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Three days, two rooms, one house

Today’s guest blog post is by Shirley J. Fiske (Chair of AAA Global Climate Change Task Force*).

Photograph by William Geogheghan. Front row from left: Lisa Lucero, Sarah Strauss, Heather Lazrus. Second row: Carole L. Crumley, Kathleen Galvin, Richard Wilk. Third row: Susan Crate. Fourth row: Shirley J. Fiske, Ben Orlove, Anthony Oliver-Smith. Photo by Bill Geoghegan. Photo courtesy School for Advanced Research GCCTF member, George Luber was not able to attend due to the government shutdown.

Front row from left: Lisa Lucero, Sarah Strauss, Heather Lazrus. Second row: Carole L. Crumley, Kathleen Galvin, Richard Wilk. Third row: Susan Crate. Fourth row: Shirley J. Fiske, Ben Orlove, Anthony Oliver-Smith.
Photo by Bill Geoghegan.
Photo courtesy School for Advanced Research.

Looking back at the end of the week, we want to capture the feeling and substance of the three-day short seminar of the AAA’s Global Climate Change Task Force (GCCTF) in Santa Fe, New Mexico. A compressed time period with intense discussion, seamlessly flowing between the two main rooms in the School for Advanced Research (SAR) Douglas Schwartz Seminar House—the dining area and the adjacent seminar room. The GCCTF was hosted by the School for Advanced Research to work out the approaches, complexities and details for the task force report on anthropological perspectives on climate change to the AAA, due in 2014.

Over the past year, the task force prepared white papers on the issues where anthropology connects to climate change and climate change policy—e.g., adaptation, resilience, vulnerability, lessons from our collective ancestors, the drivers and impacts of climate change. Papers were presented, discussed and critiqued. Ideas challenged. Assumptions laid bare. Intensity exemplifies our interaction. These discussions feed into our review of climate change anthropology and provide guidance for the future report.

Concentration. Challenge in finding common ground. Across our different perspectives we debated the key messages and common themes to anthropological studies of climate change—the primacy of context, the value of diversity, the importance of scales—geospatial and temporal—community and holism. We looked for key messages, themes, foundations, and Eureka moments. Comparability. Iterative drafts. These are all phrases and thoughts that members expressed at the end of the final day.

Release. Thanks to the expertise of our members we had yoga, stretching, and self-reflection. We got rain (much needed in Santa Fe). We had humor, from folk rap to folk tales to punctuate our day. Totally spontaneous. We rotated the facilitators each day and provided opportunity for multiple leadership.

“Talk sleep eat—sleep—eat—talk—eat—sleep.” New Mexican red chili. The sun, and rain, in the interior courtyard of the adobe Seminar House. The setting in the Seminar House at SAR channels our predecessors – Margaret Mead, Lewis Binford, Richard Fox, and Gordon Wiley, among many others. The photographs in previous seminars at SAR line the hallways.

We came to a mutual agreement on next steps, massive revisions, key messages and themes. We will keep the momentum going, expand our outreach, and encourage our colleagues in anthropology and other disciplines to recognize that cultures are always changing and to focus on the environmental justice aspects of the phenomena of climate change. The SAR seminar allowed us to develop the guiding document that we are tasked with producing in a more robust and deliberative manner, reflecting perspectives drawn from across the discipline and profession of anthropology.

We gratefully acknowledge the support of the School for Advanced Research, the Atlantic Philanthropies, and the AAA, which made the seminar possible.

*The members of the AAA Global Climate Change Task Force are: Shirley J Fiske (Chair), Carole Crumley, Susan Crate, Kathleen Galvin, Heather Lazrus, George Luber (unable to participate at SAR due to the federal government shutdown), Lisa Lucero, Anthony Oliver-Smith, Ben Orlove, Sarah Strauss, and Richard Wilk.

New Task Force on Climate Change

The Executive Board of the American Anthropological Association (AAA) is proud to announce the creation of the Task Force on Climate Change, an effort to bring anthropology’s contributions to issues of environmental concern into the spotlight, and increase its engagement with current research, policy discourse and the communities they study worldwide.

While geophysical scientists and governmental bodies decry climate changes and the resulting ecological effects, anthropologists’ sociocultural and archeological interpretations are not as well known. Because of the specialized nature of their academic training (including extensive fieldwork, as well as expertise in biology, linguistics, and ethnography) anthropologists are uniquely positioned to interpret from multiple scales and perspectives and bring a new view to the effects that our changing environment have on livelihoods, identities and culture. Many anthropologists also study the asymmetries in global power dynamics and the inequities associated with global climate change policies and responses.

Appointed by former AAA President Virginia R. Dominguez, the members of the Task Force include Chair Shirley J. Fiske, Susan A Crate, Heather Lazrus, George Luber, Lisaa Lucero, Anthony Oliver-Smith, Ben S. Orlove, Sarah Strauss and Richard Wilk. Two additional members are likely to be appointed.

The Task Force has outlined an action plan for its activities for the next three years, which includes producing guiding documents to recognize, promote and develop anthropological contributions to global climate change-related issues; promoting engagement of the AAA and anthropologists in general with public policy agendas and the greater public interest, utilizing media and outreach modalities to reach beyond the discipline; supporting anthropologists and anthropology students who are interested and engaged in climate research across all sub-disciplines of anthropology, by promoting public and professional exchange of ideas and networks, providing forums to listen and learn, and producing guidance documents on human dimensions of climate and climate change; and Provide the AAA with proposed actions and recommendations to support and promote anthropological engagement with climate change.

“I am pleased that the AAA has taken this action to get members of our discipline focused on our potential to contribute in a significant way to current policy debates surrounding climate change,” Task Force Chair Shirley Fiske said in a statement released on Monday. “In the face of increasingly widespread and directional environmental shifts linked to this phenomenon, there is no better time for anthropologists to make their voices heard.”


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