Cultural Conundrum of Climate Change

Aug 22nd, 2011 | By | Category: Carbon, Ecosystem Functions, Experts Speak, Forest, Global Warming, M-20 CAMPAIGN, Opinion

Dr. Sudhirendar Sharma IndiaSudhirendar Sharma: Even at the cost of being refuted, it wouldn’t be out of context to prophesize that globalization of climate change will convert the Himalaya into a new playground for capitalism! Not only will the Himalaya get converted into a repository of carbon to counter what others have voluntarily emitted but will charge for ecosystem services that it has been gifting to downstream people for several millenia.

Expected to fetch millions of dollars in carbon trade, the Himalaya are steadily being transformed into a market place of economic ideas. With a promise to enrich the lives of local communities, the logic of so-called `green economics’ is pitched as a positive sum game for investors too. For once, the snow-peak mountains with its green cover and blue waters would get traded in the stock market.

From carbon sequestration projects under CDM to cash transfer mechanism for conservation and reforestation under REDD+, the challenge of confronting the uncertainty of glacial meltdown is being converted into an opportunity by the donor-backed scientific fraternity who is working overtime to sell the idea to politicians and governments alike. It is being accepted and for good reasons too.

However, the flip side of this otherwise promising story is that decisions are being made on behalf of the unsuspecting mountain communities who may not have contributed to the ecological crises but are being made to pay for it by way of adapting to the subtle but significant changes in weather pattern. On their own, mountain
communities have rarely altered their life-support systems.

Over several millenia, communities have adapted to immense diversity across the mountains by developing socio-cultural perspectives of `belonging’ to the undulating sub-basins. By developing `belongingness’ to the mountains, which constitutes affinities, affiliations and attachments, communities could bring about commonality, connectedness and cohesion in its relationship with the mountains.

For the communities, preserving forests and conserving water sources has been an unwritten obligation not only for their own survival but for returning the favours back to the ecosytem. Simply put, communities are known to belong to the mountain ranges, forests ecosystems and river basins and not the other way round. Curiously,
this relationship is under threat of being broken.

A farmer who would, as a tradition, protect a tree would most likely get paid for doing so in future. A rich tradition would get reduced to a economic ritual. Under a CDM or  REDD+ mechanism, the culture of environment protection would be up for grabs. The value of a tree would henceforth be valued in terms of its carbon sequestration
potential alone, discounting its cultural and aesthetics value.

The cultural erosion on account of economic valuation of the ecosystem and its services would have far-reaching implications on the manner in which communities have connected with the mountains in the past. Henceforth, communities will cease to `belong’ to forests, rivers and land. Conversely, they would `own’ the natural assets and bargain them in return for short-term economic gains.

Will reduction in cultural capital have any long-term impact on the mountains? Though cultural dimension of climate change adaptation has yet to merit any serious consideration in climate change research, change in peoples’ attitude towards nature on account of economic valuation of nature and the services cannot be ruled out.

Suggested Reading :

Nature, Forests and Indigenous People are not for Sale

I am deeply concerned because some pretend to use leaders and indigenous groups to promote the commoditization of nature and in particular of forest through the establishment of the REDD mechanism (Reduction Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) and its versions REDD+ REDD++. Link>>


Author: This article has been written by Dr. Sudhirendar Sharma for Climate Himalaya’s Expert Speak Column. Dr. Sharma is a development analyst based in New Delhi, India.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of Climate Himalaya Initiative’s team.


Started in year 2010, ‘Climate Himalaya’ initiative has been working on Mountains and Climate linked issues in the Himalayan region of South Asia. In the last five years this knowledge sharing portal has become one of the important references for the governments, research institutions, civil society groups and international agencies, those have work and interest in the Himalayas. The Climate Himalaya team innovates on knowledge sharing, capacity building and climatic adaptation aspects in its focus countries like Bhutan, India, Nepal and Pakistan. Climate Himalaya’s thematic areas of work are mountain ecosystem, water, forest and livelihood. Read>>

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2 Comments to “Cultural Conundrum of Climate Change”

  1. Pabitra says:

    Thanks Dr. Sharma for the insight! This had been a wonderful read. The crux of the problem, IMO, lies in the fact that we do not seek to change the consumerist economic models for growth (which we take synonymous as ‘Growth’ or ‘Development’) and we try to fit the ecological aspects of life in that model. When we create a system where we can ‘pay’ for our pollution, pollution is not really discouraged, it’s only the rich who take over the poor to utilize natural resources. The increasing economic disparity between the rich and poor globally bears testimony to that.
    Changes in life-style and world view in general while interacting with nature is what we need and not carbon tax.

  2. Amulya Tuladhar says:

    Dr Sharma, i promise to read at first free time. amulya

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