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Paris Climate Talks Raise Issues Of Cultural Interaction Between Vulnerable Populations

Climate change threatens coastal communities across the world, such as the Gunayala islands off the northeast coast of Panama.
Jacob McCleland
Climate change threatens coastal communities across the world, such as the Gunayala islands off the northeast coast of Panama.

In Paris last week world leaders reached a groundbreaking climate deal to significantly limit carbon emissions in the coming years, with a goal of limiting the world’s rise in temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

That cap was sought by island nations, and University of Oklahoma sociocultural anthropologist Noah Theriault told KGOU’s World Views the impact of global climate change is already being felt by people in the lowest-lying parts of the world who face rising sea levels, typhoons, and floods.

“I was just reading a piece in The New Yorker this morning by Amanda Little, who quotes a Bangladeshi military official, noting that about 4,000 people each day had to be relocated to urban slums during the recent monsoons because the coastal belt was so flooded,” Theriault said. “In countries like Bangladesh, tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people face displacement in the very near future.”

But the agreement won’t be fully implemented until 2025, which leaves a lot of uncertainty for people in vulnerable nations. Theriault says this displacement can be significant, due to a loss of cultural heritage as people are put into new, usually urban situations.

“Perhaps a cultural loss of meaning, of the attachment to a place, and then a material loss – the loss of their livelihood,” Theriault said. “Most of what we're dealing with now is crisis management rather than actual well-planned and executed adaptation.”

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Brian Hardzinski is from Flower Mound, Texas and a graduate of the University of Oklahoma. He began his career at KGOU as a student intern, joining KGOU full time in 2009 as Operations and Public Service Announcement Director. He began regularly hosting Morning Edition in 2014, and became the station's first Digital News Editor in 2015-16. Brian’s work at KGOU has been honored by Public Radio News Directors Incorporated (PRNDI), the Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters, the Oklahoma Associated Press Broadcasters, and local and regional chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists. Brian enjoys competing in triathlons, distance running, playing tennis, and entertaining his rambunctious Boston Terrier, Bucky.
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