Traveller's Teacup

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Posts Tagged ‘climate’

Land Use, Climate Change Adaptation and Indigenous Peoples (2012)

Land Use & Adaptation – Traditional Knowledge and Climate Science video series (2012
3 X 10 mins + web doc + toolkit publication
Producers/Directors – Citt Williams/Randall Wood

for United Nations University & MacArthur Foundation (featured on Energy Bulletin and National Geographic


my first book chapter

Its feels weird to say but now my video work is in a book by Routledge! In April 2012, I was invited by Stephanie Buechler and Anne-Marie S. Hanson to talk at the America Geographer’s Association (AAG) about the 2009 climate change video work we did in Tajikistan. After presenting our post-colonial collaborative video methodologies, I was invited to submit a paper, and today the book  A Political Ecology of Women, Water and Global Environmental Change has been launched.  I will again be at this year’s AAG in Chicago to launch it.

Our chapter titled “Pamiri Women and the Melting Glaciers of Tajikistan: A Visual Knowledge Exchange for Improved Environmental Governance Citt Williams and Ivan Golovnev”  explores cross-cultural understandings of environmental change through the collaborative use of audio-visual methdologies. Ivan Golovnev (Russian Visual Ethnographer and creative collaborator) and I outline some of the challenges associated with the co-creation of the work on location in the remote Pamir mountains in Tajikistan. We also take the opportunity to articulate a series of collaborative ‘international development communications’ protocols. Similar to the processes I learnt at CAAMA years ago, here are some of the protocols now in print for the consideration of others.

“The work outlined a set of guiding principles for collaborative knowledge production and researcher accountability. These principles include:

  1. recognition of co-production ownership and full participation;
  2. co-creation of visual script and study parameters;
  3. non-exclusive licensing of specific cultural materials respecting custodial and intellectual property;
  4. first person community storytelling and language translation;
  5. analysis and report editing on location with various community screening approvals;
  6. local language versioning;
  7. final community consent event;
  8. provision of a back-up hard disk copy of all materials created;
  9. regular feedbacks about report dissemination and
  10. the support and involvement of local representatives in international climate discussions.

If you would like to read the chapter, please let me know.

Pamir Women and the Melting Glaciers of Tajikistan: A Visual Knoweldge Exchange for Improved Environmental Governance. Citt Williams, United nations University, Tokyo, Japan and Ivan Golovnev, Institute of History and Archeology, Yekaterinburg, Russia.


Understanding and adapting to climate change requires recognition of the diversity of knowledge sources. Western climate science-to-policy paradigms paralyze public agency through elitist mechanistic science, market-driven governance decisions, and consumer skewed media networks. Such environmental governance is oppressive for peoples with different cultural configurations. The rise of Indigenous media has been a powerful repurposing of media instruments towards self-determination, dominant discourse resistance, and survival. We applied collaborative visual methods towards environmental change and activated marginalized knowledge systems and indigenous women’s voices. Our visual research (available at argues a multiplicity of cultural narratives improves human agency and equitable environmental governance.

Energy Sovereignty film receives special mention at festival in Venice

Our latest collective UNU videobrief Energy Sovereignty has received a special mention at the Think Forward Film Festival in Venice, Italy (Nov 30-Dec 1, 2012). The work looks at energy innovation and traditional knowledge, and the various challenges for Indigenous peoples when facing the new energy revolution.

Stories include: tribal wind projects in the US; hydro-electric projects which have oppressed Guatemalan communities, solar project for cultural survival in Altai, and energy sovereignty in North-eastern Siberia. Made with dear friend Randall Wood and the UNU team in Tokyo, the work evolved through the collaborative efforts of several indigenous groups connected to UNU-IAS TKI and the generous creative commons community on Vimeo. It premiered in English with Italian subtitles. You can download your own version of the multilingual DVD here.

Well done everyone!

