the punch and judy show, climate change style

Our natural response to gradual shifts in climate is to get angry, it seems. Scientists are warning that as our world becomes hotter, we will turn to acts of violence - against ourselves, against governments, against society.

This outcome appears inevitable as it has been underwritten in history. The scientists concerned undertook an exhaustive study of a wide range of conflicts over thousands of years and their findings all pointed to one stark fact - that rising temperatures are inextricably linked to acts of assault, bloodshed, war and political instability.

They found spikes of violence as the thermometer soared in India and in Australia; increased assaults in the US and in Tanzania; ethnic violence in Europe and South Asia, land invasions in Brazil, and civil conflict throughout the tropics. Temperatures even played a role in the collapse of the Chinese empire and of Mayan civilisation.

There is no doubt that climate shapes society, but what is interesting about this latest piece of research is it examines the pattern of human nature on a very emotional level, rather than look to how we channel our intellect into application (by developing climate adaptation or mitigation strategies, for instance). And that is the crunch-point for me: our emotional triggers.

I write a lot about how business approaches climate and the key resource risks associated with it. But first and foremost, the business case is about deriving value, boosting margins, and ultimately driving economic growth. This approach leaves little room for personal considerations such as wellbeing, happiness and social health.

What is piquing my interest more and more is the deeper, more pyschological stuff. How we react inside to cases of extreme weather, land pressures and sustainability. For every decision - professional or personal - starts with how we feel. Our feelings inform our actions. And when our feelings run counter to our actions, well … that's when conflict arises.

If we are going to start squaring up to these climate pressures, then we need to start marrying both the natural and social sciences. For me, the role of anthropology in the study of climate change has long been overlooked. An anthropologist can look at how we approach matters of environmental science and offer valuable insight into how we align these scientific findings within a particular social, political, economic or cultural context.

Crucially, anthropologists have an awareness of the historical context underpinning contemporary climate debates. They also have a broad, holistic view of human and natural systems. So, where business might just consider financial interests or reputational value, an anthropologist could bring issues of psychology and culture into the mix.

Whether the two will ever fuse to create some form of perfect harmony is doubtful. But I like this latest study by three scientists at the University of California. They have stumbled upon what I would call a light bulb moment: that is it our interconnection with each other, not businesses, governments or systems, that will ultimately determine our fate should global temperatures continue on an upward curve.

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