Archaeology of Climate Change and Social Sustainability
The 5th Shanghai Archaeology Forum will be held from the 15th through the 18th of December 2023 in Shanghai, China. It is organized by the Institute of Archaeology at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Shanghai University, and Shanghai Academy, under the auspices of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and the Shanghai Municipal People’s Government.
2023 is shaping up to be one of the six hottest years on record – even the hottest across many parts of the world. This alarming surge in record-breaking temperatures primarily stems from continued emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases – a phenomenon principally driven by human activities such as coal, gas, and oil combustion.
The impacts of global warming are increasingly palpable, manifesting in severe heat waves, intensified flooding, extended drought, powerful hurricanes, widespread deforestation, uncontrolled wildfires, accelerated melting of polar ice caps, rising sea levels, extreme weather events of unprecedented scale, crop failures, a drastic loss of biodiversity, escalating levels of air pollution, emergence and resurgence of infectious diseases, health deterioration, mass migration and population displacement, and a disturbing increase in social inequality and polarization. The impacts of climate change are global, but the Global South has suffered the most devastating consequences.
Today we face an unprecedented climate crisis. The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report warns of the rapidly escalating greenhouse-gas emissions that may soon surpass the adaptive capabilities of numerous communities worldwide. Inaction in this climate emergency will increase human vulnerability, precipitating poverty, food insecurity, forced displacement, political instability, and conflict. The stakes are high and concern the survival and prosperity of human societies globally.
Immediate ambitious emissions reduction and assertive adaptation measures are urgently needed. However, these actions require a transdisciplinary effort to understand the long-term impact of climatic change on human well-being, evaluate and identify meaningful and effective solutions to the climate crisis and associated global challenges, assess the implications of climate change across cultures, and formulate sustainable development strategies to prevent catastrophic consequences. As we grapple with the complexities of changing climate, we must broaden our understanding and readiness for both expected and unexpected threats. We can only aspire to secure a sustainable future by adopting a comprehensive approach to these challenges.
Contrary to the common assumption that human experiences with ancient climatic shifts bear no relevance in our industrialized world, understanding our past, particularly through the lens of archaeology, can yield invaluable insights into societal adaptation to long-term climate changes. Despite facing the substantial challenges climate change presents, past societies adopted diverse strategies to cope with and adapt to these changes. Natural climate archives and archaeological records offer unique vantage points for observing and understanding how humans have responded to diverse climate events, such as sea level changes, prolonged droughts, and abrupt temperature shifts. These records form an empirical basis for modeling and predicting how climate change could shape and transform our lives, helping us search for sustainable trajectories toward the future.
Current climate discourse often overlooks the importance of cultural diversity in climate change adaptation. Our long-term survival depends not solely on biological adaptation but significantly on cultural solutions to environmental challenges. Therefore, documenting and preserving cultural diversity is of paramount importance.
We stand at a critical juncture, confronting a global climate crisis of unprecedented scale. How we act and respond now will indelibly decide the future of all life on Earth. The archaeology of climate change and social sustainability, capturing a wide spectrum of how past human societies adapted to climate change, offers viable alternative strategies for a global community grappling with the climate crisis. Our long-term survival depends on understanding and learning from the lessons of our shared past.
The 5th Shanghai Archaeology Forum has three primary objectives:
(1) to celebrate the excellence of archaeological research by presenting the SAF Awards to those individuals and organizations that have achieved distinction by making major discoveries and producing innovative, creative, and rigorous works in the past four years (2019-2023);
(2) to promote archaeological studies of climate change and social sustainability; and
(3) to encourage active engagement with scholars across different continents and disciplines as well as the public in addressing the challenges of climate crisis for our collective future.
We kindly invite scholars worldwide from archaeology and other relevant disciplines to participate in the 5th Shanghai Archaeology Forum for an engaged discussion regarding challenges in the archaeological study of climate change and social sustainability from transdisciplinary and long-term perspectives. The discussion emphasizes but is not limited to, the following issues: methods and theories in the archaeological study of climate change and social sustainability, case studies in human responses and adaptations to climate change, cultural diversity and indigenous knowledge in climate adaptation, urban resilience and climate change, the crisis of unintended consequences, human ecodynamics of social sustainability, global warming and human health, the impacts of climate change on and through cultural heritage, and future directions for integrating archaeology into global change research.