Anthropology and Climate Change

May 10, 2013

In a recently published article in Nature Climate Change, former YCEI Postdoctoral Associate, Jessica Barnes, and Deputy Director of the YCEI, Michael Dove, examine the role that anthropology can play in the study of climate change. The article is coauthored by a group of anthropologists who participated in a workshop organized by Barnes and Dove in the spring of 2012 and funded by the YCEI and MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies at Yale.

The article presents three key contributions that anthropology can bring to understandings of climate change. The first is an attention to the cultural values and political relations that shape the production and interpretation of climate change knowledge and form the basis of responses to ongoing environmental changes. These insights come from the in-depth fieldwork that has long been the hallmark of anthropology. The second is an awareness of the historical context that underpins contemporary climate debates. This awareness stems from the interest of both archaeologists and environmental anthropologists in the history of society-environment interactions. The third is anthropology’s broad, holistic view of society and environment, which highlights the multiple cultural, social, political, and economic changes that are taking place within human society. Such societal dynamics always interact with, and sometimes outweigh, climate change as sources of change and need to be understood if public policies are to succeed. The article concludes that incorporation of anthropological perspectives can lead to a more nuanced understanding of the challenges that climate change poses and to more effective solutions.
Barnes, J., Dove, M., Lahsen, M., Mathews, A., McElwee, P., McIntosh, R., Moore, F., O’Reilly, J., Orlove, B., Puri, R., Weiss, H. and K. Yager. 2013. Contribution of anthropology to the study of climate change. Nature Climate Change Vol. 3: 541-544.