The Impacts of Climate Change on the Lives of Ordinary People

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RESRG Director, Pallavi Das, calls for further historical study on the impact of climate change on the lives of ordinary people, particularly the poor, in her article published in Perspectives on History: The Newsmagazine of the American Historical Association. Read the full article here.

Dr. Pallavi’s article first appeared as an RESRG Editorial in December, 2014, here on the RESRG Review website. Click here to read her full editorial.

Lauren Wallace Visits Lakehead to Present her Work on Contraceptive Use in Northern Ghana

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RESRG welcomed Vanier Scholar, Lauren Wallace, to speak at Lakehead University’s series of International Development Week talks, February 2-6, 2015. Lauren, a PhD Candidate in Anthropology at McMaster University, presented results from her eight months of ethnographic research in Kassena-Nankana West District in Northern Ghana. Her work focuses on concerns of local women and men related to side-effects from contraceptive use, and the implications this has on family planning decisions and women’s well-being.

Lauren was also interviewed by CBC radio in preparation for her talk at Lakehead. Her interview on Superior Morning can be accessed below.

RESRG would like to thank Lauren for sharing her important work and contributing to a very successful slate of International Development Week events.

 

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Engaging the World with a Critical Mind

In recent years, pressure has increased on social science and humanities researchers to broaden the impact of the knowledge they produce by disseminating research results beyond the traditional public presentations or publication in scholarly journals and books. A key objective of funding agencies today is to make research accessible to non-academic audiences in formats that are user friendly. Concurrent with this call for wider public dissemination is the rise of new digital media formats that have both created new audiences and also emerged as the most accessible means of communicating results across the globe. As a result, scholarly work across the social sciences and humanities is appearing increasingly in digital formats, and a growing number of scholars are utilizing various new media as a means of “publishing” research.

To appreciate the potential of new media for the mobilization of knowledge in the social sciences and humanities we only need to look back to 1913 in what is now Thunder Bay. At that time Robert Flaherty began working with moving pictures on an idea that became “Nanook of the North.” Using existing technologies, Flaherty put the knowledge he gathered about Inuit lifeways into a format that reached audiences around the world. Flaherty was the “father of documentary film,” and he created a new way to share information. His innovation was at once profound and engaging. Flaherty’s innovative approach shaped filmmaking and knowledge transfer throughout the 20th century. One hundred years after work began on “Nanook of the North,” the world finds itself in another significant era of media in transition and the opportunities created by new media for knowledge mobilization by researchers in the social sciences and humanities have never been better.

In May 2012 Google released a report that showed how on-demand video consumption is increasing dramatically in what they call the Gen V group (18-34 year olds). According to the study, there are 4 billion videos watched on YouTube everyday, and nearly 1 trillion views in 2011. Only 33% of Gen V’s have traditional TV packages such as cable or satellite and they are twice as likely to stream video rather than watch it on traditional television screens. Furthermore, the CBC says that Canadians with one screen are online for an average of 16.5 hours per week, and those with more than one screen spend an average of 27.1 hours per week on the web. Further, Canadians spend more than five hours on the internet watching online videos. Multi-screen users, sometimes called “Four-Screen” Canadians, are people who have a computer and at least one other device (smartphone, SmartTV, tablet) at their disposal, and this type of media consumption is a reflection of the phenomenal increase in the demand for “transmedia,” or cross-media platforms in recent years. The Resources, Economy and Society Research Group at Lakehead University (RESRG) is therefore pleased to serve as the platform for the launch of a new tool developed by one of our members for teaching about the challenges of international development. This tool combines the innovations made possible by Robert Flaherty and takes advantage of recent advances in new media to provide the public with insights into international development that are both profound and engaging.

Engaging the World is an interactive non-linear documentary film by Ron Harpelle. The documentary was made using the Korsakow System to generate viewing options that form an evolving structure for the film. This interactive, non-linear web doc provides viewers with insights based on conversations with a number of dynamic individuals who work in the field of international development. Engaging the World is different from other documentary forms because with the Korsakow System the viewer, not the director, decides the order in which the scenes unfold and the conclusion is what the viewer concludes based on their individual viewing experience. Every person who watches Engaging the World sees a different combination of critically interacting video components and the result is a different film every time. The foundation for Engaging the World are 52 individual videos that are linked together by keywords that self generate viewing options for the next video segment to form an evolving structure for the film. The individual videos have been edited to provide short answers to questions about international development, but the viewer chooses the questions to be answered.

