Conference Panels

BREAKS IN THE WEATHER – ANTHROPOLOGY, EXPERIENCE AND JUSTICE IN A CHANGING CLIMATE

Co-convenor: Marcus Barber (contact person), Ecosystem Sciences, CSIRO Darwin
Email: Marcus.Barber(at)csiro.au
Co-convenor: Hans Baer, Development Studies, School of Philosophy, Anthropology and Social Inquiry, University of Melbourne
Email: hbaer(at)unimelb.edu.au
Co-convenor: Thomas Reuter, Asia Institute, University of Melbourne
Email: treuter(at)unimelb.edu.au

In his recent phenomenological reflections, Tim Ingold coined the term weather-worlds and noted that despite its centrality to life and experience, weather is notably absent from anthropological accounts of human ways of being and knowing (2010: S132). Ingold makes no mention of anthropogenic climate change, but in the extended anthropological contribution to climate change discourse coordinated by Crate and Nuttall in 2009, the editors identify a growing perception amongst field partners across the globe that the weather is increasingly unpredictable and that local land-, water-, sea-, and icescapes are irreversibly changing. For Crate and Nuttall, climate change is an urgent ‘threat multiplier’, magnifying existing ecosocial justice challenges and demanding anthropological action in striving for a sustainable world. For Ingold, the linguistic link between temper and temperature is no accident, suggesting an intimate relationship between human moods and weather. We invite papers from across the full spectrum spanned by these observations, from considerations of the structural and systemic implications of anthropogenic climate change for social, political, economic, and religious life through to reflections upon the role of weather in everyday human existence. In particular, alongside scholars with direct interests in climate change issues, we invite anthropologists who may have spent little time to this point directly considering weather and climate to revisit their fieldnotes, fieldsites and personal memories and reflect on how weather and/or climate phenomena affected the lives of the people with whom they work. Climate change has been (and arguably remains) a relatively distant and abstract concept for many, but its daily manifestation as the weather is an ongoing experiential reality, one of increasing importance. Anthropological contextualization of weather and climate change within human life is crucial to understanding how this globally distant yet locally immediate process will be comprehended and acted upon in coming decades.

  • SESSION 1     Room: 1.59 ARTS     Wed 6/7/2011     Time: 15.30-17.00     Room Location Map
    • Paper 1: Talking about the weather: anthropology and climate change
      • Marcus Barber, CSIRO/ James Cook University
    • Paper 2: Water, weather, and existential angst: the meaning of floods and droughts
      • Veronica Strang, University of Auckland
    • Paper 3: Understanding Climate Change Crisis along with Cultural Changes and the Politics of Development in Capitalist Era: An Anthropological Analysis
      • Sajjadul Hoque, N. M. University of Chittagong
    • Paper 4: Creating a safe climate: toward a democratic eco-socialist world system
      • Hans Baer, University of Melbourne

SESSION 1

Chair: Thomas Reuter

Paper 1: Talking about the weather: anthropology and climate change

Marcus Barber, CSIRO/ James Cook University

It is now clear that global warming will have a significant impact on human life during the 21st century and on human life in Australia in particular. In this paper I consider some implications of this situation for practicing anthropologists and some methodological and tactical pathways for constructive engagement with others about the issue. I focus primarily upon conversations, for sympathetic conversation is integral to the discipline and can be a highly constructive act on multiple levels. Three conversations are considered here. The first is intradisciplinary, reviewing why the issue has had a relatively low profile in cultural anthropology to this point in comparison with both the natural sciences and some other social sciences, the second is interdisciplinary, considering conversational tactics between natural scientists and cultural anthropologists, whilst the third is an intercultural one, considering conversations about climate change with people who are remote from the academies where this account of the future has been generated. The issue now warrants conversations across the full spectrum of anthropological field contexts by ethnographic researchers focused on a variety of characteristics of human life. Such conversations can provide a basis for interpreting the relevance of this issue for human beings as well as for considering how accounts of the future more generally are created and understood, and thereby suggests promising new terrain for anthropological comparison.

