Academic journal article Human Organization

Climate Change, Perceptions, and Social Heterogeneity in Pharak, Mount Everest Region of Nepal

Academic journal article Human Organization

Climate Change, Perceptions, and Social Heterogeneity in Pharak, Mount Everest Region of Nepal

Article excerpt

In her review of the growing anthropological literature on climate change, Crate (2011) points out that the scope of anthropology has expanded to engage local with global contexts. She argues for a "climate ethnography" that is multi-sited, collaborative, and adopts a crossscale, multi-stakeholder approach. By engaging multiple stakeholders in such ethnographic efforts, "we trace global processes locally and track how global processes are being articulated via local knowledge systems to elucidate the convergences and conflicts between the global to local conversations and understandings about climate change" (Crate 2011:186).

In this paper, I present an ethnographic illustration of how climate change is unfolding for Sherpas in Pharak, the southern part of Nepal's Everest region. This case study draws upon 15 months of research conducted between 2010 and 2012. In documenting climate change perceptions of Sherpas, the research employs a holistic approach by exploring socioeconomic and institutional connections between the locality of Pharak and the national and the global contexts. Climate change in this research emerges as an issue not contained within a bounded geographic territory or single academic discipline but as the product of multiple knowledge systems in addition to observable effects in the natural environment. At the local level, Sherpas, along with the national government, scientists, researchers, and development practitioners, appear as stakeholders concerned about climate change in the Everest region. In this context, I follow Hastrup's (2012:148) description of scale as "not a matter of more or less but of different points of perception" as I apply a multi-scalar approach to assessing climate change narratives at the local, national, and global levels.

Sherpas are noticing significant environmental impacts resulting from climate change and are becoming exposed to different kinds of knowledge from various sources as they themselves are undergoing rapid socioeconomic transformation. I draw upon the "dynamic sustainabilities" perspective put forward by Leach, Scoones, and Stirling (2010) to analyze the processes by which climate change can be contextualized in this transitioning society. This perspective recognizes that today's world is highly complex and dynamic and therefore requires looking at the interaction of different systems - social, ecological, and technological - across multiple scales and as they play out in particular places with particular environmental and social contexts.

I argue that an examination of social heterogeneity among Sherpas assists us in understanding how individuals are heterogeneously exposed to different climate change effects and knowledge systems, resulting in varying perceptions of a changing environment and climate. I consider heterogeneity to be a characteristic of small-scale societies, following Bodley's (2012) use of the principle of heterogeneity as a corollary of subsidiarity. Subsidiarity refers to the fact that decisions are made at the lowest feasible level in the social structure, starting with the individual then moving up to the household, family, or village levels as demanded by the circumstances. In the process, people are encouraged to mobilize social networks to solve problems rather than relying on hierarchies (Bodley 2012:13).

Scientific Knowledge of Climate Change Effects

Evidence from the Everest Region over recent decades has demonstrated a steadily warming climate. Shrestha et al. ( 1999) found that between 1977 and 1994, mean annual maximum temperature trend distributions show warming affecting most parts of Nepal. Mean annual high temperatures increased 0.06 degree Centrigade per year in most of the northern belt, consisting of the Trans-Himalayan and Himalayan regions (Shrestha et al. 1999). Shrestha and Aryal (2011) extended this early analysis of temperature data with more recent measurements. These demonstrate that the warming trend is still continuing and that the rate of warming has not diminished. …

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