Anthropology, Weather & Climate Change

Climate sciences and climate change from the perspective of the South
Location British Museum - Sackler A
Date and Start Time 29 May, 2016 at 13:30
Sessions 2


  • Renzo Taddei (Federal University of Sao Paulo) email

Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

This panel explores forms of understanding and experiencing the atmosphere that do not replicate those seen in the central Western debates. The panel explores how different peoples "make" climate, what they make of it, and the implication it has for global efforts in tackling climate change.

Long Abstract

This panel congregates papers that explore forms of understanding, experiencing, and producing the atmosphere that do not replicate those often seen in the central Western debates and in mainstream global media. The ways through which different peoples and cultural traditions "make" climate, and what they make of climate, varies tremendously around the planet. Understanding these forms of engagement with the atmosphere may make explicit many of the presuppositions that ground Western atmospheric imaginaries but remain invisible. Secondly, it may illuminate the complexities of how climate change is perceived and lived at the ground level, and how action in such "local" scale interacts with efforts in tackling the issue at larger scales. And third, it may offer new ideas, metaphors, and sources of inspiration for the urgent collective task of producing a future that differs from scientifically predicted worst-case scenarios, in face of the exhaustion of both state-centered and market-driven approaches to the crisis.

Case studies range from the discussion of the reasons countries like Brazil are developing "national" computer models to predict the global climate, to the context in which governors asked people to pray for rain during the ongoing drought in Southwest United States, to the employment of shamanistic rituals to produce dry weather for Bogota's International Theater Festival, to discussions on how indigenous peoples around the planet understand (and react to) the issue of geoengineering, and so on.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Living with uncertainty in dynamic environments: The case of Kutch and Sunderbans in India

Authors: Shilpi Srivastava (Institute of Development Studies)  email
Upasona Ghosh (Institute of Health Management Research)  email

Short Abstract

This paper asks what does uncertainty mean in these contexts, and what do people living at the margins in India make of it.

Long Abstract

In environmentally dynamic settings of the global South, uncertainty is a norm rather than an aberration. The wetlands of Sundarbans, the largest mangrove delta in Asia, face the challenge of devastating cyclones, erosion, and sinking land mass. In contrast, Kutch, which is the second largest dryland tract in India, is at the heart of drought and desertification. In both these settings, people have coped and lived with these changes through generations. In fact, their livelihood strategies, agrarian practices and local traditions are firmly bound to these uncertainties. These range from river fishing in risky waters of the Sunderbans to seasonality and migrant pastoralism in Kutch.

This paper asks what does uncertainty mean in these contexts, and how does is manifest itself in the lives of people? Living in a context, which is uncertain, dynamic and changing rapidly- changes that are only exacerbated by the effects of climate change in recent times - this paper highlights the significance of plural episteme(s) from 'below' that need to be integrated with current climate science and policy thinking. Through a comparative analysis of these two settings, this paper demonstrates the everyday predicaments and strategies of people who have lived, and continue to live with uncertainties in these dynamic settings. These range from invoking traditions to reading signals of nature. It shows how local people understand and make climate, and how such understanding interacts with other drivers of change.

Infusing Diverse Perceptions of Time and Risk into Climate Science and Policy

Author: Heather Lazrus (National Center for Atmospheric Research)  email

Short Abstract

How do the social organization of time and social production of risk contribute to people’s understandings of climate change, identification of which climate impacts matter and at what timescale, and what are appropriate solutions? Questions are explored using theoretical and empirical insights.

