Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Weathering the waves: Climate change, politics and vulnerability in Tuvalu
by Lazrus, Heather, Ph.D., University of Washington, 2009, 277; 3377332
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation examines perceptions of climate change impacts and related atmospheric hazards as well as the governance of vulnerability to those impacts in Tuvalu, a Pacific Island country. Rising sea levels, increasing sea surface temperatures, ocean acidification, and extreme events including storms and droughts are among the challenges that Tuvalu faces as anthropogenic influences transform the nature of our global climate. Conclusions are based on 15 months of ethnographic fieldwork in Wellington, New Zealand, and Funafuti and Nanumea, Tuvalu. Archival, survey, and interview data complement insight gleaned from extensive participant observation among Tuvaluans living overseas, in the national capital, and on the northernmost outer island of the Tuvaluan Archipelago.

Climate change demands attention at multiple scales of analysis. The potential for a Pacific Islands regional climate change regime is explored. Given successful regional precedents and characteristics of the problem, the formation of a regional climate regime is favorable. At the national level, the Tuvaluan government is concerned with preserving cultural integrity and promoting in situ development, while at the same time, needing to consider the possibility of population relocation. At the community level, recent policies of political decentralization are reviving and reinventing “traditional” island governance structures. On Nanumea, traditional governance is intrinsically linked to legends and genealogies that are used to navigate social and political life. Traditionally, leaders had specific responsibilities to maintain community safety and prevent disasters. Decentralization therefore carries important implications for community identity and safety in the face of ecological devastation.

Already, local observations of environmental change indicate a climate signal that reflects expectations of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for small island states. Vulnerability to climate change is differentially experienced and subjectively perceived. Research in Tuvalu grounded in political ecology demonstrates the importance of recognizing the political as well as environmental contributions to climate change impacts. The work underscores the need for adaptation to climate change to be driven by local aspirations and needs.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Sivaramakrishnan, K.
School: University of Washington
School Location: United States -- Washington
Source: DAI-A 70/09, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Cultural anthropology, Climate Change, Pacific Rim Studies, Political science
Keywords: Climate change, Pacific Islands, Political ecology, Resilience, Tuvalu, Vulnerability
Publication Number: 3377332
ISBN: 978-1-109-39574-7
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