The Human Side of Climate Change

Jan 13th, 2015 | By | Category: Bangladesh, News

11Coming from Bangladesh, one of the countries worse-affected by climate change, this is an issue close to my heart.

Both as a student and as a professional in the field of development, I have had the opportunity to engage with this issue in various ways – as an Ecological Representative planning and conducting awareness campaigns among students in areas such as food waste and energy conservation, as an advocate negotiating in international platforms for more inclusive sustainable development goals, and as a researcher exploring the impact of climate change on women’s sexual and reproductive health or trends in global air travel and carbon dioxide emissions.

However, one factor that the academic and civil society communities have failed to truly recognise or appreciate is the human side of climate change and climate change research. My participation at the Gobeshona Conference for Research on Climate Change in Bangladesh that was held this past week has made me look at climate change under a new lens. We are perpetually bombarded by the terms “vulnerable,” “poor,” and “women” among others, but how often do we actually stop and think about the groups that I have just mentioned?

What I mean by the human side can be explained by the term “empathy.” I believe that it is imperative to recognise “cognitive empathy,” or “perspective taking,” in climate change. Only then will we be able to tackle the adverse effects of climate change and/or stop climate change entirely.

In both quantitative and qualitative research, we, as researchers, expect that the respondents, ie these vulnerable groups, are at our mercy, ready and willing to provide us with any data or information that we might need. This primary data is an essential part of the researcher’s investigation and this act of data collection is, in one way, selfish, because it serves the interest of the researcher.

Although the end goal of generating evidence that can be used by policy-makers at national/global levels or practitioners at the field level is noble, how often do we appreciate the value or role played by these vulnerable groups who are suffering from climate change? These individuals have not only shared their homes but their hearts as they reflect upon the devastating experiences that they have faced, whether it is the loss of their homes, loss of their livelihoods, or the inability to feed their families.

One area of improvement for the Bangladeshi research and civil society community is the development and/or deepening of the ethical, moral, and social responsibilities involved in conducting climate change research. We need to be more aware of the specific culture and contexts and have a greater understanding of the research sensitivities surrounding climate change.

Science and research is often dry; scientists and researchers observe, analyse, theorise, test, and repeat in an effort to dispel the uncertainty and formulate solid, evidence based conclusions. However, to appreciate the human side of climate change means that scientists need to remove their scientist hats and put on their human hats; they need to become counsellors and listeners invested in the well-being of the respondent.

Through the research and evidence, we would like to create a strong advocacy on behalf of these vulnerable groups. The basic premise is that Bangladesh has one of the largest populations of the sufferers of climate change. The adverse effects of climate change are both an urban problem and a rural problem, and there are not enough safeguards for these vulnerable groups.

When we look at these vulnerable groups or read about them, we see them in numbers. However, each of these individuals has a story to tell. Through the evidence generated, we would like to tell the stories of these people, the hardships they have faced, what their main concerns include, the strategies they have employed to survive, etc. I believe that concentrating on collecting individualised accounts or empathising with the respondent will enable the researcher to produce enriched and insightful studies. This is particularly true for qualitative research.

Additionally, this would also enable the reader to connect on a deeper level with the sufferers of climate change and design policies and programs more effectively. I argue that data collection must incorporate and/or take into account empathy through which the researcher hears, feels, understands, and values the stories of others, that form the foundation of her/his study. Emphasis on values alongside science will enable us to advocate for climate change adaptation and mitigation more successfully.

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