The anthropology of climate change

The anthropology of climate change

In today’s highly carbon-dependent world, human activity is a major contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions. From everyday choices about transportation, land use and management, to basic cultural norms, all contribute to both individual and, collectively, national emissions. Within NCAR’s community, physical and social scientists are bringing essential understanding of the global, regional, and local Earth-system dynamics to bear on identifying the effects of rising concentrations of greenhouse gas emissions. 

Both physical and social science are essential for identifying the causes and future trajectory of changing climate, as well as humans’ options and ability to mitigate and adapt to these changes. Often, however, attention to the effects of human choices and impacts is left out of the climate change discussion.

To bring the focus back to this essential issue, anthropologists at NCAR, along with other members of the American Anthropological Association (AAA) Task Force on Global Climate Change, published a report in early 2015. The report outlines themes deemed essential for understanding climate change from the perspective of studying the human condition – that is, human life, health, culture, livelihood, among other areas.

RV2 Participants

The American Anthropological Association Task Force on Climate Change's recently released report covers the state of the science for anthropology of climate change. Among the issues discussed in the report is a need for cross-cultural communication to successfully identify climate solutions. In the photo above, participants in the Rising Voices: Collaborative Science for Climate Solutions workshops are shown; this event brought indigenous scientists, managers, and students into dialogue with NCAR scientists in summer in 2014. NCAR anthropologist Heather Lazrus will convene Rising Voices 3 in June 29-July 1, 2015 at NCAR to continue these critical cross-cultural discussions.

“Anthropologists provide fundamental understanding of the culturally-grounded behaviors that contribute to greenhouse gas emissions and to the cultural, social, and economic processes that result in human vulnerability or resilience to climate change impacts,” explains Heather Lazrus, a co-author of the report and NCAR project scientist in the Mesoscale and Microscale Meteorology Laboratory. “By working together with atmospheric scientists, anthropologists can help provide new insight on climate change adaptation options – including how people perceive and respond to climate risks and how they use climate information – to increase their adaptive capacity.”

The authors of the report, Changing the Atmosphere: Anthropology and Climate Change, aim to raise overall awareness of anthropological knowledge and concerns about climate change, as well as cultivate anthropological engagement with other disciplines in the atmospheric sciences to better address the global, national, and local challenges of climate change, says Lazrus. Ultimately, as the AAA statement on humanity and climate change that was issued concurrently with the report says, “Climate change is not a natural problem, it is a human problem.”