Session 2A: How cities, nations, and financial institutions cope with risk

Session 2A: How cities, nations, and financial institutions cope with risk, Tate Hall, room 135. Chair: Lynne Milgram.

1:30-1:50         Rebecca Zarger, Alexis Winter, Gina Larsen, and Justin Winn, Seeing beyond sea level rise: Visual future scenarios and the complexities of translating and responding to risks from climate change in Tampa Bay, Florida

New understandings of the realities of global climate change are emerging at local and global scales simultaneously. Anthropological attention to the uneven effects of climate change, particularly in coastal areas in the U.S., is growing. In this paper we consider how local, regional, and global politics collide around perceptions of risks of present and future climate change impacts in the Tampa Bay region of Florida. Based on a recently concluded three-year NSF-funded interdisciplinary study anthropologists, geographers, and hydroecologists consider how global and regional climate science might be translated for different audiences to emphasize local culturally meaningful landscapes and concerns. How can ethnographically-grounded scenarios of future climate change impacts inform various publics, as opposed to regional or global scenarios? Are futures scenarios helpful in visualizing climate impacts and starting dialogue? What roles might anthropologists play in these emerging efforts at adaptation in coastal areas in order to better understand how political and ecological forces create landscapes of vulnerability that change over time?

We explore these questions based on findings from our project that integrates global and regional climate science, demographic projections, and input from regional policy makers, planners, and scientists to develop visual climate change scenarios about potential impacts on linked social and ecological systems in Tampa Bay, with a particular emphasis on water resources.

Methodology: We present key findings and insights from our effort to understand how key stakeholders and local residents view climate change risk and vulnerability in the Tampa Bay region. Data collection included 20 interviews and 3 focus groups with climate scientists, urban planners, law and policy makers, environmentalists, neighborhood leaders, and area students. Two phases of interviews and development of spatial maps assisted us in creating a visual representation of climate changes on a relatable, localized scale in video form. Our research team and USF anthropology graduate students jointly designed community engagement programs with Sea Grant county extension agents called, “Climate: Change the Conversation,” which were attended by 130 participants at four workshops between 2013 and 2015. Pre- and post-program surveys were administered to participants.

Results: Analysis of survey and interview data indicate that climate scientists, urban planners and other decision makers want to learn more about residents’ perceptions of risk and vulnerability, but lack the tools to assess them or the political spaces to integrate them into long term planning. Residents who participated are concerned about future risks and understand many of the complexities of impacts on their ways of life. Among both groups there is a growing recognition that climate change is a fundamentally social problem and that social scientists are needed to communicate with local communities.

Implications: Results and a revised scenarios video are being disseminated through a weblog. Future research will consider the best ways to assess variability and vulnerability of risks in urban neighborhoods already experiencing environmental injustices. Findings contribute to anthropology of climate change and risk through a case study in an urban social-ecological system at high risk for vulnerability in the next 50-100 years.

1:50-2:10         Discussion

2:10-2:30         Arthur Murphy, Eric Jones, and Diana Luque, When the river boils: Buenavista del Cobre Mine and the Rio Sonora

In August of 2014, the Buenavista copper mine discharged 40,000 cubic meters of copper sulfate acid into the head waters of the Bacanuchi River a tributary of the Rio Sonora.  The event was characterized by Mexico’s minister of the environment as the worst mining disaster in Mexico’s long history of mining. Mining in Northern Sonora has a long history of environmental and labor disputes a particularly violent dispute in Cananea was memorialized in the corrido style ballad, “La Carcel de Cananea.” This paper examines how the history of the mine from a private enterprise owned by and American mining magnate, to a public corporation back to a private enterprises as part of Mexico’s privatization program in the latter quarter of the 20th century, its importance to the world, labor strikes, and pollution (including previous copper sulfate discharges in 1982 and 1985), helps to explain the nature of the response to the spill by: the owner (Grupo Mexico/Southern Copper Co.), the 25,000 citizens along the river, and governments at all levels. The case is approached from various theoretical points of view.  First, we see it as an example of the “Cultural Constructions of Calamity” (Oliver-Smith 2002, p. 37), as it intersects with the political economy of neo-liberalism of the late 20th and 21st centuries, and a recovery model of “disaster capitalism,” (Kline 2007) puts private property and profits over the needs of individuals. We demonstrate how indifference on the part of, Group Mexico as well as state and national governments has lead to an on-going crisis of confidence which is impeding the process of recovery and a return to some level of normalcy. We further explore how this crisis of confidence influenced the way in which individuals and households were impacted by the event and its aftermath and how they are attempting to deal with the new reality. The conclusions are based on a series of closed and qualitative interviews that occurred at 2 months, 6 months, and 14 months after the event.

