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Climate Change: Anthropological Concepts and Perspectives Term Paper

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Updated: Jun 27th, 2020

Applied anthropology can not only analyze the anthropogenic causes and effects of many processes but also research the environmental issues in order to provide effective solutions to address the identified problems. In this case, the climate change is one of the most challenging environmental issues that are discussed by anthropologists in the context of global hazards. From this point, the climate change is an international issue that is associated with a range of climate threats and risks (Kedia and Van Willigen 92; Whitington 308). Concentrating on the global change, it is important to focus on the anthropological perspectives in discussing the climate change in order to explain the role of the human-environmental interactions in influencing the problem (Charnley and Durham 398).

Thus, developing the idea that the climate change is anthropogenic in its nature, researchers focus on proposing the specific framework and solution in order to address a global environmental change that affects all the aspects of the people’s life leading to the social change (Charnley and Durham 398; Moran 133). In this context, it is important to discuss how anthropologists define the environmental change in relation to the social change; what views are predominant in the anthropological discourse regarding the global character of the climate change; what arguments are proposed to state that the climate change is anthropogenic in its nature; what anthropological perspectives influence the discussion of the problem; and what solutions are proposed by anthropologists to address the problem of the climate change depending on the followed perspective.

Environmental Change as a Concept of Environmental Anthropology and Its Relation to the Social Change

The concept of the ‘environmental change’ is one of the most complex concepts in the applied anthropology because it is associated with the discussion of the forces that cause the change in ecosystems and consequences of the change. Furthermore, the anthropologists’ vision of the environmental change is closely connected with the idea of the social change. The reason is that anthropologists often discuss the environmental change while referring to such social processes as migration, poverty, and degradation caused by any changes in the environment (Warner et al. 692). From this point, the environmental anthropologists are inclined to see the global change from both positive and negative points because it is rather difficult to forecast the real consequences of any environmental change (Moran 134; Warner et al. 692). As a result, the environmental change is discussed in many contexts, including national, regional, and global ones.

The concept of the environmental change is directly connected with the problem of the climate change. According to Warner and other researchers, environmental changes in society are mainly associated with sudden disasters, ecological processes, and cyclical climate conditions (Warner et al. 691; Whitington 309). Researchers note that being influenced by changes in the climate, people need to change their social realities and adapt to the changed environment or migrate (Warner et al. 691; Whitington 309). In this context, the most influential environmental change is the climate change. Warner and the group of researchers state that today the environmental change and such its aspect as the climate change present “a new threat to human security” (Warner et al. 691). Anthropologists are inclined to find the solution to the problem of the environmental change in order to avoid dramatic effects on the other aspects of the people’s life. In this case, the relationship between the anthropological theory and practice is direct.

In environmental anthropology, the environmental change is mainly discussed in associations with the humans’ activities that are important for analyzing the causes and consequences of the change. This idea is supported by Charnley and Durham who state that modern anthropologists should be able to demonstrate “how environmental change affects peoples’ lives and how peoples’ actions affect the environment” (Charnley and Durham 397). The problem is in the fact that environmental problems observed globally not only influence the people’s life in different regions and affect the social change, but these intensified problems are the results of the changes in the populations’ life because of the notion of carrying capacity (Warner et al. 711). It is important to note that being influenced by the necessity to adapt to the social changes, people form specific environments round them and this activity leads to the environmental change in the future. Such adaptations are associated with the active use of advanced technologies globally, and anthropologists are inclined to discuss the environmental change and the social change in their relationship (McMichael and Dear 9484; Moran 134). In this context, the climate change is discussed as the most important aspect of the environmental change that has many effects on the life of populations globally.