The Think Forward Film Festival was established in Venice in 2011, with the aim to study, discuss, and disseminate climate change as well as the issues related to energy efficiency and renewable energythrough both short and feature films. The Think Forward Film Festival is a project of the International Center for Climate Governance(ICCG), a joint initiative of Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei (FEEM) and Fondazione Giorgio Cini, now an internationally renowned centre whose research activities focus on the design of climate policy and governance. The festival will feature films and documentaries as well as a selection of the best short films from the competition, new to this second edition. There will be side events such as meetings and discussions with directors and actors. Some activities will be aimed to inform both students and teachers on issues related to climate change and renewable energy sources in order to both increase awareness as well as to encourage discussions on these topics among young people. The Think Forward Film Festival has made sustainability its founding principle, for instance, by printing materials on FSC-certified recycled paperusing zero kilometre catering, and preferring to use digital communication to air travel when organising events.

we at an unprecedented pace

Did you know an estimated 50% of all Wetlands were lost during the 20th Century!

I recently read, “The key role that rapidly diminishing wetlands play in supporting human life and biodiversity needs to be recognized and integrated into decision-making as a vital component of the transition to a resource-efficient, sustainable world economy.” – UNEP report

Here in Tokyo Bay, our flood plain has been pretty much covered over with concrete, its vitality and fluxing energy diverted and oppressed by embankments and expensive “risk-reduction” flood channels such as the ambitious G-Cans.  ” G-Cans project widely known as Tokyo underground flood tunnels is the networks of tunnels 6.4 kilometers (four miles) long built deep under the ground in the Tokyo suburbs. All this infrastructure is dedicated to prevent flooding when Tokyo metropolitan area rivers are overfilling during the rain seasons or in case of typhoons.”

For your pleasure, here’s the sexy Japanese G-Cans youtube promo, with lots of wizz-bang effects, funky synth music and animation sequences.


G-Cans is an incredible testament to our times, an era in which economists and engineers rule the world. Thank-you. However, whilst its all well and good to be safe and dry whilst living ignorantly on this flood plain, very rarely when walking along a Tokyo canal can we (me and the other 29 million Tokyo human inhabitants) enjoy the sound of a cricket or frog, or delight in seeing a northern migrating bird fishing for food. Yes, ‘sattvas, the Anthropocene is upon us.

Hmmm, I think given this mentioned 50% as well as recent Convention for Biodiversity COP11 decisions in Hyperbad, its important that we recognise the behaviour of our current socio-economic systems. They are not working for us. Its important that we start to actively oppose further wetlands development with community monitoring and stewardship, and book-ending these bottom-up efforts with UN top-down internationally recognized decisions like at COP11.

It made me start thinking back to this summer. Whilst studying in Munich, I learnt about an socio-ecological river restoration project that locals were backing. With the support of various municipality leaders, private enterprise and community groups, Munich was actually removing some the man-made channels that had been constructed along their Isar rivers over the last 200 years. It was bizarre to understand at first. But, locals explained, by breaking that barrier, the city was choosing to change the human-nature relationship and allow for natural rhythms and cycles of the river to emerge once again… regenerating the surrounding landscapes and connecting the locals with nature on a more respectful and equal footing.

Probably the shitty tourist photos don’t do the idea justice?  What I am getting at is this, quite frankly, we are blissfully still living out European rational concepts developed during industrial era that constantly seek to reduce risk by oppressing nature, ultimately to minimize any financial and infrastructure damages to business as usual.

What our forefathers did was replace our reverence for God and nature’s bounty with capital as king.

And, I’m not afraid to apply this notion to rapidly approaching Geo-enginneering climate projects as well. What will become of our biodiversity!

I’m not suggesting we don’t plan for disaster wisely. Hell no, climate change already a reality. Also, keeping in mind my friends who were devastated by the Brisbane floods,  I’m not suggesting we remove all disaster infrastructures in place. Instead, I think we need to incorporate other long term aspirations into these plans and address how we can live better with our river, its mood swings and all the other beings  we interrelated-ly steward . I am drawing attention to new models of thought emerging, where collective society are calling for a more humble relationship with nature. Collectives are questioning and changing approaches to development…to development locations, housing styles, realistic impact assessments, factoring ecosystem services. Projects like the Isar River are showing that we can (and  ultimately must) plan equally for the healthy functioning of our neighbourhood ecosystems… one that ultimately keeps us all healthy and alive. During my watch, I’m trying to focus on these things, as various ecosystem habitats disappear at an unprecedented pace.