2:30-2:50         Discussion

2:50-3:10         Caela O’Connell, Deanna Osmond, Dana Hoag, and Marzieh Motallebi, Big banking and Public Good: Moral logics and economic reasoning of North Carolina farmers on state mandated trading markets

Problem Statement: Water Quality Trading is a popular policy mechanism for improving the quality of waterways across the United States by reducing water pollution. However, in the regions with established markets, few trades are being realized. Consequently, realized environmental gains from Water Quality trading are limited in scope, but policy makers continue to adopt market-based approach to achieving clean water. A key factor in successful Water Quality Trading is stakeholders willing to buy and sell in the market, yet no research has focused on this aspect of these markets.

Theoretical frame: The stakeholders involved in Water Quality Trading are most often farmers and rural landowners (as sellers) trading with developers and urban municipalities (as buyers). Existing literature suggests many technical reasons for low trading rates, but provides little insight about people’s reasons for low participation beyond suspected issues of “trust”. Working within frameworks of farmer decision-making, trust, and economic risk, we dispute the assumption in the literature that trading is a rational economic outcome, and the barrier for stakeholders is a lack of knowledge or trust in the trading process.

Methodology: Based on research collaboration with a team of soil scientists, extension researchers, agricultural economists, and engineers between 2012 and 2015, this research followed the implementation and operation of North Carolina policy mandating the establishment of a Water Quality Trading Market in the Jordan Lake Watershed. Through ethnographic, economic, and modeling research we documented the policy implementation and preliminary outcomes in rural communities across 7 counties. The data in this paper is based primarily on semi-structured interviews with 90 farmers across the watershed and informal interviews with two brokers charged with arranging sales between farmers and developers in the watershed.

Results: The study goals were to determine whether or not the trading market for selling water quality improvements was effective policy for improving water quality in the watershed, and to understand stakeholders, in this scenario farmers, perceptions and choices regarding the trading program. Our research showed that fewer than 25% of farmers were willing to engage in trading, and of those who were only 13% were eligible. Rather than issues of trust or understanding, the majority of farmers rejected the Water Quality Trading program based on their assessments of potential economic risk versus possible economic and/or environmental gains. Secondarily, farmers rejected the program based on program feasibility, concerns about assuming the responsibility for environmental pollution from other sources, and governance beliefs.

Implications: These findings suggest that the environmental impacts of Water Quality Trading programs may seriously limited if stakeholder concerns about program parameters and economic risk are not taken into consideration during policy design. The findings further our understanding of why so few trading programs have achieved actual trades and can inform future policy design as well as the ongoing management of trading programs by including stakeholder concerns. Finally, they exemplify the synergistic results of combining economic and anthropologic approaches in interdisciplinary research.

3:10-3:30         Discussion

3:30-3:45         Break

3:45-4:05         Aneil Tripathy, Translating to Risk: The legibility of climate change and environmental impact in the green bond market

Research Question: How does risk act as a bridge between different forms of expertise within climate finance?

Problem Statement/Theoretical Frame: The growth of climate finance, a field of investment focused on funding climate change adaptation and mitigation projects, both legitimizes and transforms financial flows. Green bonds, a financial product within climate finance, are an attempt to transfer financial flows from institutional investors into low-carbon infrastructure through the global $100 trillion bond market. These projects include clean energy, water infrastructure, public transportation, and sustainable forest management. Climate finance pushes the traditional scope of finance further through the commoditization of the environment, as nature enters into financial markets as the added value of green bonds. In interpreting the value of forests, greener building methods, and agricultural practices, climate finance practitioners translate environmental, climate, engineering, and biological expertise into the language of finance. The expertise of these numerous forms of scientific knowledge is translated by green bond market analysts into language legible to finance professionals, such as risk. The work of environmental economists, including Nicholas Stern and William Nordhaus, translates climate change and environmental uncertainty, for example water damage and pollution, into calculable financial scenarios of risk, a process noted by Arjun Appadurai (2012) as the ethos of contemporary capitalism. Climate finance practitioners utilize these scenarios of risk to justify investment strategies with which to address climate change, such as scaling up the green bond market with long-term financing from institutional investors. This use of the term risk complicates its meaning in finance, and thus requires further examination beyond the research already done in anthropology of finance on the performativity and productivity of risk.

