Report details anthropologists’ role in addressing climate change

Guest post courtesy of IU Newsroom intern Annie Brackemyre

Indiana University faculty are key contributors to a recent report from the American Anthropological Association detailing the ways that anthropologists are tackling climate change.

The report, “Changing the Atmosphere: Anthropology and Climate Change,” is the final one in a series released by the association’s Global Climate Change Task Force. It outlines the effects that social institutions and cultural habits have on global challenges such as climate change.

Richard Wilk

Richard Wilk

It also suggests that more cooperation and insight from the social sciences and humanities are required to sufficiently combat climate change.

Richard Wilk, IU Bloomington Distinguished Professor of Anthropology, is a co-author on the study. Eduardo Brondizio, an IU anthropology professor and former department chair, served as an expert reviewer.

The report highlights that global climate change will impact areas and communities unevenly, and advises that top-down policies may not be the most effective ways to address the effects of climate change. As climate change intensifies, the report emphasizes that the burden on governments to respond in forms of emergency relief and restoration will escalate.

Anthropology ranks eighth among 27 sciences in the number of articles published on climate change, according to the report. Anthropologists are working on topics such as consumption of fossil fuels, electricity, construction and transportation; land use change; energy use and population changes, all which affect the atmosphere and climate change.

An excerpt from the report highlights the necessity of including anthropologists in conversations addressing climate change:

Eduardo Brondizio

Eduardo Brondizio

“Solving one aspect of the climate problem (emissions) will not deliver a better world for already-stressed populations. If climate change mitigation and adaptation can be incorporated into more immediate needs for employment, economic development, and public health, there is greater likelihood of successful mitigation and adaptation.”

The report stresses that the work of anthropologists fills a gap in climate change research by addressing large-scale societal and cultural factors that affect the environment broadly. Archaeological research also provides insights into how early societies responded to climactic changes, and what strategies succeeded and failed.

An example of IU faculty member already engaged in these issues by taking a human angle to address climate change is Catherine Tucker, associate professor of anthropology in the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Anthropology. She works directly with people most affected by climate change, helping empower them and create a dialogue between those affected and decision makers. Her work aims to open communications with these communities in order to create informed policy changes.

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