The Earth is faster now: indigenous observations of arctic environmental change

The Earth is faster now: indigenous observations of arctic environmental change

How does climate change affect indigenous people?

This paper presents observations of indigenous people on the arctic environmental change and the implications of such change. It also examines the ways in which social science methods and results contribute to collective understanding of the arctic system, the combination and interactions among physical, biological, and social conditions, and its relationship with the rest of the world.

It argues that in the pre-modern era, arctic people were dependent largely on local resources but used a variety of means to influence their relationship with the living things on which they depended. Today, the use of living resources by arctic residents retains many ecological characteristics but is shaped also by regional, national, and international politics governing the allocation of harvests, the management of environmental impacts, and the influence of ideas such as animal rights.

Using several case studies the report notes that for many arctic residents, the immediate struggle for survival far outweighs an abstract concern about future effects of a changing climate. In other areas, industrial development, competition for fish and other resources, and environmental contaminants are among the drivers of environmental change of most concern to local residents. Throughout the Arctic, the process of modernisation, though it takes many forms, has caused rapid and often painful social and cultural transitions and it continues to do so. It argues that local observations are created in dozens of indigenous communities, by human inquisitiveness and people’s interaction with each other and the environment. Such records are constantly reinforced and immediately tested in discussions with neighbours, fellow hunters, and experienced elders. This observation process is nonstop, daily, and intergenerational, without any granting agencies and science planning involved.

The report concludes that traditional knowledge and civil science in general, are essential ingredients of sustainability science because more conventional scientific approaches are limited in their ability to deal with complex systems problems such as climate change. The following recommendations are given.

  • The link between human health and environmental change is critical.
  • There is need for partnership between local, regional, and national organisations to bring indigenous voices into climate change science and policy through a series of community workshops.
  • Indigenous knowledge needs to be matched with, checked by, and recorded along the practices of modern science.
  • Sharing information between indigenous people and scientists is crucial in trying to understand the changing environmental conditions.
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