Climate Change as an Aspect of the Global Environmental Change

Anthropologists are inclined to identify the issue of climate change in the context of the discussion of the environmental change and its outcomes for the nations. From this point, the climate change can be defined as a significant shift in the climate patterns caused by the global warming and leading to the rise of the sea level; uncontrolled flooding and drought; increases in the heat levels; changes in the intensity of storms and hurricanes; and changes in the quality of the air (Connor 249; Rudiak-Gould 10; Warner et al. 690). The climate change is usually discussed by researchers as a global problem because it affects people in relation to different aspects of their life. The effects of the climate change are first observed at the environmental level, and it is a reason to discuss the global character of the problem (Connor 249). From this point, anthropologists focus on researching the problem of climate change in order to influence the environmental policies at several levels, where domestic and global levels are equally important (Charnley and Durham 397). Thus, the climate change is viewed by anthropologists as not only the phenomenon with multiple aspects but also as the problem that has several dimensions and levels for the research.

The traditional vision referred to the climate change in the field of anthropology is associated with the discussion of the hazardous effects of the global change in climate because this change can lead to many problems for populations of different regions of the world. Following Kottak’s approach to explaining the global environmental changes, it is also possible to discuss the climate change as the environmental hazard. Furthermore, this hazard is of the developmental nature, and it needs to be addressed accordingly. Kottak notes that hazards created by the process of development should be discussed as the necessary conditions “for the emergence of new perceptions of the environment” (Kottak 26). In this context, it is possible to state that anthropologists are inclined to discuss the climate change in the sphere of applied anthropology as an environmental change that can potentially have hazardous effects on populations at all levels, and the task of anthropologists is to design programs and policies to resolve this issue.

The climate change is associated with a range of ecological risks that are influential in relation to the people’s life globally. Thus, the global character of the climate change means that even if some populations can be affected by the climate change more than the others, it is impossible to state that the climate change is characteristic only for several regions of the world. Researchers argue that the problem of the climate change is in the fact that it is impossible to clearly determine regions of the world that can suffer from the dramatic change less than the other regions (Moran 138; Whitington 310). In this context, the concept of the climate change is directly connected with the ideas of social vulnerability and adaptation at the global level because this environmental change and associated natural hazards affect all the regions of the world. According to Moran, anthropologists need to propose effective responses to the global climate change because the most obvious effects of this ecological phenomenon are the ecological degradation and shifts in the climatic and weather patterns (Moran 139). These changes will lead to many environmental, economic, and social problems (Charnley and Durham 400). From this point, discussing the best ways to respond to the problem of the climate change, anthropologists refer to the principles of environmentalism and focus on the theory of the climate change’s development.

The Role of Human-Environment Relations in Affecting Climate Change

One of the most discussed questions related to the problem of climate change is the role of the human in this process. In order to explain how humans’ activities can be the main cause of the global climate change, anthropologists choose to research and describe the nature of the human-environmental relations in general. The human-environment relations are the complex concept because there is no single idea shared by anthropologists regarding the nature and effects of these relations. Many researchers are inclined to determine the negative aspects associated with the humans’ role in affecting the environment. Thus, humans are often discussed as the sources of the ecological problems and the general environmental degradation (Moran 140; Warner et al. 690). On the contrary, many anthropologists are inclined to focus on the influence of the environment on the people’s life rather than on the impact of humans on the ecology and other natural processes (Charnley and Durham 400). However, in spite of the position, anthropologists still view the human-environmental relations as the key to understand the problem of the climate change and the perspectives for its future discussion.

In this context, different changes that are observed in relation to the modern climate patterns are explained by followers of the anthropogenic climate change view as a result of the human experience. Researchers are inclined to focus on the role of the humanized carbon cycle in affecting the global warming while discussing the climate change (Kottak 24; Whitington 310). There is an anthropological explanation to the problem that is based on the discussion of the social and economic factors. According to many researchers, populations experience the dependency on fossil fuels in relation to their social and economic life, and this dependency causes the excessive use of energy and significant gas emissions that lead to changing the environmental situation (Kottak 24; Magistro and Roncoli 92; Whitington 310). Thus, the greenhouse gas production is a result of the human activities and a logical consequence of the industrial society’s development and overconsumption (Kottak 26; Magistro and Roncoli 92; Whitington 310). From this point, anthropologists state that the climate change is directly associated with the everyday human activities and with the historical social and economic alternations.

