Pride and prejudice, practices and perceptions : a comparative case study in North Atlantic environmental history
PublisherUniversity of Stirling
MetadataShow full item record
Due to escalating carbon-based emissions, anthropogenic climate change is wreaking havoc on the natural and built environment as higher near-surface temperatures cause arctic ice-melt, rising sea levels and unpredictable turbulent weather patterns. The effects are especially devastating to inhabitants living in the water-worlds of developing countries where environmental pressure only exacerbates their vulnerability to oppressive economic policies. As climatic and economic pressures escalate, threats to local resources, living space, safety and security are all reaching a tipping point. Climate refugees may survive, but they will fall victim to displacement, economic insecurity, and socio-cultural destruction. With the current economic system in peril, it is now a matter of urgency that the global community determine ways to modify their behaviour in order to minimize the impact of climate change. This interdisciplinary comparative analysis contributes to the dialogue by turning to environmental history for similar scenarios with contrasting outcomes. It isolates two North Atlantic water-worlds and their inhabitants at an historical juncture when the combination of climatic and economic pressures threatened their survival. During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the Hebrideans in the Scottish Insular Gàidhealtachd and the Wabanaki in Ketakamigwa were both responding to the harsh conditions of the ‘Little Ice Age.’ While modifying their resource management, settlement patterns, and subsistence behaviours to accommodate climate change, they were simultaneously targeted by foreign opportunists whose practices and perceptions inevitably induced oppressive economic pressure. This critical period in their history serves as the centre of a pendulum that swings back to deglaciation and then forward again to the eighteenth century to examine the relationship between climate change and human behaviour in the North Atlantic. It will be demonstrated that both favourable and deteriorating climate conditions determine resource availability, but how humans manage those resources during feast or famine can determine their collective vulnerability to predators when the climate changes. It is argued that, historically, climate has determined levels of human development and survival on either side of the North Atlantic, regardless of sustainable practices. However, when cultural groups were under extreme environmental and economic pressure, there were additional factors that determined their fate. First, the condition of their native environment and prospect for continuing to inhabit it was partially determined by the level of sustainable practices. And, secondly, the way in which they perceived and treated one another partially determined their endurance. If they avoided internal stratification and self-protectionism by prioritising the needs of the group over that of the individual, they minimised fragmentation, avoided displacement, and maintained their social and culture cohesion.