Posted by: henrymcghie | June 3, 2016

Anthropology and climate change


I went to a terrific conference at the British Museum last week, organised by the Royal Anthropological Institute. The subject was Anthropology, Weather and Climate Change. There were terrific parallel sessions, but as is often the case, there was too much to choose from and I had to miss out on may sessions I would have really liked to hear. The introduction asked the question ‘what can anthropology offer towards dealing with climate change’ (paraphrased). The answer was that, as the study of people, anthropology can help us understand the variety of perspectives on the topic, and also helps deal with the issue that sometimes information just isn’t enough. Graphs of rising temperature haven’t cut it in terms of changing attitudes and behaviour to the subject, although they are undoubtedly really important. Understanding people, and peoples, can help us to negotiate cross-cultural (meaning cultures in the broad sense as people with differing sets of beliefs and values) differences. There was some interesting commentary on the appropriateness of having some of the sessions for a conference on climate change in a ‘BP Lecture Theatre’. The most powerful sessions, for me, were those on the future of the Arctic, with presentations from First Nation Alaskans. The complexity of the situation, with competing demands, short and longer term frames of reference, was really moving.



  1. Interesting question. Personally, I find that other disciplines are more and more likely to reach out to indigenous communities directly. They aren’t necessarily consulting anthropologists on the topic. Whether that’s good or bad, I don’t know. I suspect both, but I do think it’s a real danger that anthropology could be left behind on a topic for which that we ought to be able to contribute a great deal.

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