Representing Vulnerability and Environmental Policy (Day 6 of learning road trip)

“Representing Vulnerability: Maps, Narratives and Political Processes,” a workshop hosted by the Social Dimensions of Environmental Policy program in the Beckman Institue at the University of Illinois Urbana, was designed to address

social scientific and humanistic perspectives on vulnerability to social and environmental change as it is represented in maps, narratives, and political action. Vulnerability mapping is a widely used method to assess the sensitivity of different social groups to environmental, political, and economic processes that threaten to push people into poverty, hunger, dislocation, or poor health. It is increasingly used in the climate-change literature to assist policy makers and donors in focusing their adaptation interventions to specific regions and populations. The utility of these maps rests on the theoretical framework that informs the selection of indicators, the quality of the data, and the socio-spatial resolution of the results.  (more details)

What happened:

Car problems delayed our arrival at the workshop, so anyone interested should contact the organizers to get copies of the papers presented.  One question stuck out for me during the time I was present:  Can seasonal climate forecasts help agriculturalists and herders?  The sense was that early warning systems do not have sufficient resolution to help framers, but might help herders, whose movements average across some of the variability or uncertainty in the forecasts.  Yet, given that commodity markets are strongly influenced by speculators or merchants, and that both groups will have better access to information and more of a chance to process it, seasonal climate forecasts can disadvantage those who make their livelihood from the ground.  (This reminded me of the story that I think Susan George told in How the Other Half Dies of how US Secretary of Agriculture, Earl Butz, passed on to grain futures traders information from satellites about the imminent failure of the Soviet grain crop c. 1970.  Farmers were pleased to sign on to a guaranteed price for their crops, but did not know what the buyers knew, namely, that prices would soar once the Soviet crop failure became known.)

(Start of road trip; Day 6, afternoon)

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