Links on climate change: First half of 2015

In this post I curate a few links related to climate change research, that in some way relate to the focus of our research project on diverse knowledges on the relations between changing climate and water.

For a history of climate change science (until 2009), look at the OSS Foundation’s site.

On Wednesday the blog GlacierHub, about research and information on glaciers around the world, will be one year old – congrats, and thanks for sharing!

Interactions of drought and climate adaptation for urban water is the website of a project about drought management strategies to support urban water systems.

Read John Dryzek, Richard Norgaard and David Schlosberg’s book Climate-challenged society. The publisher writes about the book: “This book is an original, accessible, and thought-provoking introduction to the severe and broad-ranging challenges that climate change presents and how societies can respond. It synthesises and deploys cutting-edge scholarship on the range of social, economic, political, and philosophical issues surrounding climate change. The treatment is introductory, but the book is written ‘with attitude’, for nobody has yet charted in coherent, integrative, and effective fashion a way to move societies beyond their current paralysis as they face the challenges of climate change. The coverage begins with an examination of science, public opinion, and policy making, with special attention to organised climate change denial. The book then moves to economic analysis and its limits; different kinds of policies; climate justice; governance at all levels from the local to the global; and the challenge of an emerging ‘Anthropocene’ in which the mostly unintended consequences of human action drive the earth system into a more chaotic and unstable era. The conclusion considers the prospects for fundamental transition in ideas, movements, economics, and governance.”

There’s also Mike Hulme’s 2014 book, Exploring climate change through science and in society. It is an anthology of his essays, interviews and speeches from the late 1980s. His other books on climate change are Can science fix climate change: A case against climate engineering, and Why we disagree about climate change: Understanding controversy, inaction and opportunity

Another book is by Candis Callison, How climate change comes to matter: The communal life of facts. The publisher describes the book as: “During the past decade, skepticism about climate change has frustrated those seeking to engage broad publics and motivate them to take action on the issue. In this innovative ethnography, Candis Callison examines the initiatives of social and professional groups as they encourage diverse American publics to care about climate change. She explores the efforts of science journalists, scientists who have become expert voices for and about climate change, American evangelicals, Indigenous leaders, and advocates for corporate social responsibility. The disparate efforts of these groups illuminate the challenge of maintaining fidelity to scientific facts while transforming them into ethical and moral calls to action. Callison investigates the different vernaculars through which we understand and articulate our worlds, as well as the nuanced and pluralistic understandings of climate change evident in different forms of advocacy. As she demonstrates, climate change offers an opportunity to look deeply at how issues and problems that begin in a scientific context come to matter to wide publics, and to rethink emerging interactions among different kinds of knowledge and experience, evolving media landscapes, and claims to authority and expertise.”

For reviews of Naomi Klein’s book on climate change, This changes everything, read John Gray, or read Elizabeth Kolbert’s review, and Naomi’s response in The New York Review of Books.



The Climate and Traditional Knowledges Workgroup of the USA’s Third National Climate Assessment in 2014 released Guidelines for Considering Traditional Knowledges in Climate Change Initiatives.

Have a look at the presentation of the key findings related to Africa of the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report: What’s in it for Africa?

One of the research projects of the Centre for Science & Technology is about Knowledge, power and the coproduction of climate information for adaptation to climate change in Tanzania. The website describes the projects as follows: “Lisa Dilling, Meaghan Daly, Mara Goldman and Eric Lovell are conducting a project that aims to improve understanding of processes to effectively link climate information and adaptation at national and local scales in Tanzania. The approach is to explicitly recognise and examine the ways in which the varying epistemological traditions and relations of power among vulnerable communities, disaster management professionals, and climate experts influence the perceived value of climate information for improved early warning and climate adaptation. The primary research question is ‘what processes or institutions can support improved application of technical climate information to facilitate successful adaptation to climate related disasters?’ This research draws upon theoretical contributions from the fields of science policy, disaster research, science and technology studies, and political ecology to support a mixed-methods research approach to explore practices and modes of engagement that may best facilitate the production of usable science that can be successfully integrated within adaptation decision-making and policy development processes.”

