Climate, the Earth, and God: entangled narratives of cultural and climatic change in the Peruvian Andes

How different groups perceive climate-related problems and changes is of growing interest in research and practice, especially in relation to the adaptation of vulnerable communities to climate change. However, research on local climate perceptions to date has tended to focus on what changes are perceived, not on how those changes are interpreted in particular socio-cultural contexts and given meaning within local worldviews and systems of values and beliefs. Based on fieldwork in agro-pastoral communities in highland Cusco, Peru, this study examines climate perceptions in terms of how local community members understand and explain changing climatic conditions. Specifically, two local climate narratives are identified and found to relate to Andean re-interpretations of Catholic and Evangelical religious traditions. The Andean practice of ritual offering to the earth (pago a la tierra) is found to play a key role both in the shifting religious identifications encountered at the local level, and in giving meaning to changing climatic conditions. The article further explores how these perspectives are rooted in diverging ontological and epistemological foundations. While in the local Catholic view the earth is conceived of as a nonhuman sacred/social person (pachamama or Santa Tierra) with whom a relationship of reciprocity must be maintained, the local Evangelical perspective instead conceives of the earth as an object, not a subject, more closely mirroring modernist Nature/Culture dualism. More broadly, the study suggests that how people interpret changing climatic conditions cannot simply be extracted and purified from the contexts of meaning production, and proposes the concept of 'entangled narratives' as a way of accounting for the social and cultural embeddedness of climate perceptions. Fulfilling our obligation to address climate change in socially just ways will require deepening our understanding of its human dimensions, including taking seriously what these changes may mean to the impacted groups.


Publication year:
2018
In:
In: World Development. - Vol. 110 (2018), p. 345–359

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