Nevertheless, many anthropologists avoid stating clearly that the climate change is a result of the humans’ activities because they refer to the reception studies the results of which indicate that many people do not associate the climate change with their usual activities and the technological progress of the world. The results of anthropologists’ surveys demonstrate that many people living in developing regions of the world are inclined to reject the role of the human-climate interaction while discussing the causes of the climate change (Rudiak-Gould 10). If representatives of different communities demonstrate the awareness about the climate change and adverse natural processes, they rarely associate the observed processes and knowledge of the climate change with the activities of humans. Instead, these persons refer to the idea of “natural cycles” or “natural cyclical change” in order to explain changes in “weather patterns or to argue against the idea of anthropogenic changes” (Connor 258). As a result, the question of the role of humans in affecting the global climate change is highly debatable. On the one hand, it is possible to discuss the climate change as a human-induced change (Charnley and Durham 407). On the other hand, the anthropogenic nature of the climate change is often rejected by representatives of the indigenous and developed communities who are inclined to explain the environmental change with references to the natural development process. As a result, anthropologists aim to research the causes of the climate change and find the ways to cope with the problem while focusing on changing the humans’ visions of the issue.

Anthropological Perspectives in Discussing the Climate Change

The anthropologists’ focus on studying the climate change depends on the specific anthropological perspective that is followed or shared by the researcher. Thus, in the field of applied anthropology, researchers choose to explain the climate change and select solutions to the problem from holistic or cross-cultural perspective as well as from the point of cultural relativism. The followers of the holistic approach and perspective in the field of applied anthropology state that all the social and cultural groups form the complex global social system, and it is necessary to discuss such global hazards as the climate change from the perspective of its relationship to the whole ecological system (Kedia and Van Willigen 93; Magistro and Roncoli 94; Moran 134). Holistic studies of populations regarding their visions of the climate change are important because they allow discussing the problem from all points and sides.

Multiple factors affecting the climate change are taken into account in addition to the discussion of the cultural and social aspects of the environmental change (Charnley and Durham 400). According to the holistic view, human populations are perceived as interrelated and living in the global physical environment where all the elements are connected. As a result, the climate change is perceived as the problem that is influenced by both human activities and natural processes, and the effects of the climate change are expected for all the ecological systems (Whitington 310). As a result, those anthropologists who discuss the climate change from the holistic perspective contribute more to the development of the international policies in order to prevent the progress of the climate change process because of approaching the problem as a complex of issues.

The second important perspective from which anthropologists are inclined to discuss the problem of the climate change is cultural relativism. Thus, following the principles of cultural relativism, it is important to state that anthropologists see cultures and populations in their variety, and people’s differences are considered as influential to condition humans’ vision of the climate change (Magistro and Roncoli 92; Whitington 310). Referring to cultural relativism, anthropologists understand that it is necessary to concentrate on the cultural specificity while discussing the ways of preventing the negative effects of the climate change. According to Magistro and Roncoli, to understand what tools to choose in order to address the problem of climate change, it is necessary for anthropologists to analyze “cultural meanings, collective myths, and social memory” that are typical for the concrete cultural group (Magistro and Roncoli 93).

The researchers state that it is important to identify the association between the climate change and community’s perception of the change at the local level. In this context, the global analysis of the climate change should be based on the analysis of climate change perceptions and reactions in different local communities (Magistro and Roncoli 91). The factors that influence the perception, knowledge, and understanding of the climate change processes are the cultural values and aspects of the social life, including the vision of the role of science and technology in the community (Magistro and Roncoli 91; McMichael and Dear 9483). Focusing on the cultural background which forms the populations’ vision of the climate change, anthropologists can develop programs that are appropriate for the concrete region.

The followers of the cross-cultural perspective tend to discuss the direct relationship between the culture and climate change while focusing on comparative studies conducted in different regions of the world. In this context, different cultures are considered as having different impacts on the climate change, and the outcomes of the climate problem can also be different for these populations (Moran 136). Therefore, the role of the local perception and knowledge of the climate change is traditionally discussed by anthropologists from the cross-cultural perceptive. Researchers claim that the representatives of various cultures are inclined to understand the climate change differently (Rudiak-Gould 10). It is characteristic for the members of developed cultures associate the climate change with the scientific knowledge and the negative effects of the technological progress. From this point, the climate change is perceived as the effect of the Industrial Revolution and further development of technologies that have changed the modern world and nature of people’s activities (Kottak 28; Moran 138).