Methodology: My anthropological study draws from participant-observation as a market researcher at an NGO in London working to create environmental standards for the green bond market, as well as from reviewing published research in environmental economics, climate science, and climate policy.

Results: Thus far, analysis of my fieldwork data details the use of the term risk by green bond market analysts to make environmental expertise legible to finance practitioners. Through analyzing published climate change policy reports as well as research papers in environmental economics I also find numerous examples of similar translation work, transforming climate uncertainty into quantitative scenarios of financial risk. My research shows that risk functions as a polysemic term in climate finance to make types of expertise foreign to finance legible to financial analysis.

Implications: My research adds to the literature on risk in the anthropology of finance by highlighting the use of the term in the particular context of climate finance. Not only can risk be productive as detailed by Caitlin Zaloom (2004), but it can also extend the boundaries of financial logic, through encompassing forms of knowledge not analyzed by finance before. Those on the edge of finance, in emergent markets such as that of green bonds, utilize terms such as risk for their linguistic ability to express a multiplicity of meaning to finance practitioners.

4:05-4:25         Discussion

4:25-4:45         Heather O’Leary, Developing systemic resilience: Risk perception as barrier to inclusive urban waterscapes

Problem Statement: By 2050, 70 per cent of the world’s population is predicted to live in cities, with most of the absolute growth in Asia, where the urban population is already facing difficulties with inadequate infrastructures (OECD 2014).  To ensure the security of these burgeoning nodes of global politics and trade, there is increased focus on developing systems of evaluation to interpret adequate markers towards “resilient development,” particularly in critical urban services like water and sanitation.  But epistemologies of water risk and resilience are as variable as waterscapes—both between communities and within them.  Yet, the governance mechanisms and infrastructures that regulate water security are often implemented without consideration of this variation.

Theoretical Frame: The primary indicators of risk are rooted in epistemologies of urban development which are driven by external, globally-informed models (e.g. United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, Millennium Development Goals) that universalize development, and with it, the conception of resilience.  Interdisciplinary water scholars have approached risk and resilience as a site of varied vulnerability.  Within cultural anthropology and geography, scholars such as Sultana, Kooy, and Harris have all explored the role of intersectional identities in shaping risk.  Within water governance, meanwhile, scholars such as Grey, Sadoff, and Hall have focused on the specific geographic and economic landscapes which have fueled disparity.  This paper bridges these disciplines to situate multi-vocal water resilience in a nested pathway approach.

Methodology: This paper draws from 18 months of engaged ethnographic and quantitative fieldwork on water in Delhi, India and from participation on an OECD/GlobalWaterPartnership comparative study on urban water pathways.  Participant-observation was conducted with the urban water poor in formal and informal residences with both legal and illegal water sources.  This complemented quantitative tracking of water flows and a participatory water allocation diary project.  Global, comparative timelines for urban water development were developed and analyzed.  Additionally, interviews were undertaken with community experts, public water governance authorities, and financial development sectors, among others.

Results: In a multi-year analysis of overlapping flows from multiple scales (from daily domestic life to urban politics and the transnational global-economy), this paper argues that systemic resilience is critically dependent on inclusive, local interpretations of risk and its mitigation.  The resulting narratives of risk mitigation in the case study of Delhi and historic pathways of comparative urban water security which emerged demonstrate the interdigitating role of investment responses to hazards and opportunities and unintended multi-systemic effects which impact other urban development systems.

Implications: Different perceptions of water risk and its mitigation exist on multi-scalar levels, impacting household, community and national resilience unevenly.  This paper concludes that sites of uneven development, such as disparate urban areas including the slum examined in this research, can be the key to building a more inclusive concept of resilience commensurate with local values.  It demonstrates the relevance of urban cases in emerging Asia as a site for re-interpreting water services and risk in other development sectors globally.  Developing multi-vocal resilience is necessary to overcoming systemic injustice, without which long-term, comprehensive risk-mitigation cannot be achieved.

4:45-5:05         Discussion