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Climate Change as A Cultural Issue

Table of Contents


Climate change through the lens of Culture:

Bushfire events and Indigenous cultural burning practices.



Introduction to Bushfire Events and Indigenous Cultural Burning Practices

The dynamic relationship between the values and the adoption of climate change is one of the underappreciated discussions (Adger et al., 2013). The concern of looking clearly into the cultural perspective effect over the scientific evidence on climate change is one of the novel contributions which has been in focus lately (Perssona et al., 2015). One of the dreadful events occurring due to climate change is a bushfire, which is leading to the destruction of not only humans but also affecting the habitats of the wildlife along with the destruction of hectares of land (Climate Council, 2019). The issue is getting severe with every passing year in the nation and demand a critical approach to prevent these events. One such approach which has getting recognition is indigenous cultural burning practices, which have been in the application after a long time in the nation (CSIRO, 2020). This practice was popular among the Indigenous Australians but is now getting shaped as a tool to prevent the horrible bushfire events in the entire nation. The present paper will provide an account of climate change in the context of a cultural issue. The various bushfire events and the practices of Indigenous cultural burning will also be analysed in the present paper for a better understanding of the concept of climate change concerning the bushfire events and practise of Indigenous cultural burning.

Climate change through the lens of Culture: According to Goldman et al (2018), climate change is interrelated with the concept of a cultural phenomenon in which the understanding and the response to climate changes are conveyed concerning the wider political, social, cultural and material context. Culture has been viewed as contested, fragmented and constituted through various discursive acts that are in opposition to something that surrounds society. As per Salvatore (2018), the various perspectives from cultural geography, anthropology, sociology and the psychology of culture has an assertion that the experience of human is inevitably situated within the boundaries of the social and political context where the understanding concerning the ‘natural phenomena’ are invariably ‘cultural’. In the context of broader humanities and social sciences, the culture-based approaches have gained more popularity with acknowledgment of the impact of socio-cultural factors, spatially and temporalities on the knowledge-producing system which eventually includes the various urgent social issues such as climate change. When the cultural perspective is focused on climate change, the perspective draws attention to both culture and climate as a mutually cyclic and constitutive phenomenon in which both culture and climate change influences each other (Kothari & Arnall, 2019). The various cultural perspectives persisting in the nation can lead to an explanation of the differences in the response of the population concerning the same environment risk. Researchers suggest that the people who are sharing same values and belief are likely to have a similar review on the natural environment issues that will be reflected in their response to consider the climate change risk (Adger et al., 2013). Andrew Hoffmann, a professor at the University of Michigan, views climate change to be a cultural issue that should require a change in the beliefs and values (Gach, 2019) to settle before the destruction. In his views, the global system of the earth has been altered, and this is interrelated to the way people think and behave, which is an impact of culture.

Culture is fundamentally based on the practices, ideas and objects which lead to the creation of a network of shared meaning in space and time (Hulme 2016). Culture is not linked with the determination of an individual but is associated with providing tools which can be flexibly drawn on in developing a better understanding of the world. Climate change can also be considered as one of the cultural issues as climate change possess a great threat to the cultures in recent times. The increase in the floods, droughts, fires, ocean acidification is a great threat to both natural and cultural heritage. The Assistant Director-General for culture in UNESCO has also said the culture is one of the significant resources for the mitigation and adaptation concerning climate change (UNESCO, 2020). He also advised integrating the culture into the global climate action to resolve this issue of climate change. Also, in one of the recent study, which is the part of the Global Ethnohydrology Study, with the data sets from a different nation, the researchers used the comparative approach to figure out the complexities of local and global perceptions of climate change with the comparison of cultural knowledge concerning the climate change using the theory of ‘culture as consensus’ (Crona et al., 2013). This study provided an account of the cross-cultural patterns in which people usually conceptualized climate change. The researchers found that various participants of cross-cultural nations shared similar climate change recognition perceptions which are based on the concern of serious health issues for humans due to the extensive changes and subsequent natural disaster. This is also significant concerning climate change as it suggests that climate change is developing as a cultural issue, and it is also so crucial as climate change in the recent years demands mitigation not only on the local level but also globally. According to Scholremer and Maus (2014), climate change leads to the alteration in the way people relate to the various spaces such as building sides and landscapes. Instances of Climate Change such as flooding and rise in sea level lead to the abandonment of the property by the people which raises significant concern about the traditional knowledge and the skills which are essential for the proper maintenance of those properties which has been abandoned. This an evident example of climate change framed as a cultural issue. With the study of case study in different nations, Pol (n.d) used the theory of Hofstede and Trompennaars to define the specific elements of the culture in these nations. It has been observed that there are various perspectives concerning the culture of different communities of these nations when compared with factors such as supporter interest, polluter interest and victim interest. The research provided that the culture is a significant factor for framing of climate policy of those nations.

