Global Warming Means Culture Change

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Global warming is bad news for winter sports. But that's not the only way climate change will mean culture change, too.

The meltdown of Arctic sea ice may end traditional hunting and fishing for Arctic peoples. Ocean acidification's impact on coral reefs may eliminate symbolic species, like Melanesia's "place spirits" within dolphins, sharks and rays.

These changes will be as global in scope as global warming itself, according to a preliminary analysis published in the journal Nature Climate Change. (Scientific American is part of Nature Publishing Group.) Whether it be cities in the developed world walloped by superstorms—ahem, New York—or failed crops for subsistence farmers.

In fact, climate change may mean migration—and the loss of a sense of place for folks as disparate as Pacific islanders whose homelands drown, to herders forced to abandon their pastoral ways in the Sahel. Such adaptation will be a key cultural challenge of the next century—as will fostering the kind of global communication that can connect with the local concerns of individuals and communities to reduce climate risk.

Of course, modern culture is responsible for climate change thanks to our insatiable hunger to burn fossil fuels. That fire, as it changes the atmosphere, may consume whole ways of life.

—David Biello

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]


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