A different vision is typical for the representatives of the indigenous populations who focus on effects of the climate change rather than on their causes. According to Rudiak-Gould, existing anthropological investigations of the problem of climate change “have focused primarily on how frontline and indigenous communities become aware of global warming through first-hand observation of local impacts” (Rudiak-Gould 9). Thus, the local knowledge of climate development is based on the indigenous people’s discussion of noticeable changes in their daily life and agricultural activities caused by changes in the rainfalls, weather conditions, and levels of productivity. From this point, it is important to state that anthropological studies focus on the problem of the anthropogenic climate change from many perspectives while discussing the peoples’ knowledge and awareness of the problem’s causes and effects.

The Role of Anthropologists in Solving the Problem of Climate Change

Applying the results of researches to practice, anthropologists can achieve significant results in relation to providing relevant solutions to the problem of climate change that is discussed globally. However, anthropologists’ role in providing the response to the problem of climate change depends on their successes in influencing what people think and know about climate and environmental changes (Magistro and Roncoli 94). In their article, Magistro and Roncoli also state that to resolve the problem of the climate change, it is helpful to focus on the role of local decisions as the first steps in order to address the global problem of the environmental change (Magistro and Roncoli 92). The reason is that the solution of the global problem is based on the work with a range of issues at the local levels. Nevertheless, the problem is also in the fact that in spite of differences in the visions of climate change that are characteristic for the indigenous populations and for the representatives of the developed cultures, anthropologists need to propose the solution to the climate change issue that could respond to the needs of different nations. The lack of knowledge regarding the aspects and hazards of the climate change is typical for representatives of both developed and indigenous populations (Rudiak-Gould 11; Warner et al. 700). As a result, the most important step is the development of policies and strategies in order to eliminate the gap in the people’s knowledge of the climate change.

While developing strategies and programs that are effective to respond to the problem of the climate change, anthropologists face many theoretical and practical challenges. One of the most important practical barriers to solve the problem of the climate change is the problem of the lack of energy resources and the necessity of using fossil fuels that contribute to creating the greenhouse effect. Those environmental anthropologists who follow principles of cultural relativism propose to address this problem of climate change with a range of culturally appropriate alternatives (Kottak 26). However, in this case, the environmental problem is directly connected with the economic development of communities, and authorities need to pay more attention to implementing those programs and strategies that are both effective for the environment and the economic progress (Moran 140; Warner et al. 700). In this case, anthropologists focus on developing programs and policies according to the principle of sustainability. Specialists work to create the balanced environment for reducing the risk of the climate change and for increasing the economic potential of the region.

One of the basic approaches to changing the populations’ visions of the climate change problem is informing about the risks associated with the global change. However, the problem is in the fact that perceptions of the people depend on their cultural differences, and this situation affects anthropologists’ attempts negatively. In this context, it is important to note that differences in views regarding the climate change also cause differences in the risk perception. According to Kottak, risk perception emerges in “cultural, political, and economic contexts” that are shaped by changes in social circumstances (Kottak 28). As a result, developing solutions to be used in different cultural communities, anthropologists should also refer to differences in the people’s perception of risks associated with this type of the environmental change (Warner et al. 691). These approaches are also typical for the supporters of the cross-cultural perspective in anthropology.

Having discussed the approaches to creating solutions to the climate change problem typical for the followers of different anthropological perspectives, it is important to conclude the analysis with the focus on the contribution of the holistic approach to the discussion of the climate change issues. It is important to state that anthropologists discuss the holistic approach as rather difficult to be used in applied anthropology for addressing the problem of the climate change because of its complicated character and multiple factors affecting the vision of the problem (Warner et al. 700). For instance, discussing the problem of the environmental change, researchers determine such human causes of the climate change as the excessive energy consumption, the excessive use of technologies, industrialization, and the active use of cars (Kottak 28; Magistro and Roncoli 94; Whitington 314). However, these activities are also caused by the changes in the social life and population growth, in their turn. From this point, the climate change processes can be discussed as unavoidable because they are associated with many aspects of the global change. As a result, the approach to solving the problem should be complex. In this case, supporters of the holistic perspective in anthropology point at the necessity to apply the complex decisions while solving the problem of the global climate change.

