Academic journal article Human Organization

Engaging Communities and Climate Change Futures with Multi-Scale, Iterative Scenario Building (MISB) in the Western United States

Academic journal article Human Organization

Engaging Communities and Climate Change Futures with Multi-Scale, Iterative Scenario Building (MISB) in the Western United States

Article excerpt

Introduction

Using two case studies from the United States Intermountain West, one from the Big Hole Valley, Montana, and the other from Grand County, Colorado, this article highlights the ways a stronger articulation between theory and methods can generate proactive applied tools to aid researchers and communities in exploring climate change-related vulnerabilities and adaption while also enabling locally grounded dialogue about the future.1 Unlike other social scientists, anthropologists are often uneasy applying theoretical knowledge to such future concerns. In contrast, following Barnes et al. (2013), we argue that by combining theories of practice with critical concerns in theoretical anthropology (and other influences from the social sciences and humanities), anthropological knowledge and expertise, however partial, is of considerable value in uncertain conditions such as those presented by climate change.2 An anthropological perspective is also vital as various social science investigators increasingly discover "culture" as a key to understanding human-environment relations in the context of climate change (Adger et al. 2012; Castree et al. 2014)3. In light of this uncertainty and the "turn" towards culture. we find narrative and storymaking/telling to be key practices for illuminating the role of anthropology and anthropological knowledge in uncovering vulnerabilities and facilitating adaptation. As Hulme (2011:178) notes, "The importance of storytelling around climate change needs elevating alongside that of fact finding [as] stories are the way that humans make sense of change."

The methodology and data we present here demonstrate how narrative-driven approaches can help us map the contours and margins of our knowledge about climate change-related vulnerabilities and adaptive capacities. For that reason, the research is guided by three key principles. First, considerations of vulnerability and adaptation in the context of climate change require, methodologically, greater social-ecological integration; in particular, attention must be paid to the deeply interwoven, mutually constitutive, and emergent relationships between social and ecological processes. This requires intense interdisciplinary engagement between the natural and social sciences (Casagrande et al. 2007) and, in particular, grounding in local knowledge (Sherpa 2014), even when that "knowledge" comes from self-avowed skeptics and deniers. Second, research should orient assessments toward future climate change impacts, as solely relying on past experience can eschew the uniqueness of future threats. Thus, a future orientation requires recognition of continuing uncertainty regarding how future impacts will manifest on the ground. Third, the drivers of social and ecological changes operate on different spatial and temporal scales, requiring close attention to the cross-scale interactions shaping vulnerability and adaptive pathways in particular places, represented here by the Big Hole Valley, Montana, and Grand County, Colorado (see Map 1 ).

Anthropology provides a holistic perspective that is wellsuited to work that crosses scales and incorporates multiple stakeholders in collaborative processes (Crate 2011 ; Fiske et al. 2014). This article outlines an anthropologically-inspired methodology that we call "multi-scale, iterative scenario building" (MISB) that integrates these principles and explores data that illuminate them. We find that by utilizing diverse socioecological scenarios as dynamic narrative threads, "climate futures" can be multi-authored in ways that permit conflicts as well as synergies and opportunities to emerge and/or subside, without succumbing to climate reductionism (Hulme 2011). This approach also provides space for the reflexive learning needed to create the "critical emancipatory knowledge" required in the face of transformational threats like climate change (Castree et al. 2014:765).4 Finally, we evaluate the method's strengths and potential to support planning and decision making for an uncertain future. …

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