The beauty of an interactive film like Engaging the World is that the main elements are stand alone videos that can be appreciated on their own or as one in a series of related videos. The individual videos are no more than a few minutes in length, but the entire film is two hours long if the viewer chooses to watch every video component in the sequence. Therefore, the film can be short, medium or feature length. You can watch Engaging the World between bus stops on the way to work. You can leave it on your desktop so that you can return to it at your convenience. Or you can sit down and make an evening of it. A viewer can also start the film over as many times as they like and always get a different result. Similarly, the order can be completely random, carefully structured or any combination of the two. Viewers watch the film at their own pace and can stop anywhere they choose. All of this makes Engaging the World something you can enjoy on your own, with your family, with friends or with students you want to engage in critical thinking about some very big issues.

RESRG welcomes people interested in knowledge mobilization to explore this new tool to see how it works and to imagine how a Korsakow film can be used to mobilize other knowledge about research in the social sciences and humanities.

Click here to Engage the World!

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History of Climate Change from Below: A Vision for Future Research

by Pallavi Das, Associate Professor of History, Lakehead University

Anthropogenic climate change is the most pressing global environmental issue of this century, one that was highlighted by the People’s Climate March this September in New York City, the largest march ever on climate change. This huge march, as well as other demonstrations that were held across the globe from Paris to Papua New Guinea, clearly emphasized the fact that it is people, i.e. ordinary people, who are going to suffer from the impacts of climate change, and that something needs to be urgently done about it. For example, millions of small farmers around the world depend on seasonal bio-indicators (the annual rhythm of flowering, rainfall, etc.) for the planting and harvesting of their crops. However, due to climate change, these seasonal indicators have become erratic and unreliable, thus threatening the livelihood of small farmers. Therefore, even though humans are collectively responsible for climate change, neither the causes nor the consequences of climate change are equitable across the world.

When compared to the rich, it is the ordinary people, and in particular the poor, who suffer more and are more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change in the form of floods, droughts, and so on. Although there have been studies on the socio-economic dimensions of climate change, they are largely ahistorical in their focus and analysis.[1] This lack of historical analysis of climate change is surprising given that the term “climate change” includes the word “change,” which means change over time.[2] Similarly, climate historians have largely dealt with natural climate change in the distant past, but not with contemporary climate change largely caused by human activities that the world has been witnessing over the past century. [3] In the process, these historians have neglected how climate change impacts the lives of ordinary people within societies. Even within an ecologically vulnerable ecosystem, it is the poor who are most vulnerable to the impact of climate change.[4] Therefore, climate change and the history of climate change needs to be understood from the perspective of these people using a new approach: the history of climate change from below, or a people’s history of climate change. This approach to doing history will focus on vulnerable sections of the society; that is, poor people living in places undergoing drastic climate change in the contemporary world.

People’s history of climate change has five components. It starts with the ordinary people as they live and work in particular places, undergoing climatic (as well as economic and social) changes. For example, it could be the poor people living in Chicago, which is projected to face severe heat waves more often due to climate change. In the 1995 heat wave, for example, African Americans, many of whom are amongst the poorest of the city’s citizens, had 50% higher mortality rates than the whites. Extreme heat combined with high humidity can be fatal for the old, frail, and lower-income people who do not have access to air-conditioning. The second component of people’s history of climate change is climate change perception. This perception is often shaped by where people live and how they obtain their livelihood. These people may not use the term climate change, but they can certainly describe the climatic changes taking place in their immediate environment based on how it impacts their lives. For example, the Quechua speaking farmers in the central Andes region of Bolivia perceive climate change in terms of the decrease in frost nights because they grow potatoes that require alternative frost nights with days of intensive sunlight for processing into a freeze-dried product.[5]

People’s history of climate change will examine the factors that ordinary people perceive as responsible for and contributing to climate change and its impacts, which forms its third component. These factors could be industrialization, population growth, angry gods and so forth that ordinary people hold responsible for climate change over a substantial time period of fifty years. In addition, people’s historians of climate change will investigate how the perception of climate change by ordinary people is influenced by local and national discourses about climate change.

The fourth component of people’s history of climate change is the impact of climate change perception. As people interact with nature they develop a knowledge system that includes technologies, beliefs, and skills that enable them to maintain their livelihoods by using natural resources and interacting with the local environment in a more or less sustainable way. For example, Inuit hunters in the Canadian Arctic region have detailed sea ice knowledge along with a knowledge of the wind and current conditions which they can use to forecast ice safety, allowing them to travel in a particular direction so they can avoid dangerous conditions and hunt successfully. This Inuit climate knowledge is built upon previous experience with thin ice conditions, strong wind currents, etc., and is passed from one generation to another through stories, anecdotes, and so forth. People’s history of climate change will study this knowledge and examine people’s coping mechanisms and response to the impacts of climate change over time.