Nevertheless, such environmental concerns as the climate change are the topics for the debates of many anthropologists, regardless the perspectives they share and concepts they apply to the discussion of the problem. The reason is that anthropologists are expected to provide the effective solution to the problem of the climate change while focusing not only on the environmental issues but also on the role of a man and his needs in this process (Charnley and Durham 401; Warner et al. 700). According to Connor, the “anthropogenic climate change is a potentially catastrophic process of planetary dimensions”, and anthropologists need to use their opportunities in researching populations and conducting studies in order to explore the problem from many perspectives (Connor 247). The necessity to develop solutions to the problem quickly depends on the fact that “global heating and other manifestations of climate change are no longer hypothetical scenarios but are part of the lived experience of people residing in many places” (Connor 247). From this point, new approaches to the decision-making process on the topic are necessary to address the climate change process successfully.

Conclusion

The climate change is discussed in applied anthropology as the significant environmental change that should be viewed in the context of its role for the global population. In this context, the role of anthropologists in exploring the nature and aspects of the climate change is connected with finding the solutions to the problem that can be effectively adapted to different social situations. The number of researches on the climate change and its causes is significant, but anthropologists note that the recent studies demonstrate the lack of the people’s awareness regarding the actual causes of the global problem. As a result, anthropologists work to propose programs, policies, and strategies that can be successfully adopted and implemented in different social and cultural communities in order to inform and educate populations regarding the climate change.

In spite of the fact that decades are spent in researching the problem of the climate change, the aim of applied anthropology is to provide resources in order to prevent the negative effects of the environmental and social changes with the focus on practical techniques and well-developed strategies. New models necessary for discussing the climate change are developed by modern anthropologists in order to expand opportunities for addressing all the aspect of the global problem. Although there is a range of barriers and complexities associated with solving the climate change problem, anthropologists work to find new resources and approaches to help people adapt to the changing situations and eliminate the level of the social vulnerability characteristic for different societies. Spreading the idea that the climate change is a global problem, anthropologists can also contribute to improving the communication and knowledge on this controversial topic. From this point, such an environmental concern as the climate change can be discussed as one of prioritized issues that are addressed by anthropologists in their everyday practice.

Works Cited

Charnley, Susan, and William Durham. “Anthropology and Environmental Policy: What Counts?” American Anthropologist 112.3 (2010): 397-415. Print.

Connor, Linda. “Anthropogenic Climate Change and Cultural Crisis: An Anthropological Perspective”. Journal of Australian Political Economy 66.1 (2010): 247-267. Print.

Kedia, Satish, and John Van Willigen. Applied Anthropology: Domains of Application. Westport: Praeger, 2005. Print.

Kottak, Conrad. “The New Ecological Anthropology”. American Anthropologist 101.1 (1999): 23-35. Print.

Magistro, John, and Carla Roncoli. “Anthropological Perspectives and Policy Implications of Climate Change Research”. Climate Research 19.2 (2001): 91-96. Print.

McMichael, Anthony and Keith Dear. “Climate Change: Heat, Health, and Longer Horizons”. PNAS 107.21 (2010): 9483–9484. Print.

Moran, Emilio. “Theory and Practice in Environmental Anthropology”. NAPA Bulletin 18.1 (2000): 132-146. Print.

Rudiak-Gould, Peter. “Climate Change and Anthropology: The Importance of Reception Studies”. Anthropology Today 27.2 (2011): 9-12. Print.

Warner, Koko, Mohamed Hamza, Anthony Oliver-Smith, and Fabrice Renaud. “Climate Change, Environmental Degradation and Migration”. Natural Hazards 55.3 (2010): 689-715. Print.

Whitington, Jerome. “Fingerprint, Bellwether, Model Event: Climate Change as Speculative Anthropology”. Anthropological Theory 13.4 (2013): 308-328. Print.

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