The study of how present-day climate change is impacting local cultures in coastal areas is an emerging field in anthropology. I found this surprising when I first began reviewing studies done by anthropologists of climate change impacts on culture in 2011. What about the Dutch and their seawalls I thought? What about the longer crop growing season in Greenland, the huge increase in insurance premiums to cover wind and flood damage along the increasingly hurricane-prone Gulf Coast, or the impacts of less sea ice on traditional hunting and foraging of the Inuit? The global impacts on local culture (or “glocal” per a certain anthropologist) due the rising sea-level, melting polar ice caps and warming upper latitudes combined with a growing number of climate-related natural disasters didn’t just start a few years ago (Piertese 1995:49). These things have been impacting coastal communities for a long time. Since coastal communities have been adapting to these things for a while now, where are the anthropologists?
When I started my anthropological literature review while in graduate school that year, I found surprisingly few examples of anthropologists studying cultural adaptations to climate change impacts on coastline communities. The coastal communities of Bangladesh, the Netherlands, and the Gulf Coast which have been directly impacted by the rising sea levels and extreme weather events for years have been almost ignored by the anthropological community (at least the ones in the community who publish in English in the main anthropological journals). The few anthropological studies that I did find were mostly reports on the impact of climatic change on non-industrialized and prehistoric communities by archeologists and environmental anthropologists (Büntgen 2011; Crate 2009; Crate 2011; Fagan 2008; Strauss 2003). It also seems that anthropologists are still less likely to collaborate with other scientists from other fields. Most of the climate change studies that I found were cross-disciplinary projects by scientists working from other perspectives: geography, economics and political science. Continue reading