Seriously, hug your wetland today. If you are not watching (or watching the TV instead), it might be gone tomorrow and then we are all screwed. For example, the Boondall Wetlands Reserve in Brisbane offers an insight to the flora and fauna of Moreton Bay, Australia. At the wetlands’ environment Centre you can learn about the importance of preserving natural areas. Enjoy a picnic, walk a trail, bike ride, explore the wetlands from canoe. Go wild, meet a bird, scare a crab, embrace the smell of mudflat micro-organisms.

Don’t you think its time to widen the definition of we?


Recent interview on UN blog

Was surprised recently when asked to be a guest on a UN blog, “Beautiful minds for a sustainable future“.

Opening with picture of a sweaty teacup adventuring in the Siberian mountains 4 years ago, should give you an idea of what I’ve been up to work wise…


Where art meets science  30 DEC 2011 BY OKSANA BURANBAEVAVIEW COMMENTS

Citt Williams, a passionate filmmaker and a boundary crosser.

Citt Williams. Hiking towards Inegen. Ongudaysky, Altay, Russia.


Citt Williams (35) is a proactive filmmaker. Her produced documentaries have been selected for competition at Cannes, Sundance, Mumbai, Melbourne, and have been syndicated across international TV networks including National Geographic, and Discovery. Citt has produced and shot independent documentaries in many international locations including India, Nepal, Tajikistan, Russia, China, Japan, Papua New Guinea, France, Borneo, rural Australia and from a bicycle in Outer Mongolia. In 2010, she went back to university and completed her Master of Science in Climate Change from the Climate Research Unit, University of East Anglia. In her final research project, she found significant correlation between solar activity and riverflows in Australia.


…why do you do what you do?

Documentary filmmaking is an opportunity to connect with real issues and real people. I enjoy sharing with others the experiences and wisdoms that have affected me.

How do you pick your topics?

Topics and ideas come in the strangest of forms and it is fair to say they pick me. If it is a work mandate, I’ll just engage with the contract and go for it.  However if it’s a person project, the topic may have been a seed gestating in the back of my mind for years. Topics normally come through a puzzling encounter that activates my intuitive curiosity or through a simply heard statement of incredible power and clarity. Sometimes it is an eyewitness event, email, newspaper article (my dad often send me random clippings), or even within a dream that wakes me up. After the initial lightning bolt, it is common for the topic to follow me around (I cannot stop thinking about it or seeing signs of it everywhere!). In my spare time, I find myself researching, writing, calling people, cataloguing disconnected information and sometimes visiting locations to have tea and talk with others. After this, if the material continues to relay a subjective truth to me (and others I share it with) then perhaps it’s a project that the wider community might like to know about. From there, I usually draft a plan and begin looking for opportunities.


Interview during the creation of UNU videobrief “The grasses of the Gobi”. Photo courtesy of Citt Williams.

Where do you think your social conscience came from?

I guess I was a sensitive kid, blessed with a healthy childhood, good education and well-travelled parents who exposed me to different cultures. Growing up, I was increasingly aware of the inequalities and unjust struggles about my world. I am particularly drawn to sensitive people who fight for their rights with incredible expression and determination. To me, these people are  confronting, inspiring, and healing. Today, in my activities and creative endeavors, I strive to create a platform for them, make a space for them, hold a torch to their efforts.

Who have been the key influences in your life?

Like many others, I have been heavily influenced by CAAMA (Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association). To this day, I still draw wisdom from the talented people and extraordinary experiences that I had working there. More recent collaborations at the UNU Media studio in Tokyo have influenced my approach to collaborative international teamwork. Also, years ago when riding a bicycle across Mongolia, I experienced endurance, self-sufficiency, coupled with the traditional nomadic peoples’ philosophy and way of life. That awakening has greatly marked my personal approach. On a deeper level, my family and close friends hold me together and drive me onwards, whilst meditation gives my spirit something else entirely.

What is your most memorable filmmaking experience?

Each project has a special memory and energy for me. Of course the film screenings at the Sydney Opera House and other gala events are always fun, but it’s time in the field that I enjoy the most.  It is hard to pick one project, though I have always been a marshmallow for Wirriya: small boy, a documentary film we produced at CAAMA. I have huge respect for the film’s auteur Beck Cole and in the documentary she elegantly explores the situation of a young aboriginal boy living in a transient town camp on the outskirts of Alice Springs in Central Australia. It’s a loving and sometimes funny tale on a difficult and sensitive topic that I’ve seen many young kids elsewhere in the world relate to.

