Past Event

History and Climate Change: How Histories of Trees and Peoples Can Help West Africa Plan for the Future

March 22, 2023
4:30 PM
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This event is in-person only in 513 Fayerweather on the Morningside Campus.


Across West Africa, the environment varies from the desert to rainforests. In between, monsoon rains support grasslands and savannahs, and the livelihoods of farmers and herders. Local practices have evolved to manage the large spatial and seasonal variations in rainfall, but droughts and floods are common and devastating, and are likely to get worse.


Planning a development pathway that is resilient to climate requires understanding both the expected range of climatic conditions and how climate affects people's choices. We present two early-stage projects that address the link between drought and the movement of people in the present and the past. The common thread is a preliminary, centuries-long, tree-ring-based drought atlas. The atlas provides (i) an observational-based estimate of natural variations in drought severity to use in games assessing the adaptation strategies of transhumant herders, and (ii) a history of drought patterns that can be compared to population-level migrations in pre-colonial times to compare the effects of environmental pressures against other societal drivers.


These projects are still getting off the ground, and we will openly discuss the challenges deriving from disciplinary barriers in language and methods and from the limitations of the drought atlas itself.


The event is co-sponsored by the Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy (ISERP), and by the Center for Science and Society (CSS).