Bushfire events and Indigenous cultural burning practices: One of the significant impacts of climate change is extreme weather events such as heatwaves, droughts and bushfires which are signs indicating the status of climate change (Seneviratne et al., 2012). Various factors ultimately lead to the events of bushfire in the nation. The factors like dryness, temperature, the slope of the land, wind speed, humidity etc. are concerned with climate change. One such event of bushfire in Australia was experienced, in 2019, in which the month from January to August was recorded to be the driest (The Guardian, 2019). With this climate change-induced situations occurring in the nation, the bushfire season of 2019 has led to the loss of 25 lives and the destruction of 1,500 homes in New South Wales only. With the extreme climate crisis occurring in the nation, the events of bushfire are getting unpredictable and leading to the threat of various health problems, including respiratory health problems in which air quality is getting lower than the standard one. It has been observed in this nation that bushfire usually occurs every year, but the intensity of such bushfire is getting enhanced with each passing year as there have been strong winds and different conditions which fuel them ultimately. The difference in the climate zone and patterns of weather in the different parts of the nation lead to the occurrence of bushfires in fire seasons, which vary according to the location (Australian Government Bureau of Meteorology, n.d). Another significant impact of bushfire is on the wildlife, which cannot be ignored concerning the factor and their impact developed with the terminology of “wildlife Apocalypse” for the fire zones in the nation (Khalil, 2020). The bushfire does not only destroy human life, but they also lead to the destruction of habitat and endangered the wildlife along with the burning of forest and areas which have been covered with greenery in hundreds of years. The impact of bushfires on the wildlife of Australia is getting severe with the recent 2019-20 seasons of bushfires, where it led to the destruction of habitats of various animals. As per the various ecologists, approximately 50,000 koalas have been killed due to the bushfire ravage spread across hectares of land (Redfearn, 2020).

One of the ways to curb the bushfire events threatening lives and homes in the nation is suggested to be the adoption of the cultural burning practice of the indigenous based Australian community. Cultural burning practise is concerned with the burning practice which has been developed by the indigenous Australians to improve the health of the people and its land. The practice is concerned with burning or the prevention of burning (Firesticks) of the nation. This practice of Cultural burning has not been an application for quite some generations but is slowly getting recognition in terms of a methodology to mitigate the effects of bushfires. The under-representation of indigenous cultural learning practices and their perspective has been noticed by various researchers (Schultz, 2018). The cultural burning methodology to curb bushfire events can be a helpful tool to improve the land and fire management methods of the government, which may ultimately lead to a better response to dry conditions which usually fuel load bushfire and the changing climate conditions resulting in a bushfire. The most interesting thing about culture learning is about the small-scale burns which can lead to the minimization of the risk of big bushfires, which may occur in the drier times of the year and consequently are significant for the health and regeneration of various animals and plants which may be at the verge of extinction with these events of bushfire. This practice is about using the fire in the right way at the right time to curb big bushfires. The cultural burning practise having been termed as “little fires that tend the earth with affection” by Dr.David Bowman, an eminent professor of fire science and pyrogeography at the University of Tasmania (Mitchell, 2016). The practice has been considered as developing an emotional relationship with the land with the application of fire, leading to the creation of flammable habitat mosaics, which are eventually beneficial for biodiversity and in the management of fuel load. This practice of Indigenous cultural burning is widespread in Northern Australia, where the Indigenous fire management is applied which involves cool fires in a given area during the early dry season to burn slowly and in patches (Financial Review, 2019). This practice of cultural burning is even getting appreciation from the various centres of research, which conclude this practice as an effective tool for the management of the natural environment properly within such areas where bushfire can produce destructive effects. The practice is more concerned about cultural knowledge which has been ignored for quite a long time but has the potential to curb a grievous issue of bushfire events in the nation.

