Toward A Sustaining Archaeology of Human-environment Interactions
Kristina Douglass, PhD
Associate Professor of Climate, Columbia Climate School
As the pandemic, extreme weather events and conflict continue to exact a heavy toll on communities, archaeologists, like members of most other professions, are faced with losses, disruptions, uncertainties, and the need to adjust their professional practices. These crises are exacerbating inequality, marginalization and injustice around the globe. They are also highlighting the historical, political, economic and social aspects of human-environment interaction, ranging from the asymmetrical power dynamics underlying the global economy and its catastrophic repercussions on fishing communities in the Indian Ocean, to the disproportionate impacts of climate change on Indigenous communities and People of Color. The exceptional challenges of the present moment provide an important opportunity to contextualize and understand these issues using deeper time perspectives. Maintaining a critical awareness of environmental injustice, its historical roots, and its compounding effects on living communities, I draw on archaeological, historical, ethnographic and climate data to investigate contexts of past climate change, resource scarcity and decreasing biodiversity. In doing so, I argue that the present moment is ripe for critical self-reflection on aspects of scientific practice, as many of these were built on a foundation of inequality that not only perpetuates harms against diverse communities and stakeholders, but also diminishes the quality and potential positive impact of the science produced.