Long Abstract

Anthropologists have long examined how temporality and risk are differently understood across diverse cultures. Here, these anthropological insights are extended to explore how culturally- and context-specific perceptions of time, risk, and uncertainty contribute to understanding climate change and planning for climate-driven impacts. The paper presents illustrations from diverse contexts: Tuvalu, a low lying Pacific Island country facing sea level rise and shifting precipitation patterns; Alaskan coastal communities contending with sea ice loss and coastal erosion; and cities along the Colorado Front Range of the Rocky Mountains experiencing extreme flooding and drought. In each context, specific notions about time, risk, and uncertainty underlie how people in these communities perceive environmental transformations and manage threats. Importantly, these fundamental notions may differ from the assumptions about time, risk, and uncertainty that are held by those who produce climate information and who propose large-scale climate policies. The implications is that infusing more diverse understandings of time and planning, risk and risk reduction, and what is knowable or how much uncertainty is acceptable, into the production of climate science and policy might serve to expand how we think about climate challenges and, in turn, how we design strategies to address them.

Alter geoengineering

Author: Renzo Taddei (Federal University of Sao Paulo)  email

Short Abstract

The paper addresses geoengineering through the perspective of non-Western populations. It discusses how two specific groups relate to the question of the "manipulation" of the atmosphere, and how these same groups understand Western attempts to manipulate the atmosphere through technological schemes.

Long Abstract

The paper addresses geoengineering from a comparative perspective. The goal of the research is to contribute to the current understanding of: 1) how specific non-Western populations relate to the question of the "manipulation" of the atmosphere, and 2) how these same groups understand Western attempts to manipulate the atmosphere through technological schemes. The research compares ethnographic and bibliographic materials on the Amazonian Yanomami indigenous group, on practices associated with the African-Brazilian tradition of Umbanda. The research is an attempt to think the climate crisis, its causes and the strategies for dealing with it, through the perspective of non-Western populations. In more specific anthropological terms, the project intends to contribute both to the current debates on the theoretical significance of the concept of Anthropocene, and to the ongoing critical reappraisal of animism.

Rethinking the co-production of environmental knowledge: views from Oceania

Author: Carlos Mondragon (El Colegio de México)  email

Short Abstract

This paper is about the diversity of local understandings and engagements with climate across Oceania. Knowledge as a multiple and locally embedded phenomenon, is incompatible with global policy design. A radical overhaul of modernist concepts and practices is the only way forward.

Long Abstract

The subject of this paper is the diversity of knowledge forms in relation to local understandings and engagements with climate across the Pacific Islands. Thus far, my approach to the issue of environmental knowledge has focused on cross-cultural exchange, translation, conversion and the co-production of knowledge in relation to climate change policies. Lately there have been increasing efforts at incorporating local knowledge in the design of global environmental policies; through the generosity of UNESCO's Climate Frontlines team, I myself had a key role in one recent initiative to document and highlight indigenous knowledge from across Oceania within the context of the IPCC 5th Assessment Report. After critically reflecting on this and other efforts I have come to conclude that the multiplicity of lived experiences and localised understandings of the climate are essentially incompatible with mainstream modernist forms of engaging with and representing weather and climate change. My paper dovetails with this panel's argument about the "exhaustion of both state-centered and market-driven approaches to the crisis", insofar as I argue that knowledge is a multiple, emergent, social, moral and locally embedded phenomenon. Consequently, existing attempts at translating and converting it in relation to international policy design - not to mention climate modeling and global media representations - are doomed to failure. The co-production of climate knowledge faces enormous challenges, and I contend that only a radical overturn of the modernist environmental imaginary may open spaces of significant political and social legibility and effect for local knowledges.

PDF Download PDF of paper

Generation, Use and Trust of Climate Change Knowledge among Flood Affected Communities and Scientists in Vietnam

Author: Pamela McElwee (Rutgers University)  email

Short Abstract

Understanding of the uses of climate change knowledge in the global South and how trust and authority for knowledge is established in different ways is examined, using a case study of ethnographic work in Vietnam among both climate impacted rural communities and with Vietnamese climate scientists.