Conclusion on Bushfire Events and Indigenous Cultural Burning Practices

It has been concluded with the end of this paper that climate change is getting shaped into a cultural issue and is associated with the various perspectives associated with the psychology of culture. Various researchers who conducted studies in different nations have also asserted that the cultural perspective is playing a significant role in response to climate change and the methodology which must be adopted to ensure the formulation of effective policy regarding climate change. Since culture is fundamentally based on the ideas, objects and practices leading to the creation of a various network of shared meaning, it can be used to mitigate and adapt the climate change as it is a need of the hour not only in Australia but across the globe. The events of bushfire are one of the outcomes of such climate change which has affected the wildlife along with the human. There are various events of bushfires in the nation and are suggesting the urgency of developing a policy that can prevent such dreadful bushfire events from destroying the habitat and lives. One such approach which has gained popularity recently is Indigenous cultural burn practice. This practise is focused on cool fires in which specific areas are burnt in patches at a certain point of time in the year. This methodology can successfully curb the issues of occurrence of bushfire events in the drier times of the year. This can be used as a significant tool to ensure the improvement in health and regeneration of particular animals and plants that may be affected by the occurrence of a dreadful climate change like a bushfire in the nation.

Bibliography for Bushfire Events and Indigenous Cultural Burning Practices

Adger, W., Barnett, J., Brown, K., Marshall, N.,& O'Brien, K. (2013). Cultural Dimensions of Climate Change Impacts and Adaptation. Nature Climate Change. 3. pp. 112-117. DOI: 10.1038/nclimate1666.

Australian Government Bureau of Meteorology. (n.d). Bushfire weather. Retrieved October 19, 2020, from: http://www.bom.gov.au/weather-services/fire-weather-centre/bushfire-weather/index.shtml

Chechi, A. (2014). The Cultural Dimension of Climate Change: Some Remarks on the Interface between Cultural Heritage and Climate Change Law. In Von Schorlemer S. & Maus S. (Eds.), Climate Change as a Threat to Peace: Impacts on Cultural Heritage and Cultural Diversity, pp. 161-198. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang AG. Retrieved October 19, 2020, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctv2t4cvp.14

Climate Council. (2019). The facts about bushfires and climate change. Retrieved October 19, 2020, from:https://www.climatecouncil.org.au/not-normal-climate-change-bushfire-web/

Crona, B.I, Wutich, A., Brewis, A., Gartin, M. (2013). Perceptions of climate change: Linking local and global perceptions through a cultural knowledge approach. Climatic Change. DOI: 10.1007/s10584-013-0708-5

CSIRO. (2020). Creating a bushfire ready nation. Retrieved October 19, 2020, from: https://www.csiro.au/en/Research/Environment/Extreme-Events/Bushfire/frontline-support/Preparing-Australia

Financial Review. (2019). Ancient Indigenous burning practices could help fight bushfires. Retrieved October 19, 2020, from: https://www.afr.com/politics/federal/ancient-indigenous-burning-practices-could-help-fight-bushfires-20191212-p53jgy

Firesticks. (n.d). What is cultural burning, Retrieved October 19, 2020, from: https://www.firesticks.org.au/about/cultural-burning/

Gach, B. (2019). Climate Change Is a Cultural Issue. Retrieved October 19, 2020, from: https://www.independentnews.com/environment/climate-change-is-a-cultural-issue/article_d99a19ec-1147-11ea-8d8f-efda7de9c4a0.html

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Hulme M (2016) Weathered: cultures of climate. Sage, London

Khalil, S. (2020). Australia fires: 'Apocalypse' comes to Kangaroo Island. Retrieved October 19, 2020, from: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-australia-51102658

Kothari U, & Arnall A (2019). Everyday life and environmental change. Geogr J, 185(1). https://doi.org/10.1111/geoj.12296

Mitchell, T. (2016). Tasmania’s burning peatlands could take some of us with them. Retrieved October 19, 2020, from: https://newmatilda.com/2016/02/10/tasmanias-burning-peatlands-take-us/

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Schultz, R., Tammy A., Jessica Y.& Sheree C. (2018). Indigenous land management as primary health care: qualitative analysis from the Interplay research project in remote Australia. BMC Health Services, 7, 18(960).

Seneviratne, S..,Nicholls, N., Easterling, D., Goodess, C., Kanae, S., Kossin, J., Luo, Y., Marengo, J., McInnes, M., Rahimi, M.., Reichstein, M., Sorteberg, A., Vera, C.& Zhang., X.(2012).Changes in climate extremes and their impacts on the natural physical environment. In: Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation, Cambridge, UK, and New York, NY, USA: Cambridge University Press, pp. 109-230.

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W.N. Adger, J. Barnett, K. Brown, N. Marshall, K. O’Brien. (2013). Cultural dimensions of climate change impacts and adaptation, Nat. Clim. Chang., 3, pp. 112-11.

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