Life in the Anthropocene is structured by racial hierarchies, even as people recognize the obstacles racial thinking poses to their efforts to cope with a changing climate.  Climate adaptation in this sense, is properly eerie: the lessons of the past are only known indirectly, and the future is crudely associated with a world filled with risk instead of its aversion.  Approaching this conundrum, this talk addresses some of the tensions associated with the constitution of political communities in racialized forms.  It is inspired by ethnography and interviews I conducted between 2009 and 2019 as the coastal South American nation-state Guyana, embarked on the climate adaptation of its large earthen dam system.  Specifically, I consider how in climate adaptation, the operations of technoscience shape the possibilities for “antiracist” modes of governmentality.  By thinking through the material contingencies of technics, I argue that climate adaptation signals a loss of certainty in race as an organizing dimension and claim of belonging in Guyana.  Yet because climate adaptation intervenes across temporal scales, it also requires ethical resources that draw from histories of both racialized community and victimization.  

Sarah Elizabeth Vaughn is a sociocultural anthropologist whose focus is the critical study of climate change and its expertise in the present.  This concern informs my recent articles and book in progress entitled Engineering Vulnerability: In Pursuit of Climate Adaptation.  The manuscript explores the weight of history on the frameworks and assemblages of climate adaptation.  Each chapter tracks the responses of engineers, ordinary citizens, scientists, military personnel, disaster consultants, and humanitarian workers to climate-related flooding in Guyana, reflecting the surge in state and nongovernmental climate adaptation projects across the world.  Their stories dramatize the material and institutional challenges of climate adaptation.  They illustrate the historical continuities between the operations of the country’s flood infrastructures and people’s concerns about what they might gain or lose from flooding. At the same time, these stories demonstrate the historical discontinuities climate adaptation renders in Guyana, especially the failures of certain racial political formations to manage flooding in the present. More broadly, their efforts are a reminder that climate adaptation is marked by acts of care and vigilance even as people imagine futures not immune from climatic disaster. 

The second book project explores the emergence of multi-sector climate services across the Caribbean. Of particular concern are the ways climate data transforms into a medium for scientific diplomacy.  It highlights how Caribbean governments’ desires for climate services raise questions about the political frameworks for modeling practices, regional identity indebted to climatic forms (e.g. heat), and the creation of social indicators related to climate change.