Long Abstract

This proposed paper contributes to ethnographic understanding of the uses of knowledge in the global South and how trust and authority for knowledge, particularly on climate change, is established in different ways, using a case study of ethnographic work in Vietnam among both climate impacted rural communities and with Vietnamese climate scientists. Vietnam is likely to be one of the most impacted nations in the world from climate change, due to its very long coastline, dependence on agriculture, and relatively low levels of development in rural areas. My research in climate-affected communities in the Red River Delta has revealed strong ambivalence about the degree to which humans can affect climate; many people expressed reservations about man's ability to control or ameliorate climate impacts, often phrased in terms of 'fate' or 'heaven's destiny', a legacy of strong Buddhist and Confucian beliefs. Yet these communities are not 'climate skeptics' per se as they do not actively question the science of anthropogenic climate change; they simply do not know if it is anthropogenic or not, because their experiential knowledge on coping with severe weather appears to be in decline. Ethnographic work with climate scientists and modelers in Vietnam indicates that they are well aware of the need to produce science that is understandable and useable by this confused public. In this paper I interrogate how cultural and social issues affect the perceived authority of scientists' work on climate issues and how scientists and communities together rework and remake climate knowledge in Vietnam.

Afuá - An amazonian floating city with bicycles.

Author: Andrea Bandoni (Istituto Europeo di Design SP)  email

Short Abstract

The city of Afuá is build above the river Amazon on wooden structures, and no cars or motorcycles are allowed there. This paper aims to present this isolated Brazilian city and to explore what it can teach us about living in a different relationship with nature.

Long Abstract

Afuá is an unique city in Brazil. Often called "Marajó's Venice" or "Amsterdam of the Tropics", it could actually inspire the world with its different approach to nature and its changes.

Located in the biggest rainforest of the world, in the northwest of the Marajó Island and close to the mouth of the river Amazon, in full tropical weather, its connection to water is crucial: it is built on wooden structures about 1,5m from the muddy soil and the surrounding rivers. This happens because this is a flooded area, with daily variations of the river's tide, so the city is adapted to its context. On top of this structure, almost all houses are made from wood, as well as streets, buildings and public spaces, which skirt big trees and small rivers in the area. No cars or motorcycles could be supported by this wooden city and are forbidden there, so bicycles are the main means of transportation - and many bikes are adapted as taxis, ambulances, firemen, etc.

This is an idyllic scenario when we think about sustainability nowadays. However the city was not planned around sustainable ideas, so it deals with problems concerning trash management, uncontrolled urban growth and the use of natural resources such as the wood from the forest that builds the entire city itself.

This paper aims to present this isolated brazilian city and to explore the way its dwellers have found to coexist with nature and the challenges they may face in the near future.

Thinking about climate change and imagining nations: producing climate change knowledge in Brazil.

Author: Andre Bailao (Universidade de Sao Paulo)  email

Short Abstract

While climate change is presented by science as a global phenomenon, climate change scientists and their models also generate knowledge and imaginations on the nation and the local – we explore this by drawing from ethnographic examples in Brazil, among Brazilian scientists and climate models.

Long Abstract

Climate change is presented as a global phenomenon by scientific narratives - and according to them, in order to be mitigated or adapted to, climate change must be discussed and solved through international scientific networks and political forums. However, there are contributions from Science and Technology Studies that show a co-production of climate change knowledge by networks of scientists and Nation-States - such as in Brazil (LAHSEN 2004, 2009; MIGUEL & MONTEIRO, 2015) and India (MAHONY, 2013), for example. As in the case of other scientific disciplines that require heavy investments, there are strong alliances between Science and State in the generation of knowledge on climate change, which also generates knowledge on territory, spatiality and the modern nation. If to think about the climate and the weather meant to think about the nation and its territory during the formation of meteorology in the 19th and 20th centuries, it is possible to draw a parallel with knowledge and imagination concerning climate change and the symbolic, epistemic and political management of national territories - beyond, but not excluding, the narratives concerning the global. The aim of this paper is to discuss these matters drawing from ethnographic examples in Brazil among climate change scientists, focusing on the development and generation of regional and global climate models. While most of the co-production debate focuses on alliances and disputes between scientists and State actors, we focus on how scientists themselves also produce these local and national imaginations by producing climate change knowledge.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.