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Climate Change and Accusation: Global Warming and Local Blame in a Small Island State

Peter Rudiak-Gould
Current Anthropology
Vol. 55, No. 4 (August 2014), pp. 365-386
DOI: 10.1086/676969
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/676969
Page Count: 22
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Climate Change and Accusation
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Abstract

By politicizing the last bastion of “untouched nature,” climate change makes blame ubiquitous and therefore infinitely malleable. Onto this moral blank slate, critical anthropologists and political ecologists inscribe industrial/Northern blame rather than universal/pan-human blame. This article queries what our analytical stance ought to be when our field partners—those who seem to best exemplify the inequity of climate change—disagree with this reading of climate change. The Republic of the Marshall Islands contributes minimally to global climate change yet faces nationwide uninhabitability at its hands. Despite awareness of their tiny carbon footprint, grassroots Marshall Islanders (if not their government) have strongly favored a response of guilt and atonement rather than outrage and protest. I argue that various delegitimizing explanations of this perception—ignorance, denial, performance, false consciousness—are ethnographically untenable or unsatisfying. Instead, Marshallese self-blame should be understood as the local appropriation of global warming discourse in terms of a preexisting narrative of seductive modernity and cultural decline. Such an analysis allows us to appreciate how indigenous climate change self-blame, while undoubtedly problematic in many of its implications, may also carry empowering, postcolonial, counterhegemonic potentialities that should not be discounted by those searching for radical counternarratives of climate change.

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