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Melissa Harris Perry at AAA 2016
Melissa Harris Perry at AAA 2016

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Anthropology and Climate Change

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Anthropology and Climate Change

Anthropologists all over the world are working to understand the implications of climate change and develop concrete solutions to one of the most pressing issues of our time. Anthropologists study the anthropogenic influences driving climate change, the governance systems for dealing with climate change mitigation and adaptation, and the human impacts and ramifications of global climate change.

Climate change creates global threats that affect all aspects of human life, including our health, homes, livelihoods, and cultures, as well as our physical environment. Threats of this magnitude affect our stability—our sense of cultural identity, our well-being, and our security. As a discipline clearly devoted to the human condition over time and space, anthropology offers important insights that can help create workable solutions to mitigate the impacts of climate change.

AAA's Official Position on Climate Change

The position of the AAA, as articulated in the AAA Statement on Humanity and Climate Change (PDF) is summarized below:

  1. Climate change is a present reality that alters our physical environment and impacts human cultures around the globe.
  2. Climate change intensifies underlying problems—poverty and economic disparities, food and water security, and armed conflict—heightening these issues to the point of widespread crisis.

  3. We can expect to see widespread impacts on communities as they face dislocation and pressure to migrate.

  4. While climate change affects all of Earth’s inhabitants, the impacts will fall unevenly and with particular weight on those already affected by existing vulnerabilities.

  5. Specific human actions and choices drive climate change by emphasizing fossil fuel as the primary energy source, creating a culture of consumerism, and favoring land use practices that undermine ecological resilience. 

  6. The archaeological record reveals diverse human adaptations and innovations to climate stresses occurring over millennia, providing evidence that is relevant to contemporary human experience.

  7. Climate change is a global problem with local and regional impacts that require local and regional solutions. It is important for there to be community involvement in crafting, determining, and adopting measures for adaptation.

  8. Climate change is rooted in social institutions and cultural habits. Climate change is not a natural problem, it is a human problem.

The AAA appointed a commission to investigate the breadth of anthropological research on global climate change. The 2014 report can be found here (PDF). 

Changing the Atmosphere: Anthropology and Climate Change (PDF) is a comprehensive summary of the role anthropologists can play in studying and mitigating the effects of climate change. 

Anthropologists at COP 23

At the UN Climate Change Conference this November, nations of the world will meet to advance the aims and ambitions of the Paris Agreement and achieve progress on its implementation guidelines. The conference, officially referred as COP 23/ CMP 13/ CMA 1-2, will take place in Bonn, Germany, hosted by the secretariat of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and presided over by Fiji. 

The AAA delegation will deliver a statement on anthropologists’ positions, concerns and hopes for the implementation of the Paris Agreement as well as establish relationships with constituents and NGOs on jointly-held concerns such as sustainable development, deforestation, forestry and communities facing REDD and REDD+, non-economic damage and language loss, indigenous peoples and human rights. 

Read the AAA Statement (PDF) to the High Level Ministerial Segment of the 23nd Session of the Conference of the Parties –COP23 to the UNFCCC.

Members of the delegation include:

  • Shirley J. Fiske, PhD, Chair of the AAA Global Climate Change Task Force

  • Susan Crate, PhD, George Mason University

  • Julie Raymond, Doctoral Fellow, Idaho State University

  • Naveeda Khan, Associate Professor, Johns Hopkins University

You can follow along with the AAA delegation at COP 23 on the AAA blog and catch video updates on the AAA YouTube channel.  




Teaching Climate Change

Bringing Climate Change Home: Empowering Communities
Susie Crate, a Professor of Anthropology in the Department of Environmental Science and Policy at George Mason University, is offering a program to work with communities adjacent to anthropology departments nationwide (and even internationally!)—in your hometown! Learn more about the opportunities that are available to begin coordinating a program that could work in your community.

Beyond Doom and Gloom: Engage in Climate and Energy Solutions
Are you or your students worried about climate change? Are you or your students interested in a cleaner energy future? Are you connecting your students to high impact solutions? This initiative from the Disciplinary Associations Network for Sustainability uses expert, easy-to-use materials that involve students in important civic engagement solutions (a high impact learning practice). They can be used in any course and in campus activities. Visit the educators’ page, the students’ page (including a motivating two minute video), and the webinar to see how you can be part of reducing doom and gloom and share opportunities for progress and applied learning.

Additional Resources

THE ANTHROPOLOGIST considers the fate of the planet from the perspective of an American teenager. Over five years, she travels alongside her mother, Susan Crate, an anthropologist studying the impact of climate change on indigenous communities. According to a SAPIENS review, "the film does what the cultural anthropology of climate change also seeks to do: It humanizes those affected, telling their stories in detail and with compassion."