PISA was delighted this week to welcome Mr. Bui Duc Kinh for a visit at our Washington, DC office. Mr. Kinh is an alumnus of the 2008 LIGCC in Vietnam and works at the Southern Institute of Sustainable Development at the Vietnamese Academy of Social Sciences. He is currently a Humphrey fellow at Cornell University. We are pleased to excerpt some of his thoughts on climate change, adaptation and the role of the social sciences.
A multidisciplinary approach to climate change research in Vietnam is new – PISA’s LIGCC made such an approach seem practical and realistic:
PS: How did your participation in the LIGCC affect your current work and areas of study?
BK: I was inspired by their training course. Very few Vietnamese people are studying climate change in Vietnam and a very small number of people are aware of it. There are a very small number of people who can work together on the issue. Until 2008, Vietnam had no interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary research projects on climate change adaptation. People had thought that social science had no empathy for climate change.
When PISA organized the training course, it was very nice because it brought people from different disciplines together – we could understand, “OK, we can work together.”
On the importance of social scientists working together with natural scientists on climate change:
PS: You mentioned the role of the social sciences in climate change. What do you see as their value in the field?
BK: People ask, “Why are you studying about climate change? Doesn’t that belong to the natural sciences?” People think that the only focus from a very technical approach is in natural science. We need adaptation to climate change, we need to have people and local governments be aware of climate change, to prepare for adaptation to climate change.
We need natural science people to hear the viewpoint of the social scientists. It is very important that we have the network that gives an opportunity to have wider view of climate change. We don’t limit ourselves to a certain view.
On the role that social scientists have to play in informing the climate change dialogue and communication:
PS: In what ways can social scientists contribute to adaptation in Vietnam?
BK: I think that the social scientists can contribute to community adaptation more than the natural science and technical people can. We can’t use a top-down approach; we have to use a bottom-up approach that uses local knowledge. We have to make sure it is participatory. Social scientists raise awareness of the local people and governments and businesses and prepare them. In the Mekong Delta, for instance, many people are being affected by climate change. The people there say there’s nowhere to go, no money to move. In their culture they don’t plan for the future, they rely on resource at hand, so they don’t have capital to move. Social scientists can help them prepare for the future, for adaptation.
I think that the natural scientists can plan planting mangroves in to help mitigate climate change, prevention. But adaptation is the realm of the social scientists primarily. Sociology, anthropology and history are also important in adaptation. The scientific view usually uses a “western” perspective, but action needs to be local. Why don’t we use the local knowledge? They already know it, and practice it, and social scientists can help explain how local knowledge can be used in adaptation and preparing for the future.
PS: What does your current work at Cornell involve?
BK: At Cornell I am studying indigenous knowledge and ways of knowing, ways of preparing communities to climate change. I am also studying using statistical / spatial analytics. GIS is very important to understand these issues. In the past we weren’t aware of these tools, but like they say, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” So is being able to spatially map concepts.
PS: When you return to Vietnam next year, will you continue in this line of work?
BK: Back in Vietnam we are already preparing research proposals on climate change, on community adaptation, climate change and food security, climate change and migration and resettlement.
“Knowledge, attitude and behaviour of people in south Vietnam towards climate change.”
“Vulnerability assessment of climate change’s impact from community-based approaches in southern Vietnam”.
We have three proposals out for the government to get funded.
PS: How is the situation in Vietnam unique?
BK: You know, people are already getting affected by climate change, losing their property. They can’t do any business because banks aren’t lending them money. We hope to work with local governments and businesses to have a dialog on how to deal with resettlement. When we resettle people, we don’t think about their culture, we don’t think about their rights. We have to think also about these things, and people don’t. People owe their loyalty to the place. We should study this, we should ask the people what they are thinking, where they would like to go, how they would react to these changes. We are experiencing a lot of natural disasters like floods and storms, but this experience is not well documented, so people are losing the knowledge of how to adapt.