Climate change is an alarming reality, with rising sea levels and increasingly intense droughts – often accompanied by crop failure, famine, conflict over natural resources, and migration.
Of the ten countries most at risk to climate change, six lay in the Indian Ocean World (IOW), running from Africa through the Middle East, South and SE Asia to China. The IOW contains most of the world’s population, is the region most vulnerable to diseases, such as malaria, cholera, and the plague, and is the focus of the planet’s major conflict flashpoints — which can be acutely exacerbated by adverse environmental factors. Environmental change in the IOW is thus of major economic, political and humanitarian concern.
The IOW is profoundly affected by a complex interplay between human and environmental factors — notably the monsoons, El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO), cyclones and volcanism. As such, it offers a unique laboratory in which to explore how humans have coped with environmental crises over time. In this ground-breaking, multidisciplinary initiative funded by the Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, leading scholars and students of history, religion, philosophy, anthropology, geography, geospatial science, climatology, and data and environmental risk analysis experts, in collaboration with 21 Partner Organizations around the world, will investigate six of the greatest periods of environmental crises in the IOW from the mid-6th century CE to the present day:
530 – 800 CE
1330 – 1370 CE
1630 – 1660 CE
1780 – 1820 CE
1880 – 1900 CE
2000 CE to Present
These crises are characterized by significant climate change, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, droughts/floods, epidemic disease, socio-economic instability, mass migration, and high mortality.
The ‘Appraising Risk, Past and Present’ Partnership aims, for the first time, to
(1) construct past-to-present patterns of human and environmental factors at work before, during, and following each period of crisis in the IOW;
(2) ascertain current and traditional IOW perceptions of environmental risk and risk management; and
(3) use the results of this historical research to enhance currently employed Environmental Risk Perception and Governance (ERPG) protocols.
Currently employed tools of environmental risk perception and governance (ERPG) are inadequate as they rely on historically shallow data focused on individual crises and fail to fully consider local IOW concepts of environmental risk. Conventional IOW histories privilege human agency, giving only cursory attention to environmental forces. There is at present no comprehensive model for environmental risk calculation that considers both historical and contemporary scientific data.