Interconnected with the above is the fifth component of people’s history of climate change, which is the examination of ordinary people’s response (including adaptation) to the impacts of climate change in their lives. This could be in the form of adapting to climate change by spatially relocating their economic activities. For example, due to increasing temperatures in the lower altitudes over the last two decades, the apple farmers in the Indian Himalayas have moved to higher altitudes for apple cultivation. Ordinary people could respond to climate change by forming social-political organizations that would highlight the problems they face due to climate change. People living in areas facing drastic climate change can respond through rituals, etc., as their livelihood practices are deeply rooted in their culture and religion. For example, in Tanzania when the rains fail, people perform rituals to please the rain god.

Climate change is a deservedly “hot” topic these days in both the physical as well as social sciences. However, studies on the socio-economic dimensions of climate change are largely ahistorical, while historical studies on climate have focused on the distant past and have neglected the lives and views of ordinary people (in their geographical contexts) with regard to climate change. It is important to focus on the poor, and on ordinary people because they are most vulnerable to the impact of climate change, and this can be done through the people’s history of climate change approach. By using this approach, social scientists would have a better and more in-depth understanding of local climatic concerns, and of how climate change actually impacts the lives of people over time and how they respond to these changes. This vision/approach to studying the socio-economic dimensions of climate change historically would help start a dialogue with ordinary people and help scholars, activists, and governmental and non-governmental organizations understand their ideas about climate change and its impacts, and to mitigate and/or adapt to them.

[1] See Gita Laidler, “Inuit and scientific perspectives on the relationship between sea ice and climate: the ideal complement?” Climatic Change 78 (2006): 407-444

[2] There have been studies in climate history where historians have studied climate in relation to societies in the distant past when changes in climate where due to natural causes rather than human activities.

[3] The exception is Mark Carey, In the Shadow of Melting Glaciers: Climate Change and Andean Society. Cambridge: Oxford University Press, 2010.

[4] Donald Hughes, “Climate Change: A History of Environmental Knowledge,” Capitalism Nature Socialism vol. 21 no. 3 (September 2010): 80; Mark Carey, “Climate and history: a critical review of historical climatology and climate change historiography,” Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews—Climate Change 3 no. 3 (2012): 233-249; Elizabeth Marino, and Jesse Ribbot. ‘Editorial,’ Global Environmental Change 22 (2012) 323–328.

[5] S.,Boillat, and F. Berkes. 2013. “Perception and interpretation of climate change among Quechua farmers of Bolivia: indigenous knowledge as a resource for adaptive capacity,” Ecology and Society 18(4): 21.

For the pdf version of this RESRG editorial, click here.

 

Pulp Mills on the Frontlines of Global Change: RESRG Researcher Premieres New Film

Pulp Friction is a documentary film about people, places, and the global economy. Pulp mill closures are a fact of life in Northwestern Ontario, where most people remember a time when good union jobs were common and local communities thrived. In recent years, thousands of forestry sector jobs have been lost across Canada and the Northern Hemisphere. At the same time, forest companies have moved a significant portion of their industry to the Global South and new giant pulp mills are appearing on the horizon in these unlikely locations. The trees these new southern mills rely upon are grown on plantations in a fraction of the time it takes a tree in Northwestern Ontario to grow to harvest size. The environmental impact is enormous, as these fast-growing trees extract the same amount of nutrients over a much shorter period of time. The new mills are also fully automated, requiring far fewer people to operate. People who are fortunate enough to have jobs in these new industries work for far lower wages than their northern counterparts. The shifting economies of the pulp industry bind people and communities from different parts of the world together. In Pulp Friction, Ron Harpelle introduces audiences to the people on the front line of this change and provides a timely examination of how this global industry shapes our world and impacts our communities.

The film looks at the lives of people living in the shadow of a pulp mill in three separate communities. It opens in Terrace Bay, Ontario, where the mill was spared from the wrecking ball by the Aditya Birla Group, an Indian multinational that will produce a pulp product that will be shipped abroad and used to make rayon fabric. The people of Terrace Bay are aware of how close they came to losing their only industry and the economic rationale for their town. Viewers are then taken to Kemijärvi, Finland where the world’s northern-most pulp mill recently closed. This community also depended on the mill to keep their town alive but were not as lucky as the residents of Terrace Bay. The mill is now closed, leaving the community to wonder what they will do. The film concludes in Fray Bentos, Uruguay. Unlike Canada and Finland, Uruguay is a country without natural forests. Today, one million hectares of eucalyptus plantations feed an enormous modern pulp mill that is changing everything. The future in this part of Uruguay is like the past in Terrace Bay and Kemijärvi, but at what cost? Pulp Friction tells the stories of these three communities and sheds light on globalization and how the lives of people in different parts of the world are bound together by this industry that knows no borders. Pulp Friction is in English, French, Finnish, and Spanish.

