Dede's Green Scene: The Anthropologist by Dede Tabak, December 16 2015, 1 Comment

Climate change is all over the news. Scientists tell us that climate change exists, but it all seems very abstract. What if you could actually see how it is affecting people—today, in 2015? In the new documentary, The Anthropologist, viewers can see a real connection between humans and climate change.

The Anthropologist is directed by Seth Kramer, Daniel A. Miller and Jeremy Newberger and is funded by the National Science Foundation. Kramer, Miller and Newberger, who previously worked on their 2008 Emmy-award nominated film The Linguists, focus on the mother/daughter relationships of two female anthropologists, Margaret Mead, who popularized cultural anthropology in America, and Susan Crate, who is an environmental anthropologist and Professor at George Mason University. Crate is also the author of Anthropology and Climate Change. Throughout the film, we follow Susan Crate and her teenage daughter, Katie Yegover-Crate on numerous expeditions to perform research and visit communities that are feeling the impact of climate change the most—filmed over five years.

“Anthropologists study culture. There’s been a lot of studies measuring, charting, modeling, trying to understand climate change. The missing part is the human face,” says Susan Crate in the film.

In The Anthropologist, Susan Crate first travels to the Sakha Republic in Siberia, where she met Katie’s father. The village is concerned because the permafrost, the layer of ice underneath the soil, is melting and turning hayfields into lakes. The people in the village are unable to feed their livestock, on which they depend. Then, Susan takes us to Kiribati, an island nation in the South Pacific. Due to climate change, the sea levels are rising, destroying the homes and vegetation of the island. In one scene, a woman points out to the middle of the sea where her house used to be. On the final journey, Susan and Katie travel to Huaraz, Peru in the Andes. There, the Pastoruri glacier is losing mass and melting away. Due to the warmer temperatures, farmers have to climb higher and higher just to grow their crops. Some of the indigenous crops are already lost. Eventually, farmers won’t have anywhere else to farm and these communities will have to migrate somewhere else in order to survive.

The directors interweave interviews and footage of Margaret Mead as well as voiceover from her daughter, Mary Catherine Bateson—also an anthropologist—which act as a complementary narrative to Susan’s travels. Like Susan Crate, Margaret Mead also observed how communities adapted and dealt with change after war and the invasion of the modern world. As Bateson says in the film:

“Every time there is a change, it’s a moment to observe the human capacity to adapt.”

People today cannot wrap their minds around climate change. Is it real? Is it a threat? But the people and communities shown in the film don’t have to be convinced that climate change exists—they’re living it and seeing it with their own eyes.

Directors Seth Kramer, Jeremy Newberger, and Daniel A. Miller.

“This is not your typical climate change movie. We don’t show graphs and things like that, but how people are adapting to climate change today. What is happening right now. The permafrost melting is happening now. We wanted to show climate change through a prism of anthropology,” said Jeremy Newberger, one of the directors of the film.

“When we look at the problems of adapting to climate change, the worst case scenarios, it’s happening not in the future, but now,” said Newberger. “This film shows climate change on a real human level. There’s a personal connection. In Siberia, that’s Katie’s own village, her father is from there. So it’s how people are dealing with climate change today.”

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) approached the filmmakers to ask them to present their film in Paris during the UN Climate Change Conference, which took place from November 30 thru December 11, 2015. In addition, directors Seth Kramer and Daniel A. Miller, as well as Susan Crate, participated in a panel discussion about The Anthropologist and in a debate on climate change about how humans can adapt to climate change, raise awareness to the rest of the world and encourage action before it’s too late. At the UN Climate Change Conference, leaders from 196 countries approved the first global agreement to limit greenhouse gas emissions in human history.

However, it may already be too late for some. Time Magazine published an article on December 10, 2015 titled, “The Paris Climate Deal May Be Too Little, Too Late for the Islanders of Kiribati”, about the Kiribati Island and the real struggle the islanders are facing today because of climate change. They have built sea walls to stop the rising sea from taking over the island, but to no avail. The President of Kiribati Island, Anote Tong, has purchased some acres of land in Fiji in case villagers have to evacuate there.

The struggles that The Anthropologist shows in Siberia, Kiribati and Huaraz foreshadow to the rest of the world what can happen if humans don’t make some serious changes. One of the main messages of the film is that human beings can change—we can alter our learned behavior to survive and change the world. And as Margaret Mead famously said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.”

Check out the website for The Anthropologist for a screening near you!