Paper 2: Water, weather, and existential angst: the meaning of floods and droughts

Veronica Strang, University of Auckland

It is apparent that one of the key outcomes of climate change is increasing instability and more extreme weather events. Building on ethnographic research examining human relationships with water in the UK and Australia (Strang 2004, 2009), this paper considers the meanings attached to floods and droughts, focusing in particular on issues of agency and control in relation to climate change. It highlights a key theme in debates: the way that societies construct relations with Nature as  other , and the challenges that unpredictable weather poses to long-held assumptions of control over the material environment. As Milton and others have observed, concepts of Nature can be linked to particular models of social organisation (Dake 1992, Douglas 1992, Milton 2008). Generally egalitarian approaches cede greater agency to Nature and promote collaborative modes of engagement, while hierarchical and competitive models favour an adversarial stance and the assertion of human control through impositions of technology. However, climate change foregrounds a reality that such engagements are not just an expression of ideas about collaborative or competitive relations with Nature, but are directly concerned with the control of water, territory and resources, and thus with the control of human populations. Through an analysis of accounts of droughts and floods, this paper explores the relationships between the angst that these  out of control events produce and a wider political ecology in which controlling water and weather is critically related to the political and economic control of people and resources.

Paper 3: Understanding Climate Change Crisis along with Cultural Changes and the Politics of Development in Capitalist Era: An Anthropological Analysis

Sajjadul Hoque, N. M. University of Chittagong

By 2015, the average number of people affected each year by climate-related disasters may have grown to 375 million and by 2030 the number of people suffering from hunger and illness due to creeping climate change (such as shifting rainfall patterns) could reach 310 million, with nearly half a million deaths. Climate change is the harvest of the capitalist economy which mainly started from the beginning of the industrial revolution in the west. The developed countries that have morally assumed responsibility for climate change have taken, in the name of development, various steps to reduce the impact of environmental disasters, but these have not yet been proved as sustainable. Following the  dominant ideology thesis , most of the problems of the third world have been identified by the rich, western nations rather than the affected nations themselves. Contamination of water, reduced rainfall, the greenhouse affect, river erosion- these are definitely problems for all. In order to survive, humans are being forced to change their culture and life-styles, adapting new survival strategies, and the cultural changes of the urban people and the sustainability of the adaptation strategies to climate change in Bangladesh will be examined in this paper. Yet the problem of climate change is defined by the rich, western nations. The author will examine the climate change crisis in the capitalist era and raise the important question of whether climate change is a crisis or it is a new technique of the developed world to exploit the poor nations.

Paper 4: Creating a safe climate: toward a democratic eco-socialist world system

Hans Baer, University of Melbourne

While the powers-that-be around the world are seeking to address climate change within the parameters of global capitalism, global warming problem means the end of capitalism due to its environmental sustainability. Thus, it is imperative to think outside of the box by engaging in an vision that seeks to be part and parcel of a larger effort to construct an alternative global system as the ultimate climate change mitigation, even though it will not be achieved any time soon. Thus I propose the creation of a democratic eco-socialist world system as what Erik Olin Wright terms a  real utopia. The transition toward such a system is not guaranteed and will require a tedious, even convoluted path. I propose the following steps to creating a socially just and environmentally sustainable world system: (1) the creation of new left parties, (2) the creation of emissions taxes as interim strategies, (3) social ownership of productive forces, (4) increasing social parity, (5) workers democracy, (6) a shorter work week, (7) renewable energy sources, appropriate technology, and green jobs, (8) expanding public transport and minimising reliance on private vehicles, (9) the creation of green and socially-integrated communities, (10) resisting the cultural of consumption, (11) developing sustainable agriculture and forestry, and (12) transforming the climate justice movement into a post-Kyoto global climate governance body. While I do not view my proposals as written in stone or complete, I hope that they will contribute to furthering a critical anthropology of the future.