Climate, Causation and Society: Interdisciplinary Perspectives from the Past to the Future

Hannaford, Matthew (2014) Climate, Causation and Society: Interdisciplinary Perspectives from the Past to the Future. In: Selected Themes in African Development Studies. Springer, pp. 7-25. ISBN UNSPECIFIED

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Over the last two decades, the causal role of climate in African history has been the subject of renewed debate. In many cases, however, the limitations of extant methodological approaches have contributed to a tendency to view climate as a monocausal factor in past human events, leading to revived criticism of the concept of climatic causation. Similar claims have also surfaced regarding approaches to evaluating the potential impacts of future climate change, where it has been suggested that the predictive hegemony of modelling has left the future of humankind “reduced to climate”, thereby overlooking the human factors that determine the magnitude of its impacts. In the context of urgent present and future African environmental challenges, questions over the concept of causation underline the need for further interdisciplinary research at the climate-society interface. One approach that can contribute to this discourse is assembling well-founded historical perspectives on climate–society interactions through the analytical framework of climate history. Indeed, studying the past is the only way we can examine the effects of and responses to shifts in physical systems. The aim of this paper is to provide an up-to-date starting point for such analyses in an African context. Using selected southern African case studies, previous approaches relating to climate and societal dynamics are first evaluated. Climate history is subsequently posited as a paradigm which is well-placed to deepen knowledge on long-term climate-society interactions, fitting alongside and incorporating key established paradigms such as vulnerability and resilience. Three key areas are highlighted for this challenge: climate reconstruction; understanding past human–climate interaction and vulnerability, and examination of societal resilience to climate change impacts. New research areas are then presented where studying the past can inform consideration of important future challenges, and the paper concludes by calling for the development of African climate histories on various spatial and temporal scales.

Keywords:Past climate, Climate history, Societal impact, Medieval Climate Anomaly, African history
Subjects:T Eastern, Asiatic, African, American and Australasian Languages, Literature and related subjects > T500 African studies
V Historical and Philosophical studies > V250 African History
F Physical Sciences > F860 Climatology
V Historical and Philosophical studies > V253 Southern African History
Divisions:College of Science > School of Geography
ID Code:32366
Deposited On:10 Oct 2018 14:46

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