Values and Climate Change Behaviors


Values and Climate Change Behaviors
Scottish Government research conference 14th December 2011

Professor Andrew J Dugmore,

 Geography, School of GeoSciences, University of Edinburgh, Drummond Street, Edinburgh, EH89XP
Human Ecodynamics Research Centre (HERC), Graduate Centre, City University of New York, 365 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10016-4309, USA

The past offers ‘completed experiments’ of how societies have behaved in the face of climate change and how this has been shaped by their values. By considering century-millennial time scales it is possible to explore how different choices create different pathways that lead to different outcomes and seek generic understanding of the development of “traditional environmental knowledge”. This knowledge encompasses an understanding of likely seasonal variability in resources, ranges of expected weather, its consequences on the decadal scale and alternate strategies for hard times and good. These are the practical “schemata” that form the tertiary interface between the deep reservoirs that provide cultural legitimacy for action and the store of social memory that informs and provides context for social action. These themes are explored in a radical re-evaluation of the end of Norse Greenland, an event which is commonly seen as a classic case of maladaptation by an inflexible temperate zone society extending into the arctic and of collapse driven by climate change. This paper, however, recognizes the successful arctic adaptation achieved in Norse Greenland and argues that although climate change had profound impacts, the end of Norse settlement can only be truly understood as a complex socio-environmental system that includes local and inter-regional interactions operating at different spatial and temporal scales and recognizes the cultural limits to the adaptation of traditional environmental knowledge. The Norse Greenlanders created a flexible and successful subsistence system that responded effectively to major environmental challenges of the 13th  and 14th centuries, but probably fell victim to the conjunctures of large scale historic processes in combination with vulnerabilities created by their successful prior response to climate change. Their ‘failure’ was an inability to anticipate an unknowable future, to broaden their traditional environmental knowledge base, and to be too specialized, too small and too isolated to be able to capitalize on, and compete in, the new proto-world system extending into the North Atlantic in the early 15th century.  Surviving climate change is a current cultural, economic, and technological challenge and one that the Norse Greenlanders met for nearly 500 years. Our own global society utilizes hugely greater resources than medieval arctic farmers, but has yet to demonstrate greater resilience, or more willingness to expand sources of traditional environmental knowledge, or the ability to resolve conflicts between climate change and core social ideology. The case of Norse Greenland’s collapse and extinction thus remains a major interdisciplinary research topic of wide relevance. With other well developed cases of long term human Ecodynamics such as that of the south western USA, Norse Greenland may serve to broaden the perspectives and knowledge base of modern planners seeking sustainable futures in a world affected by both rapid climate change and the historical conjunctures of economic stress and culture conflict.



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