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Head-In-The-Sand Approach to Climate Policy Doesn’t Work, Either

Today’s guest blog post is by the Chair of the AAA Task Force on Global Climate Change, Shirley Fiske. Dr. Fiske is also a Research Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Maryland, College Park.

The Chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology argued last week in the Washington Post that we should not undertake climate policy because of “uncertainty,” while also claiming that cutting carbon dioxide doesn’t make any difference.  Hmmmm…..Who in this country lives a life free of “uncertainty”? And what part of the country isn’t feeling effects of increased carbon dioxide?  Farmers and ranchers in West Texas, New Mexico, and the Midwest face a great deal of uncertainty about the future, due to drought , excessive rains, and extreme storms – or is it climate change?

And despite the Chairman’s claims to the contrary, we do know how the climate has changed with increases in carbon dioxide – over long history.  Scientists have shown that increases in carbon dioxide are strikingly correlated with increases in temperature, through swings of geological epochs, not just the last 15 years of “steady” temperatures as heard in the hearing.    We also know that, at Mauna Loa at least, carbon dioxide has reached the highest point (400ppm) in human existence.

Because there’s no federal policy on climate change, states, counties, and people across the US are left on their own, trying to figure out how to adjust to and pay for increasingly disastrous coastal storms and flooding, more frequent severe tornadoes, and fires in the “urban-wildlands interface.” Some will be forced to relocate, others will be driving or walking on flooded roads because they cannot use flooded subway systems. Others will have to move entire towns just to keep their livelihoods and lives together. Climate change is linked to economic disasters in linear and non-linear ways.

Although the idea of restricting carbon emissions at the federal level has been conflated with increased energy taxes in the minds of some partisans, it makes no sense to ignore the obvious warning signs and impacts across the country. By failing to take a leadership role with climate effects, we are we leaving state and local people out to dry, as communities in forested areas are smoked out, aquifers are depleted, and winter storms destroy communities in Alaska and the mid-Atlantic region. Congress needs to re-energize climate policy by thinking about how it is going to assist those localities and people and area most vulnerable to long term changes in the weather.  It’s in Congress’ best economic interest to manage one of the country’s largest vulnerabilities – climate change.

Is Earth Day a Nice Thing?

Today’s guest post is by the Chair of the Global Climate Change Task Force, Shirley Fiske.

A nice thing. Except for the reality.

Earth Day is a nice thing, today celebrated in the District at Union Station with a farmers market, giveaways, exhibits fromNASA, and a recycling drive, all nice things.  Seems like a pale comparison of the Earth Days of earlier years, when the entire Mall was dedicated to booths, displays and lots of gatherings.  I supposed it’s not unexpected given the maturation of the event and the politicization of the environment and polarization politically that has developed in the intervening years. 

Earth Days are a secular celebration, birthed at a time when people felt more spiritually about oneness with Mother Earth. As a public celebration, it seems to have lost steam…perhaps the complexity of American celebrating, and lack of support of the private sector in making our American personal and family celebrations viable as Big Bang events.  Or perhaps it’s because the American public has learned through formal and informal education how to relate to the earth better, moving the threshold for Earth Day to a higher level of event-making. 

Earth Day has adopted climate change as their focus, and that’s also a nice thing. There’s a “spot on” quote from a spokesman that “climate change has real consequences for real people as well as places that we love and animals.” This is something that the Task Force has written about and that most anthropologists studying climate change know already, and now it seems to be appropriated by Earth Day.

However, the part of the message that gets left out is one that anthropologists are all too familiar with.  Yes, climate change is happening now to real people, but it is hitting the poorest with the least resources the hardest, forcing long-time residents on the coasts in the Pacific NW and Alaska to relocate or lose their resources.  Compare the two coastal scenarios:  (1) Alaskan Natives are fighting tooth and nail to find any scrap of federal resources (or any resources) to help them relocate from Shismareff (as Elizabeth Marino reminds us); and farther south, the Quinault are losing glacial melt from glaciers that feed their rivers and stream, and host the return of the salmon each year. They will lose those salmon as the runs continue to dwindle under climate change projections.  Compare this to (2) the unnerving persistence of politically-entrenched legislation that buffers well-heeled residents and homeowners of beachfront property in the Outer Banks, the mid-Atlantic’s storm-prone and beautiful barrier islands.  They enjoy the unique historical and political artifact of legislation that provides publicly supported coastal flood insurance, a dinosaur from the pre-climate change era, perhaps the only public insurance targeted to such a vulnerable geographic area.   Under conditions of climate change, where are coastlines will be increasingly battered by storms and rising tides, how come entire regions get support while others don’t?  where’s the environmental and social justice?  Too cynical or an uncomfortable reality?

Resource Development Committee Launches the Anthropology Document Portal

Today’s guest blog post is by AAA member, Robert Hahn. Hahn is a committee member of the Resource Development Committee and chair of the Gray Literature subcommittee.

Thanks to generous donations of AAA members to the Resource Development Committee, the AAA has launch an Anthropology Document Portal that will allow anthropologists to archive published and unpublished writings on the electronic storage facilities of the Social Science Research Network, a well-established digital warehouse.  Further notice of how this archive will work has been published in this month’s Anthropology News.  The anthropology section of SSRN, Anthropology and Archaeology Research Network will allow anthropologists to access difficult-to-find publications of colleagues and will provide non anthropologists new access to indexed, searchable anthropological writings.

The SSRN anthropology portal is the first of two projects of the RDC “Gray Literature” subcommittee that has focused on expanding access to hard-to-know-about-and-find anthropological and related literature.  The second project, currently in development, is a set of anthropology-related web links on the AAA resource page that will facilitate member use of the “gray literature” not published or indexed in usual book and journal sources, but available on government and NGO websites, e.g., the National Center for Health Statistics, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, and the World Bank.  These projects should build awareness and access to anthropological research and knowledge within and beyond the discipline.

The RDC is chaired by Louise Lamphere, the Gray Literature subcommittee by Robert Hahn; other subcommittee members are TJ Ferguson, Shirley Fiske, and Oona Schmid (AAA Liaison).

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