Indigenous peoples testify to the realities of climate change.
For the past 20 years, environmentalist Raygorodetsky—a research affiliate at the POLIS Project on Ecological Governance at the University of Victoria and executive director of the Indigenous Knowledge, Community Monitoring, and Citizen Science Branch of the Department of Environment and Parks, Alberta—has been traveling to indigenous communities around the world to monitor their experiences of climate change. In his revealing debut book, he reports on his findings from visits to Finland, Russia, Ecuador, Thailand, and Canada, vividly portraying the communities’ ecologies, livelihoods, and “intimate understanding[s] of landscapes and seascapes.” Indigenous peoples, the author writes, although comprising only 4 percent of the world’s population, care for more than a fifth of the Earth’s surface, environments teeming in biodiversity. Their traditional knowledge has allowed them to adapt to the challenges of climate change. In northern Lapland, for example, changes in ice and snow have had an impact on the Skolt Sámi reindeer herders, who confront shortened snow seasons and freezing rain that encases pastures and leads to reindeers’ starvation. Like other indigenous groups, the Skolts rely partly on traditional knowledge and partly on modern tools, such as meteorological radio reports, to track weather patterns. They also collaborate with governmental and nongovernmental organizations to intervene in biocultural decisions. On the Yamal Peninsula of Siberia, reindeer herders and environmental NGOs vigorously protested Soviet plans to build a pipeline through the region. Public hearings led to a decision to construct an elevated pipeline that allowed reindeer herds to pass beneath without disruption. Many advocacy groups, such as the Indigenous Peoples Climate Change Assessment, the Association for Nature and Sustainable Livelihoods, and Land Is Life, press for the development of “culturally appropriate strategies to cope with climate change and to inject local voices into the global climate change discourse.” Besides ancestral wisdom, spiritual beliefs, and traditional land use, the communities’ participation in influential NGOs and activism justifies Raygorodetsky’s message of hope.
An encouraging exploration of how ancestral wisdom and political savvy have led to positive environmental policies.