Anthropologists’ studies of adaptations by coastal communities to climate change

Sunset over a destroyed Gulfport, MS (2005)

Sunset over a destroyed Gulfport, MS (2005)

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


Climate Change Talks in Bangkok for COP15, inspired by green Copenhagen

COP15 Copenhagen (poster) in Bangkok, Thailand

COP15 Copenhagen (poster) in Bangkok, Thailand

While clicking around looking for inexpensive travel options for my husband to attend the COP15 Climate Change Treaty talks in Copenhagen this December I found an inspiring web video about the amazingly sustainable and healthful features of living in Copenhagen. See below.

“Amazingly” is not a bit of hyperbole compared to my own town and nearby ecological disaster area called Los Angeles. Nearly everyone seems to be riding bicycles in the main city of Copenhagen. Over 40% of Copenhageners ride to work and there are over 300 kilometers (186 miles) of bike lanes according to the video. The water ways running through the city are clean enough to swim in and water sports in it seem to be encouraged from the scenes of people frolicking in the water. Also, twenty-three percent of food consumed in Copenhagen is organic with a civic goal of 90% by 2015. Why can’t we do that here in Southern California? Heck, we got much better weather for year round biking, water sports and a much longer growing season for organic veggies…How cool would it be if we could safely swim or kayak in the LA river and bike to work breathing fresh air and riding safely in a designated bicycle lane? Check out Denmark’s green efforts in Copenhagen–it’s possible:

The COP15 and follow-up United Nations climate treaty negotiations are trying to make more Copenhagens possible through financial incentives to go green. My husband may attend the COP15 United Nations Climate Control Treaty meeting Dec. 7-18 in Copenhagen. He would be going as a volunteer mediator representative of Mediators Beyond Borders. Since he is volunteering and paying his own, as you can imagine, he is pretty committed to the environment and facilitating peace globally through encouraging mediation as a dispute resolution tool. Right now hubby is at the UNFCCC Climate Change Talks in Bangkok, Thailand as a volunteer with Mediators Beyond Borders. To read Mark Kirwin’s field reports from Bangkok go to the 11th Hour Mediation blog.

An organization of journalists have even created a web site to track the climate control treaty negotiators called Some of these UNFCCC observers feel that the United States isn’t taking enough responsibility for reducing carbon emissions and if the US keeps blaming China and India for polluting, that the US will end up stalling substantive progress on the talks in Bangkok. It’s good to remember that the US did not sign the last climate control treaty, the Kyoto Protocol. And, after eight years of the Bush Administration, our reputation abroad on environmental and “play-well-with-others” matters has been seriously tarnished.

It has been fascinating to hear, second hand, about the daily negotiations over the text of the different elements of the treaty’s specifications for reducing carbon emissions. The competing national, economic, humanitarian and environmental concerns and perspectives are interesting and, to me, sometimes, disheartening. The volunteer mediators at Mediators Beyond Borders certainly have their work cut out for them.

Read about Day 2 of the UNFCCC climate change treaty text negotiations in Bangkok >

Future graduate students take note:

The Danish gov’t is awarding about $700,000 in 2-year climate masters degree scholarships at Danish Universities–in honor of the COP15 summit’s green agenda and practices. Here’s the link:

PS: Now the trick is, how does one get paid to do this good work????