Anthropology in a climate of change, war, and internecine environments 2

[In process]
Part 1**

Part 2*** From a follow-up to the newslist discussion about anthropology and climate change–

Q. “So…what can we do to solve this problem? Can we think like engineers?”

Please, don’t. Not even anthropological engineers. For example, see this —

Yes, a focus on problem solving is needed, but an integrated focus (biocultural anthropology, human ecology, human biology, archaeological anthropology, a.k.a. anthropology). Engineers as a whole do their work well, but often fall down precisely when it comes to defining the correct problem.

The University of Alaska must model the billions of extra dollars needed to replace existing infrastructure despite missing data sets. The study was completed recently and based upon the infrastructure definitions provided by the state’s FEMA equivalent (the division without a single social scientist).

How accurate are the infrastructure database? I have the notes from the communities themselves going back to 1995 when I first got to Alaska. There was then the overdue need to consider environmental change in building landfills or airports. I could glance at the landscape and tell what is going on because I took soils and geology courses and did fieldwork on changes in historical human terrains.

Since 1992 at least, the engineers have been in charge in Alaska (and northern NM) for solutions to rural / tribal “environmental health” and change. How many unsanitary dumps did we as tribal staff have to consider just within the northern NM Pueblos? I ask the Indian Health Service sanitarian and 10 days later I get a call from the Bureau of Indian Affairs hydrology engineer who wants to know how many dumps there are because they got an inquiry from IHS…. We in the Pueblos (with a planner from the engineering department in Albuquerque and a PE formerly with Singapore megaprojects) were forced to re-write the EPA/BIA’s integrated solid waste planning manual as an archaeology field manual.

I have the notes from 1993 when EPA said the money we needed for clean drinking water in the Pueblos had to go to Alaska for their more serious issues. In Alaska we were promised a “honey bucket museum” by the Governor and not a better honey bucket. I’ve seen where and how that money was spent (the same out-of-date technology they put in New Mexico, only at 5 times the cost). A million-dollar anuk house (compressed air pumped through an open tub of sewage) not only doesn’t reduce widespread strep and RSV and MRSA and hep but the building materials fall apart in the sea air inside of 10 months (just like the tribal council said).

I listen between the lines of what Alaska Natives say to the government men. I listen to what fellow G-men and women tell me when the communities aren’t around. I listen when my neighbors and friends and co-workers ask questions.

Without anthropological insights the USDA NRCS soils engineers cannot fathom the problem. The US Army Corps of Engineers cannot fathom the problem AND they can only do what they are told by Congress and Senator Stevens. The IHS and HUD engineers couldn’t even fathom the idea that 20 year old lagoon technology wasn’t appropriate in 1980 and isn’t today. The housing development engineers moving one house at a time couldn’t fathom the problem in Labrador and can’t in Newtok (the 2007 external coordination is USACE COE).

The problem today within Anthros as an organization is that it seems to think like engineers. That’s why the on-going disaster of Katrina and the Mississippi Delta is replicated in the Yukon and Kuskokwim and Kobuk and Nushagak Deltas (or maybe vice versa as my experience antedates Katrina.)

It isn’t rocket surgery to know what needs to be done. It is good old fashioned (natural science) [pdf file] four-field anthropology. There isn’t another technical field which has the capability of integrating what is known and needs to be known to plan the future. This is as true of 2007 AAA as it was in 1985 (or in 1976,* see William W. Kellogg and Margaret Mead)

At the Women and Anthropology Group (University of Auckland, 1987) we identified three reasons for including anthropology in national policy discussions:

  • we have resources and expertise to help develop the vocabulary and appropriate context for consideration of this topic by the public
  • we have specific information on how humans adapt or fail to cope, especially relevant to New Zealand (and the Pacific)
  • we should raise issues relevant to expertise from other disciplines which we feel are important (e.g., ethics of emigration and immigration policy)
  • … In general, discussions of [environmental disasters] have focussed on technical issues and narrow aspects of social systems, not comprehensively on people nor on issues of human relations. Policy has been planned with a bias towards rosy pictures of success. The anthropological input is needed to balance such images and to provide accurate information for informed decisions to be made.

    Culture affects the technology and expertise which is applied to the problem. Culture affects how we as a people accept or reject environmental change and disasters.

    Culture affects how we drive the conception of the assessment, preparation, and modelling of disasters (even those of post-9/11 and privacy)–

    The American practice focuses on predicting disasters and mediating the effects once they have happened, in brief: on flood hazard mitigation. [Bijker]

    This seems like the governmental use of the term mitigation in Alaska or Louisiana. It is unlike that of environmental assessment (National Environmental Policy Act, NEPA). In Environmental Impact Study / Assessment, one mitigates the probable impacts beforehand, by redesigning the project or by compensatory land purchases, etc. The FEMA folks seem to mitigate the damage only after the fact.

    Why build a revetment for static communities when our communities should be dynamic constituents of nonlinear systems? That is, boreal living, human or beastie, requires a non-sedentary and continuously changing situation. Alaska humans have been “stuck” in place. The environment they subsist with does not.

    We need an integrated human systems analysis.

    The professor is at best ill-informed on the subject. His desire to strip away race and greed and other “secondary” issues in our understanding of the broken levees is horribly misguided. We need to understand all the elements of the problem, not just global warming, because, again, the floods of NOLA could have been prevented.

    Rebuilding bad design, as you say, is not a great option. But the Dutch don’t have bad design. Why do we have to? 2007/07/hartford_safe_in_ivory_tower_p.html

    Therefore, don’t send engineers or engineered thinking. Send phone cards so at least one of us can speak with the engineers, with Governor Palin, and Uncle Ted.

    Notes, citations, further reading [retrieved 2002 via Wotanging Ikche and Native American News Copyright c. 1996-2002
    “RE: Innu Relocation in Labrador botched Planning”
    ] and also available from

    * And still raising Cain, see the silly “1975 ‘Endangered Atmosphere’ Conference: Where the Global Warming Hoax Was Born” 2007-23/pdf/50-55_723.pdf
    which begins “”Global Warming” is, and always was, a policy for genocidal reduction of the world’s population.”

    (1987) Anthropologists see their role in the following ways:

    1. We would like to facilitate discussion taking a more holistic approach to the problem of society after [environmental disaster]. So far, discussion on the aftermath … has centred primarily on discussing individual components of the system, such as transport, communication, etc. We would like to approach the subject by making human beings the centre of our arguments. Anthropologists are possibly the only members of the scientific community who regularly discuss issues from the viewpoint of general human adaptability and everything which acts upon it.

    2. We would like to bring into the discussion subjects that relate specifically to our own field of expertise, such as adaptive strategies, cultural adaptation, transmission of culture, the demographic consequences of changing social structure, and archaeological evidence concerning constraints on societies reliant on low level technology.

    3. We would like to facilitate discussion of some of the more difficult ethical problems such as migration and the possible racial consequences. We would like to look at the possible effects on interpersonal relationships


    AAA Opposes U.S. Military’s Human Terrain System Project

    AAA Executive Board Releases Ad Hoc Commission Report on Engagement of Anthropology in US Security/Intelligence Communities (CEAUSSIC) November 28th, 2007

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