Specific to South Africa, Gina Ziervogel and colleagues from mainly UCT has an article in WIREs Climate Change on Climate change impacts and adaptation in South Africa. The abstract of their paper states: “In this paper we review current approaches and recent advances in research on climate impacts and adaptation in South Africa. South Africa has a well-developed earth system science research program that underpins the climate change scenarios developed for the southern African region. Established research on the biophysical impacts of climate change on key sectors (water, agriculture, and biodiversity) integrates the climate change scenarios but further research is needed in a number of areas, such as the climate impacts on cities and the built environment. National government has developed a National Climate Change Response White Paper, but this has yet to translate into policy that mainstreams adaptation in everyday practice and longer-term planning in all spheres and levels of government. A national process to scope long-term adaptation scenarios is underway, focusing on cross-sectoral linkages in adaptation responses at a national level. Adaptation responses are emerging in certain sectors. Some notable city-scale and project-based adaptation responses have been implemented, but institutional challenges persist. In addition, a number of knowledge gaps remain in relation to the biophysical and socio-economic impacts of climate change. A particular need is to develop South Africa’s capacity to undertake integrated assessments of climate change that can support climate-resilient development planning.”

In the South African Journal of Science, there is an article on Observed and modelled trends in rainfall and temperature for South Africa: 1960–2010.

Have a look at the 2010 book by PG Alcock, called Rainbows in the mist: indigenous weather knowledge, beliefs and folklore in South Africa.


Why do research on knowledge about climate change and water in South Africa?

Climate change, due to a variety of cosmological and geographical processes, is a natural occurrence on earth, but it is widely recognised that an increase in global temperature in the last 100 years (popularly known as global warming) is related to human activities (IPCC 2007). Such anthropogenic climate change will have (and already have) significant impacts – and catastrophic consequences – on societies, economies, development and people’s livelihoods (see World Bank 2009). Crate and Nuttall (2009:11) therefore describe climate change as “a threat multiplier. It magnifies and exacerbates existing social, economic, political, and environmental trends, problems, issues, tensions, and challenges.”

One of the areas where scientific observational records and climate projections show abundant evidence of impact and strong vulnerabilities in future, with wide-ranging consequences for human societies and ecosystems, is freshwater resources (Bates et al 2008:3). The South African Country Studies Programme and the National Climate Change Response White Paper (RSA 2011) have identified the water sector as one of the most vulnerable sectors in South Africa to climate change impacts (Madzwamuse 2010:vi). Already in the 1990s South Africa was identified as one of the countries that will experience considerable water scarcity by 2025 (UNEP 1999), with about half of river-systems endangered (Enow 2012:5), leaving the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) (2007) to project that by 2050 the annual average water availability in southern Africa will have decreased by 10-30%. But the effects of climate change are not just in increased water scarcity, but also in water quality changes. In a country which is predominantly semi-arid, with high rainfall variability, high evaporation, and frequent droughts and floods, and where 98% of the water resources have already been allocated (Turton 2008), climate change impacts on hydrological resources are inevitable, and adaptation urgent.

However, according to an IPCC technical report (Bates et al 2008:4), several gaps exist in our knowledge on the relations between climate change and water; they identify these as lack of observational data (on especially water quality, groundwater and aquatic ecosystems) at relevant scales to improve modelling of climate changes and its socio-economic dimensions.

The key public and academic debates on climate change in past decades have been about whether climate change is human induced, its (potential) impacts on environments and societies, and policy solutions to mitigate and adapt to it. Scientists agree on the human causes of current global warming and climate change, and make use of various modelling exercises to predict its future potential impacts. Such models and predictions from natural scientists are the major source of policy decisions worldwide on climate change (Connor 2011:247). But West and Vásquez-León (2003:233) indicate that as the global debate on climate change became more public and political, the gap between local perspectives of various stakeholders and the global perspectives of scientists became glaring. The mostly
global scale positivist computer-generated quantitative top-down ‘science knowledge’ from largely the wealthy (North, rich, formally ‘educated’) on which most policy decisions are based, seems to give little attention to local scale contextual qualitative analyses (Magistro & Roncoli 2001:91), and to ‘local knowledges’ from largely the poor (South, formally ‘uneducated’).



