After a very successful set of sessions at the AAA in Chicago, the Global Climate Change Task Force has been actively engaged in the production of our final report to the Executive Board, which will be completed this spring. Our goal is to provide a broad overview of existing anthropological research on climate change, in addition to discussing the ways that anthropological approaches can be used to support interdisciplinary climate change research and policy. We will also present specific suggestions for research frontiers, community engagement, and recommendations for both the AAA as an organization and American anthropology as a profession. As we have previously asked, in this column and at meetings, we welcome any suggestions you have for important research or recommendations to be included in this report—please use the address AAA.GCCTF@gmail.com to send your comments and ideas to us.
This month, we introduce an archaeologist who has been very involved in arctic research on climate change. Thomas McGovern is Professor of Anthropology at Hunter College and CUNY Graduate Center. He is an archaeologist who is one of the founders of the North Atlantic Biocultural Organization (NABO), as well as the Global Human Ecodynamics Alliance (GHEA). Tom McGovern began working in the north Atlantic region during his doctoral work on Norse Greenland, from 1975-79. A focus on climate impacts has always been part of the story Tom was trying to tell. Northern archaeologists generally have been involved in climate change research and cross-disciplinary archaeology and climate projects for a long time. Early global change funding, starting in the 1990s, was disproportionately going to archaeologists, before many other anthropologists and social scientists got heavily involved in this topic. Tom comments that “our long term interest in climate impacts and experience in working in multi-disciplinary teams has made archaeologists particularly successful in accessing support for long term human ecodynamics and coupled natural and human systems in the past decade.” From the beginning, their call to action was “archaeology for sustainability”; it is now far more than a hopeful slogan.
Another climate change project that Tom has been involved with is the North Atlantic Biocultural Organzation (NABO, www.nabohome.org) founded in 1992 to aid international interdisciplinary research in this region. Readers are encouraged to learn more about what the NABO cooperative is doing online, where there are many downloadable resources available. “Our long-term objective has been to combine the study of human impact on northern island ecosystems, climate impact on humans and ecosystems, and culture-contact/ early globalization impacts. In 2007-10 we collaborated in the International Polar Year initiative with a coordinated program of archaeology and paleoecology in the Shetland Islands, Faroes, Iceland, and Greenland. Right now we are part of an NSF funded Comparative Island Ecodynamics project that is focused upon the very different reactions of the closely related medieval communities in Iceland and Greenland,” says McGovern. The NABO group is also collaborating with the Long Term Vulnerabilities and Transformations project at Arizona State, in a very exciting effort to do more systematic cross regional comparisons of our very different cases of long-term human ecodynamics in North Atlantic islands and the desert Southwest. This collaboration is producing some solid results—look for them at the 2014 AAAS and SAA meetings! Another exciting initiative that Tom has been working on is a collaboration with ecocritics and environmental humanities scholars, in what is informally being called a “sagas for sustainability” project that integrates climate science, archaeology, environmental history, saga scholarship, and an environmental humanities perspectives.
Tom McGovern believes that anthropology and archaeology have a great deal to offer in the debates about sustainability and resilience of linked social-environmental systems. But, he says, “we need to be better connected and regain some of the environmental credentials we have had in years past. We need to build better connections, not only to our potential allies in the environmental sciences, but also in environmental history and the rapidly growing environmental humanities. We are good at being “hyperdisciplinary” bridges between science and humanities, and we should build on these strengths.” The international IHOPE (Integrated History and Future of People on Earth) program, discussed by Carole Crumley and others in earlier contributions to this column, is one good way to connect and make a difference.
Sarah Strauss is the contributing editor of Changing the Atmosphere, the AN column of the AAA Global Climate Change Task Force.