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Anthropology and global warming: the need for environmental engagement

Publication date:
S. Batterbury
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Over decades, a relatively small group of anthropologists have contributed to the understanding of how societies deal with environmental change and climate variability. Those contributions aside, the discipline is not strongly positioned in public debate about - or research and action on - anthropogenic global warming. This paper argues that environmental anthropology, and cultural studies of climate variability, offer key directions for future research and advocacy on climate change. More specifically, it is argued that anthropology brings indigenous and local perspectives into a debate about climate and environmental change that is coarse in scale and largely science-dominated. Points to note include:

efforts to provide climate forecasts to rural households more effectively have been made by anthropologists who stress the importance of understanding the human dimensions of inter-annual climate variability and local responses
while scientific forecasting can now assist farmers and herders in remote regions by providing event probabilities, understanding how this is interpreted and understood is an ethnographic task
in view of the urgency of the issue of climate change, a general acceptance of the sentiments and the practice of an engaged (applied) anthropology is well overdue. This means shedding much of the exceptionalist thinking that infests anthropological debate, and embracing rather than resisting the realities of other disciplines

In conclusion, the authors argue that anthropology, without a sense of urgency about global warming, is unthinkable.