Climate Change, Climate Stories, Current Issue, Ethnography, Himachal Pradesh

Check out “Storying Climate Change in Himachal Pradesh, India” By Aylin Padir, Ingrid Shockey, and Seth Tuler in Volume 41, Issue 3 of Practicing Anthropology!

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Sunset at Arnehar (Photo by Ingrid Shockey)

In a taxi driving through Shimla, a city in northern India at the foot of the western arc of the Himalaya, one of us first heard a story about climate change in the region. It was 2012, and while chatting about tourism, the mountains, and the weather, the driver suddenly offered this:

These mountains have always been the home of Lord Shiva.We should be careful to protect them. Shiva is the destroyer, and so we shouldn’t make him angry. If he is disturbed, he will incinerate everything with fire from his third eye. In the last few years, we have seen so much more traffic, more pollution, more tourists who come here and don’t care about protecting the mountains. Now we learn that the glaciers are melting and the weather is changing. All of this disrespectful activity has awakened Shiva for the first time in a long while, and he is starting to look around. These glaciers melting? This is Shiva opening his third eye.

His story was a notable parable, an allegory that linked an ancient cautionary tale about consequences to a very modern moment in our global consciousness. Climate change is the most significant challenge of our time, given its complex interactivity with social, political, economic, and environmental implications. Since 1880, we know that the average global temperature has increased by 0.85°C (Sharma and Shrestha 2016). This rise in temperature has profoundly shifted the prevalence of adverse weather events, the rate of glacial melt and sea level rise, and has prolonged periods of drought through altered precipitation patterns (Loria and Bhardwaj 2016). A recent analysis suggests that even moderate rises in global temperatures will have severe consequences (IPCC 2018). These consequences are emerging in the western Himalayan range, whose foothills and
highlands provide habitat, forest, farm, and rangelands to roughly 7 million people who rely directly on agriculture and animal husbandry for their survival (Ning 2018; Pandey et al. 2016). The first trickle of climate migration has already started to head towards both lower and higher altitudes in response to weather patterns (Asian Development Bank 2010). At the same time, these mountains deliver freshwater to countless communities by providing the source for river systems through snow and glacial melt (Mukherji 2018). Delays in the arrival of the southwestern monsoon and erratic glacial melt now simultaneously threaten water availability for villages, especially at high altitudes, and increases the incidence of dangerous flooding, both of which profoundly challenge the health and well-being of communities across the region (Asian Development Bank 2010; Pandey et al. 2016).

The story of climate change under-reports the voices of ordinary people, even though there are myriad justifications for this approach. Many of the most powerful participants at the table for climate futures are from the very same sectors that brought us fossil fuels, and there is an unclear locus of control in resilience design, deeply compromising “just and inclusive” disaster planning. The disproportionate burden on underrepresented communities was evident in the 2004 tsunami, for example. This natural disaster devastated communities in southeastern India, and efforts poured in from around the world to restore and rebuild the infrastructure. It was later observed that much of the post-tsunami housing was poorly constructed, unoccupied, featured imported building design metrics that did not match local use patterns, and served largely to congratulate donors. Furthermore, in the aftermath, stories from individual survivors told of a different kind of lasting pain: “What the tsunami actually brought…,” recounted an environmental educator friend living in the area, “was alcohol and churches, alcohol and churches.” With climate change threatening to propel the scale and frequency of natural disasters, we remain chronically disengaged from important perspectives of those most affected.

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Community Interviews in Arnehar (Photo by Astrid Kiehn)

Continue reading in Volume 41, Issue 3 of Practicing Anthropology.

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Aylin Padir (alpa- dir@wpi.edu) is a pursuing a Bachelor’s of Science in Biochemistry and two minors in Biology and Global Public Health at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. Following graduation in May 2019, she will further her education by pursuing a combined degree in Medicine and Master of Public Health at the State University of New York Upstate Medical University in order to actively work to achieve health equity. For the past two years, she has volunteered in the Emergency Medicine department of the University of Massachusetts School of Medicine. Through her role as a research assistant, she has assisted in behavioral health screenings for patients in the Emergency Department, ensuring behavioral health recourses are provided to patients in need, regardless of their chief complaints.
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Ingrid Shockey (ishockey@wpi.edu) is Associate Teaching Professor in the Interdisciplinary and Global Studies Division (IGSD) at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. Her work focuses on teaching cross-cultural perspective-taking and fostering community engagement skills for teams. Aside from advising fieldwork with students, she directs two undergraduate Project Centers: a stand alone in Wellington, New Zealand (since 2012) and a partnered site in northern India at the Indian Institute of Technology at Mandi (since 2013). With a background in Environmental Sociology, she also teaches a course on environmental innovation and design for Environmental Studies at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. Most recently, she is the inaugural Global Fellow in residence at the Global Lab in the Foisie Innovation Studio at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, working on a project to map climate change stories. 
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Seth Tuler (stuler@wpi.edu) is a Research Fellow at the Social and Environmental Research Institute and Associate Teaching Professor in the Interdisciplinary and Global Studies Division, Worcester Polytechnic Institute. Seth’s research interests have been concerned with public participation, risk governance, and developing tools to characterize human impacts and vulnerabilities to risk events, including climate change. His work on climate change adaptation has built on concepts of risk and vulnerability to develop a deliberative planning tool that integrates local knowledge and scientific expertise to support learning and inform decision makers (the Vulnerability, Consequences, and and Adaptation Planning Scenarios Process (VCAPS)). In multiple projects, he has collaborated with Sean Grant extension staff to apply the deliberative planning tool to help coastal communities in Massachusetts, Maine, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Alabama identify threats from climate change and opportunities for adaptation.

 

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