However, it is especially at local level that social and cultural aspects mediate relations between humans and nature, and where those relations manifest in different knowledges, and vice versa, leading to various adaptations. Anthropologists have a long tradition of studying human adaptations, and should contribute to our understandings and policies on climate change adaptation. Due to one of the fieldwork methods of anthropologists, namely ethnography, they are able to unpack the knowledges and understandings of local peoples with regards to climate change in great depth. Crate (2008:569, 574) argues that once local perceptions are clear, it can be used to inform and fill gaps in scientific knowledge, to reframe advocacy, policy and practice. Anthropologists have also been raising the need to incorporate local environmental knowledge (LEK) into climate change understandings, and the 2007 fourth assessment report of the IPCC did acknowledged LEK as “an invaluable basis for developing adaptation and natural resource management strategies in response to environmental and other forms of change”. So far though, most scientific knowledge and LEK on climate change remains largely un-integrated, due to, among others, very different epistemologies.

This research project is about exploring the compatibility of (or domains of articulation between) various knowledges on the relations between climate change and water in a specific area of South Africa. The project is underpinned by a broader interest in what is seen as good evidence under what circumstances by whom and for what.

List of references

Bates B, Kundzewicz ZW, Wu S, Palutikof J (eds) 2008 Climate change and water. Technical paper of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC Secretariat, Geneva

Connor HL 2011 Anthropogenic climate change and cultural crisis: An anthropological perspective. Journal of Australian political economy 66: 247-267

Crate SA 2008 Gone the bull of winter? Grappling with the cultural implications of and Anthropology’s role(s) in global climate change. Current Anthropology 49(4): 569-595

Crate S & Nuttall M (eds) 2009 Anthropology and climate change: From encounters to action. Walnut Creek: Left Coast Press

Enow A 2012 Opportunities for strengthening interdisciplinary research on water in South Africa. Available at

IPCC (International Panel on Climate Change) 2007. Summary for Policy-makers: Climate Change 2007: Climate change impacts, adaptation and vulnerability. Working Group II Contribution to the International Panel on Climate Change Fourth Assessment Report. Geneva, IPCC

Madzwamuse M 2010 Climate change vulnerability and adaptation preparedness in South Africa. Cape Town: Heinrich Böll Stiftung Southern Africa. Available at


Magistro J & Roncoli C 2001 Anthropological perspectives and policy implications of climate change research. Climate Research 19: 91-96

RSA (Republic of South Africa) 2011 National climate change response white paper. Pretoria: Available at

Turton A 2008 Three strategic water challenges that decision-makers need to know about and how the CSIR should respond. Keynote address at the CSIR Conference Science Real and Relevant, 18 November 2008, Pretoria

West CT & Vásquez-León M 2003 Testing farmers’ perceptions of climate variability: A case study from the Sulphur Springs Valley, Arizona. In Strauss S & Orlove BS (eds) Weather, climate, culture. Oxford: Berg: 233-250

World Bank 2009 World development report 2010: Development and climate change. Washington DC: World Bank


Earth Hour impacting on climate change?

I created a Storify of the #earthhour event on Saturday evening (23 March 2013). In my home country, South Africa, the bulk electricity provider Eskom indicated that 629 megawatts of electricity usage was cut due the Earth Hour campaign. This, they said, was enough power to run the coastal town of Port Elizabeth for most of a day, and enough for the whole of Mozambique for a day (The Star 25 March 2013). Unfortunately though, such reduction in usage does not translate into emission reduction, as Eskom did not cut its production of electricity on Saturday evening.


(Source: Photo of Alex Masu;

Also, whilst the growth in numbers of participants, here and throughout the world, is impressive, I remain sceptical of the impacts of such events. How many people actually knew it was about climate change, and not just about having  a good time in a park or at a concert or in a back yard? How many will actually change their day-to-day lives to ensure reduced consumption (and eventually production or differently produced), or is Earth Hour simply about delayed consumption? With Earth Hour taking place on a Saturday, the target is clearly households, and less so businesses, despite the rhetoric. But is it the major use of (coal-produced) electricity households, or is it rather industries, mining and agriculture? Why then have it on a Saturday evening when most of these are in any case shut down? It’s the fleeting nature of earth Hour and the lack of structural changes flowing from it that has me uncomfortable I think.

Maybe here in South Africa the spin for Earth Hour should rather be: prepare yourself for the blackouts of the winter of 2013, join #earthhour.

NS: We should also look at the 49M campaign, a call to all South Africans to save electricity by making a pledge; that’s for another blog posting.