Human aspects of climate

Christchurch Botanic Gardens, partially responsible for the image of Christchurch as a ‘Garden City’

Approaching the end of a long research project certainly puts the researcher in a delicate position of ‘where to’ next. Not just the matter of finding a job, but what is the real contribution of the current work and how it could unfold into future relevant studies.

I have been studying climate for the past 3 years. My main interest relies on how people experience climate and how regional identity affects the way they experience and adapt to it. While doing this research, most of the time I knew very clearly where I was going, but at some times things got a bit blurred. Luckily I have a supervisor who has one of those brilliant-clear-thinking-minds. He has been trying to guide me to the implications of what I have been doing without actually telling me it with all words. He does it so well that sometimes I am not sure if it is intentional or not.

Until last week I had looked into work from Cultural Geography and the relationship with place and experience, Psychology and the role of climate on memory, Urban Microclimate and the implications of design on microclimate, and Thermal Comfort models. While reading and writing about these topics I have also studied some issues related to climate change. Climate change research is very much based upon resilience, vulnerability, mitigation and adaptive capacity. Great topics, but outside the scope of my current research because of its scientific basis and discourse.

With the literature review on the way, I met my supervisors. There was a particular topic that had to be further explored. “There should be more people talking about some specific areas” they said. So I went to the second round of hunting literature relevant to my work, and found very important and interesting studies on the area of Cultural Anthropology. These works have put some light on what I have been doing until now. Anthropologists have been studying – mainly from a collective perspective and adopting ethnographic methods – the relationship between people and climate, future climate change and the relationship between people and place (Crate, 2011; Roncoli, Crane, & Orlove, 2009).

My doctorate is still mainly focused on questions surrounding people’s adaptation to the climate – specifically in a post-disaster environment – how they adapt their lives to certain urban and climatic conditions and what ‘makes them who they are’ according to a regional identity. Finally, I am also interested in how can the urban landscape respond to that. Is there a way of designing it according to the local expectations? Would it make people ‘more adaptable’ to the local microclimate?

All these questions have implications on climate change adaptation and on urban design in response to climate change, from a cultural perspective.  The ‘bottom up’ – instead of the ‘top down’ – approach to climate change has been largely discussed by climate change researchers. They have argued that there is a need to ‘locate’ the actions, understand the terrain and respect the local context. This means that the ‘one size fits all’ approach does not seem to be suitable when dealing with communities’ adaptation to climate change.

The more I study culture and people-place relationships, the more I enjoy the human aspects of urban environment, including climate experience and urban comfort. It seems now there is a ‘real thesis’ on the way, with real methodological and theoretical implications. Time to keep up the hard work… And fingers crossed!

Have you found your ‘real thesis’ yet? Have the scholars from related areas helped in this process?



Crate, S. A. (2011). Climate and Culture: Anthropology in the Era of Contemporary Climate Change. Annual Review of Anthropology, 40(1), 175-194. doi: doi:10.1146/annurev.anthro.012809.104925

Roncoli, C., Crane, T., & Orlove, B. (2009). Fielding Climate Change in Cultural Anthropology. In S. A. Crate & M. Nuttall (Eds.), Anthropology and climate change: From encounters to actions (pp. 87-115). Walnut Creek, California, USA: Left Coast Press.

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