Aghaghia Rahimzadeh

Areas of interest: Climate Change, Kinnaur, Western Himalaya, rural mountain livelihoods, Human-environment Interactions, ethnography, Political Ecology, Conservation, agrarian change, sustainable tourism, Agro-Pastoralism.

I am currently an independent scholar working on human-environment interactions, specifically, on the social implications of climate change in the Himalaya. I have been conducting longitudinal ethnographic research in the Kinnaur District of the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh in Wester Himalaya since 2010. My research draws on a political ecology approach to examine social and environmental change associated with the market economy and development initiatives. Issues of livelihoods sustainability and conservation are inherently intertwined and complex and thus, an interdisciplinary approach drawing on anthropology, geography, history, agricultural economics and environmental science, is essential for solving these multifaceted human-environment problems.

My most recent research project examines the intersection of climate change and tourism in Kinnaur, Western Himalaya. Mountain environments are strained by the impacts of resource use by growing human populations and the escalating adverse effects of global climate change. High elevation areas are among the first to be experience the consequences of climate change, yet we know little about how the inhabitants of these areas perceive and adapt to this change. Tourism, when unplanned, places further demands on resources such as land and water that are already under pressure from climate change. This project will 1) identify adverse impacts and opportunities for Kinnauri society and environmental sustainability, 2) determine emerging problems associated with climate change and exacerbated by tourism, particularly centered on water, land, and production of waste and pollution, and 3) detect potential options for sustainable tourism. I seek to understand how the region confronts the dual impacts of tourism demands and climate change on its resource base. Results will provide a window into human adaptation and accelerated environmental change, illuminating how high elevation mountain communities perceive and engage with different sources of risk.

I completed my PhD in 2016 from the division of Society and Environment of the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management at UC Berkeley. As a Fulbright student researcher, my dissertation investigated the transformation of Kinnaur District. I employed a political ecology approach to examine responses to rapid social and environmental change associated with the market and Kinnaur’s booming apple economy. Specifically, I investigated Kinnaur’s transition of the last 70 years from agro-pastoral-based subsistence to a cash-based economy. My research examined changes in land use, social institutions, and culture that have accompanied this economic transition. Specifically, I was interested in how Kinnaur’s evolution has been expressed in different spheres of social organization such as in livelihood activities, community/family structure and decision-making, natural resource management practices and institutions, and gender roles and relationships.

I also hold an MA in Globalization and the Environment and a BS in interdisciplinary studies emphasizing natural resource management, both from Humboldt State University. As part of my MA thesis project, I worked with UNDP and was part of a research team with UNIFEM in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, conducting fieldwork research in rural villages and raising awareness on issues of gender, women’s rights, and trafficking of women and young girls. I was also part of a reconnaissance research team bringing medical supplies to Afghanistan and investigating the feasibility of developing a family planning projects in the city of Heart.

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Contact Aghaghia at aghaghia /dot/ rahimzadeh “at” ronininstitute [dot] org