Ron Harpelle is a member of RESRG. He teaches history at Lakehead University and is an award-winning filmmaker. His previous films include, Hard Time, about a man who spent 29 years in solitary confinement for a crime he did not commit, In Security, a film about barbed wire, and Banana Split, a film about Canada’s favourite fruit. Pulp Friction is the product of a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Public Outreach Grant.

Pulp Friction will premiere on December 11, 2014 at 8 pm at the Finnish Labour Temple in Thunder Bay, Ontario, 314 Bay St.

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Introducing the Resources, Economy, and Society Research Group (RESRG) at Lakehead University

Whether we consider ourselves scholars or activists (or perhaps both), there is little doubt that the current challenges we face both locally and globally are too complex, and indeed too immense, to deal with on our own, or in a piecemeal fashion.  The dominant problems of our time, ones which range from climate change and environmental degradation to social inequality, political instability, and the growing gap between the rich and poor, are inextricably linked and demand innovative, comprehensive approaches to questions of sustainable development, and social and economic change.

The current need for cooperation between academic disciplines, and between diverse communities working on a wide range of developmental issues, has been reflected in recent years by a pronounced shift in research funding priorities. At the federal level, for example, organizations such as the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), CIDA/Foreign Affairs, and the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) have moved strongly in the direction of collaborative, targeted, interdisciplinary projects. Inspired by this shift, academics across Canada (and around the world) have begun to rethink their relationships not only to the communities around them, but also to the very institutions they work in, and are now engaging increasingly in research that is both critically-engaged and action-oriented. Freeing themselves from the disciplinary silos in which they have traditionally worked, scholars now frequently work with each other across disciplines, and in recent years have begun to form fruitful working relationships with practitioners, policy makers, NGOs, social movements, and community members.

It is within this context of interdisciplinary cooperation and community-based collaboration that the Resources, Economy, and Society Research Group (RESRG) was formed at Lakehead University in Spring 2014. Funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council’s Aid to Small Universities grant, RESRG was founded as a means of building research capacity by encouraging new research activities among faculty with diverse interests and experience. Focusing on issues related to local, regional, and global development, our research group brings together scholars from multiple disciplines working on issues pertaining not only to Canada, but also to Latin America, India, Africa, and Europe.

As academics working locally but thinking and researching globally, we feel we are in a unique position to develop projects and produce outcomes that are both relevant and ground-breaking. Globalization processes, for example, combined with new resource discoveries in Northwestern Ontario, are creating substantial problems that need to be addressed. The need for innovative, interdisciplinary research has become increasingly apparent in light of current discussions around the so-called Ring of Fire mineral discoveries, and also in light of conversations that have emerged in the wake of the recent acquisition of Terrace Bay Pulp by an Indian foreign multinational, Aditya Birla Group. As the work of some of our RESRG researchers suggests, these are examples of Northern developments that can be studied in the light of insights learned from the challenges of resource development in the Arctic, and of global mining and forestry industries in the Global South. Many analysts are arguing, in fact, that the North is the new South.

By developing research capacity in cooperation with local communities, RESRG is in a position to develop innovative comparative research on questions of economic, environmental, and sociopolitical development and sustainability. Our expertise and research interests are broad, ranging from community forest management and Arctic development, to the history and sociology of labour. Moreover, beyond our interest in applying lessons learned in the Global South to questions of sustainable development in the Global North, our researchers are also pursuing projects that seek to understand the radicalization of social movements on both the right and the left, and which promise to break new ground in the people’s history of global warming.

Providing Lakehead University faculty and students with new opportunities to collaborate across disciplines and backgrounds, RESRG is dedicated to sustainable development and increased interaction with like-minded scholars and programs at other institutions. RESRG is committed to helping support a research-intensive culture in Social Sciences and Humanities at Lakehead University, and to building bridges with scholars working in Natural Resource Management. Our goal is to create a new venue for enhancing research in the region, and for increasing research funding, recruiting research talent, and “modeling” research activity within the university and in the community.

For the pdf version of this RESRG editorial, click here