the climate.

It has become possible to include gods and spirits as actors in public discourse once again thanks to the work of STS scholars and their considerations of the cosmopolitical (De La Cadena 2010; Latour 2004; Stengers 2005). By contemplating indigenous conceptions of interdependence and the merits of applying an actor-network methodology, the paper considers how the theoretical innovations of ontological anthropology and Science and Technology Studies introduce new ways of exploring the complexity and diversity of climate change impact in the Himalayas, in which scientific evidence and development intervention combine with ritual performances, practices of geomancy and supernatural agency to produce distinct and site-specific assemblages of climate management. The aim is to devise new methodological and theoretical frameworks that can bring together the religious, the magical, and the scientific when examining the production of knowledge about weather and nature in the Himalayas.

Climate Change in the Himalayas: Bhutan's Unique Engagement with the Anthropocene

Author: Ritu Verma (Royal University of Bhutan & Tarayana Centre for Social Research & Development)  email

Short Abstract

Bhutan is an unparalleled carbon sink, absorbing 3 times more carbon than it emits. Its discursive social uptake/policy engagement with climate change is unique. Ambitious engagement with the Anthropocene interacts with local material and interpretive contexts, shaping moral narratives and practice.

Long Abstract

Bhutan is an unparalleled carbon sink in the world, absorbing three times more carbon than it emits. Its high mountainous terrain means that it is particularly vulnerable to weather extremes and the effects of climate change. In the vast and variable region of Himalayas, its discursive social uptake and policy engagement with climate change is both ambitious and unique. Upheld as an "inspiration to the world" by UN Climate Chief Christiana Figueres, the Himalayan Kingdom encodes its commitment to environmental conservation in its constitution stipulating more than 60% forest cover in perpetuity. Recent climate promises made at COP21 in Paris further commit the nation to remain carbon neutral and integrate climate adaptation and mitigation into far-reaching development policies. Bhutan's sensitive land-locked geopolitical position in relation to two carbon-emitting giants, demonstrates that discursive social uptake of Himalayan climate change, institutional interventions and engagement with the Anthropocene are extremely variable across the region. The paper explores Bhutan's unique environmental policies, its institutional practices, and socio-cultural engagement with climate change. It situates them within its unique history, religious and spiritual-ecological beliefs (Bon and Buddhism), its geopolitical position, as well as GNH, a living alternative to development that guides the nation. In doing so, it investigates both the enabling conditions, as well as the challenges that the nation faces in a rapidly changing trans-boundary world. The paper argues that institutional discourses, policies, and practices interact with local material and interpretive contexts, shaping moral narratives about climate change and invariably, its impacts on sentient beings.

Complexities of Himalayan Climate Change

Author: Pasang Sherpa (The New School)  email

Short Abstract

This paper shares case studies from central Himalayas to understand and respond to climate change. It discusses cultural world as a conceptual tool to study contemporary social environments. It argues that local priorities do not always align with scientific understanding of climate change.

Long Abstract

Climate change is a contemporary human problem challenging the sustainability of humankind. It requires action-oriented knowledge production, grounded in local realities, encompassing multilevel and multisited dynamics, and engaging multidisciplinary perspectives. Through case studies from central Himalayas, eastern and western Nepal, this paper demonstrates the need to understand and respond to the effects of climate change, and highlights the presence of multiple actors and their varied agencies to engage with climate vulnerable communities that are treated as homogenous groups. The paper then discusses the utility of "cultural world" (Bodley 2003) as a conceptual tool to study contemporary social environments that do not fit neatly into homogenous categories based on geographic location, ethnicity, religious affiliation or nationality. Within these cultural worlds, the paper argues that there is a need to explore local priorities that do not always align with scientific understanding of climate change and essential actions.

The winds of climate change: some Himalayan reflections

Author: Ben Campbell (Durham University)  email

Short Abstract

The ways in which ‘human dimensions’ of climate change become the focus of attention from academics, institutional actors and policy makers need critical review.

Long Abstract

The core of this paper consists of a discussion of ways in which the human and the climatic become too readily stabilized, and a managerial relationship to the non-human environment is smuggled into varied kinds of interactions between very different human relational worlds and very different sorts of environmental phenomena. To reduce these to an old and tired binary of the kind that a generation of anthropologists and other social scientists have effectively collapsed (Beck 1991, Strathern 1991, Ingold 1992) would seem a retrograde step. It is nonetheless part of the framing by knowledge systems claiming truth status that evidence for climate change can be quantitatively organized to make a case for interventions, and to support not only projections of future impact scenarios, but also development and conservation policies to mitigate and adapt to irreversible climate conditions. In the case of Himalayan climate change phenomena, ethnographic examples from northern Nepal are discussed, which show the intimacy of relational disturbance with the non-human that Tamang-speaking communities are occupied by. Comparing the life-affecting whims of territorial sovereigns of place, and the territorial aspirations of a state undergoing its own multiple crises, leads to a conclusion that climate change performs the social in anthropologically dense conflicts over ethics and control.

Understanding climate change as a socio-ecological phenomena in the Indian Trans-Himalayas

Authors: Rashmi Singh (Ambedkar University Delhi)  email
Rishi Sharma  email
Suresh Babu (Ambedkar University)  email

Short Abstract

A mixed methods study to understand the socio-economic changes driven by warmer temperatures, development apparatus and market connectivity among an agro-pastoral community in Trans-Himalaya

Long Abstract

Recent discourses on pastoralism focus on adaptations made by pastoral communities in response to climate change in the entire Trans-Himalaya. In last three decades, developmental interventions and market connectivity have drastically altered livelihoods and thus human-environment relationships. On the contrary, climate change has also been economically beneficial in parts of Indian Himalayas where increase in temperatures has made some regions suitable for cash cropping. Our study based on ethnographic research in five villages of the Spiti region in North-West Indian Himalayas investigates the quick transition in agro-pastoral community largely driven by success of experimental cropping of green pea and apples. This one major change i) shifted self-sufficient barter based economy to market driven economy, ii) altered agricultural practices and food habits, iii) resulted in decline of livestock numbers where reduced holdings are compositionally different, iv) ensued entry of seasonal laborers from plains who have become the new actors in pasture management and, v) caused loss of cultural practices like weaving, monastery tax in form of traditional crop barley etc. We argue that the present day discourses in ecological studies of pastoral systems should also engage with these socio-ecological dynamics that have implications on agricultural productivity, rangeland vegetation and wildlife conservation.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.