< Watch clip >

Was there any point in your work, where you thought: “This is not working as I expected!”?

Yes, every project never goes to plan! We may find ourselves enduring nasty weather on waterlogged Pacific island, coordinating helicopter shots and kangaroo feasts, bashing through muddy thickets to pay respects to a sacred spring in Siberia or collecting mussels in a crocodile infested mangrove but that half the challenge when you are working with real people in telling situations. I try to let go of certain expectations and trust the real-time flow.

It is quite unusual for a successful filmmaker to move into science. What made you go back to university and study climate change?

Studying meteorology has always been a slowly cooking idea, but there was definitely a catalyst moment that made up my mind to leave my job and do the climate science masters.  A few years ago, I was presenting some of the UNU Traditional Knowledge Initiative climate change documentaries to a room full of Academy of Sciences people. Although the films had worked elsewhere, the feedback with this group was rather flippant. It hurt and shocked me at first, until I recognized that for them our traditional knowledge message was not working – telling stories that crossed boundaries. I recognized I needed to further understand the scientific perspective, language and the climate science knowledge system, and hopefully try them again later. It became clear to me that if I really wanted to make a difference then I needed to focus on ways that respectfully collaborate and articulate various climate knowledge systems, ultimately generating new knowledge innovations that all “stakeholders” can benefit from.

Luis Patron, UNU director and editor, records evidence of coastal erosion on the Carteret Islands, Papua New Guinea. Photo courtesy of Citt Williams.

Let us talk about the research you have done while completing your science masters. What are the practical benefits of this research?

Whilst completing my science masters dissertation, I learnt and used the scientific mechanistic mathematical worldview to identify a significant correlation between extraterrestrial cycles and terrestrial moisture in Australia.  My work is still in the process of publication so I cannot go into too much detail. However, as with other research in this area, benefits of the research include further signal clarification of external climate forcings within regional hydro-meteorological proxies. If I get the chance, I’d also like to pursue further work with this signal to identify correlations with geospace variability and cyclic traditional knowledge practices not currently well linked.

What kind of change would you like to bring from your dream project?

Overall, I would like to contribute culturally appropriate mechanisms that can collaborate multiple climatic “ways of knowing”, leading to more sustainable and “right way” responses to planetary environmental change. Within most environmental academia, an identified challenge is to develop methodologies that can “verify” traditional knowledge practices to existing scientific truth. However, on the other hand, perhaps a more undercurrent problem lies in the “wrong way” appropriation of traditional knowledge in current academic processes. One only has to scan the abstracts of some well sighted climate adaptation papers to see in many cases a traditional person’s intellectual property and custodial knowledge responsibility is not being respected.  Specifically, when a traditional knowledge expert is referred to as a “participant”, it can highlight there is a lack of awareness or a failure within current academic protocols to accommodate for the management of custodial knowledge. As Peruvian Professor Tirso Gonzales says, “there is no Google Translator for an Indigenous person’s environmental knowledge”. In a nutshell, I’d like to see a world where the academic establishment protocols require: respectful consultation with local people as local experts, co-authorship, whilst also making space for support of Indigenous-led research projects within traditional institutional frameworks that reflect the needs of the community.

Indigenous peoples already have a swathe of factors which affect their self-determination (eg marginalization, poverty, food sovereignty rights, cultural erosion), but I cannot see why institutional nurturing and authorship of traditional knowledge and its practice are not as essential as seed banks, libraries, workshops and congresses. Fortunately, for all of us, there is a growing number of environmental case studies where collaborative protocols are emerging (see forthcoming UNUTKI publication).

There is a saying that an Australian Aboriginal filmmaker friend Rachel Perkins included in one of her films reflecting on the early Australian colonial period … and I think it sums up some of the conceptual difficulties in worldviews. White man, “This land is mine”. Aboriginal man, “This land is me”. To find the “right way”, with equity and long-term visioning, is an enormous challenge for this century, yet it would benefit us all immensely.

What are you doing next? Will you go back to filmmaking?

Next? Currently I am living in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan learning Russian full-time whilst preparing my Ph.D. outline/proposition. I’m intrigued by the idea of climate memory and how it manifests in various knowledge systems.  I am trying to mesh together mechanisms that might work as culturally appropriate collaborative tools, subsequently augmenting partnerships between traditional and the natural science expertise. As mentioned above, I am particularly interested in exploring media beyond “participatory methodologies”. From personal experience, I feel that current participatory media surrounding climate change is an uneven communications platform, which does not manifest self-determination at the international level. Furthermore, when this is combined with literature highlighting the inadequacies of climate science communications, a puzzle begins to emerge. Currently, I’m drawn to the more radical literature suggesting a movement of the planetary science towards more inclusive and locally verifiable commons frameworks. Regardless of the agendas that will ensue, any successful mechanism will need to make the additional jump towards relationism, equality, self-determination, the development of longer term expertise, and the strengthening of “bio-cultural maintenance” institutional tools and frameworks within current systems.

What is the most rewarding part of your work?

The most rewarding part of my work is collaboration that goes beyond one person’s ability. Being a part of a team that devises a creative vision of solutions, working through the various challenges associated with multicultural collaborations and creating a message that hopefully transcends the localized culture to resonate clearly at a planetary level.

Oksana Buranbaeva (buranbaeva[at]

Watch “Sinking Paradise. Carteret Islands, Papua New Guinea”, on UNU’s Our World 2.0.


Original UN posting is here


the right to listen, to be heard and to adapt

Just got back from a whirlwind UN meeting in Mexcio City. Just when things couldn’t get anymore dissertation deadlined, I went and shot some interviews at a joint UN-Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change workshop “Indigenous Peoples, Marginalized Populations and Climate Change“.

IPMPCC Opening address by Francisco Barnes-Regueiro from (Mexico's National Institute of Ecology), together on panel (Left to Right) Doug Nakashima (UNESCO), Sam Johnston (UNU) , Vincente Barros (IPCC), Terence Hay-Edie (UNDP), and Jaime Webbe (CBD)

And I was rewarded with what I heard. After doing one-man-band interviewing of community knowledge custodians, ethnographic academics, IPCC lead authors and the Chair of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, it was as though, all of the hard climate study so far was verified. The meeting’s technical report and outcomes plus the humbly created voxpop interviews are yet to come but in the meantime there were two things I wanted to share…

After listening to case studies from the Arctic Reindeer Herders and Inuit Ocean Hunters, African subtropical pastoralists, Andes-Amazonian watershed farmers to Micronesian ocean navigating fisher people, there was wide suggestion amongst the group that Indigenous seasonal calendars across the world are drastically changing and possibly systematically collapsing. It is worth thinking about because this emerging trend in global research evidence may have enormous institutional and structural implications for everyone (think both local and industrialised food systems and security).  Importantly, its also worth thinking about for Indigenous communities, because known traditional knowledge adaptation methods are already heavily stressed by factors such as development, anti-migration borders, socio-economic positioning and political marginalization. If we are serious about adaptation, there is much restructuring work to be done.

Closing speech by Myrna Cunningham, Chair of UN Permanent Forum of Indigenous Issues[Closing speech by Myrna Cunningham, Chair of UN Permanent Forum of Indigenous Issues]
Final IPMPCC plenary session

Secondly, in my view, it was evident, that in order to work with Indigenous cultural knowledge appropriately, there was enormous capacity building needed amongst higher education institutions. In particular, capacity building that centred around equity and authorship amongst both Indigenous and non-indigenous collaborators.  I think days should be numbered for the classic old school research methods of modern/western expert scientist and indigenous community research participant.  There is much to learn, share, mentor and support, but as wise Peruvian Dr Tirso Gonzales said to me, there is no google translator for an indigenous person’s environmental understanding. Perhaps an interesting capacity building transition phase may be similar to Indigenous film-making protocols, whereby seeking Indigenous collaborators/partners or rough draft approval with knowledge custodians is an essential element of the project’s funding process.

If we truly are to move to a post-enlightenment society, capacity building must start by institutional acknowledgment of Indigenous intellectual property, custodial rights, human rights, territorial rights and Indigenous self-determination.

Dinner - (left to right) me, Edwin Castellanos, Doug Nakashima, Anne McDonald, Jaime Webbe, Igor Krupnik, Saul Vicente Vasquez [..and some cultural activities such as Mexician feasting with some of my colleagues]Edwin Castellanos, Doug Nakashima and Anne McDonald with two local musicians at dinner, Mexico City