How Mountain-Dwellers Talk About Adapting to Melting Glaciers

For many people, climate change feels like a distant threat—something that happens far away, or far off in the future. Scientists and climate communicators often think that if everyone saw the devastating impacts of climate change, we’d all be more likely to accept it as real, and that accepting climate science is essential to taking action against it. A new study, published this month in Regional Environmental Change, challenges the latter part of this assumption.

The study examined decision-making in three places affected by melting glaciers. For these communities in the Italian Alps, the Peruvian Andes, and the US’s North Cascades, glacier retreat is a visible fact—“and the causes of glacier retreat are almost exclusively warming,” explains lead author Ben Orlove, an anthropologist and co-director of the Center for Research on Environmental Decisions at Columbia University’s Earth Institute. (Orlove is also the managing editor of GlacierHub.)

Orlove and his colleagues wondered whether the people who live in the three locales notice these changes, whether they understand them to be the result of climate change, and whether this climate connection motivates them to take action.

They found that people in these villages are indeed aware of climate change and are even taking action to adapt to it. But the villagers don’t often talk about climate change as a motivation for adapting. Instead, they’re more likely to look closer to home for reasons to respond to the changing environment, focusing on how the responses can benefit their communities. The study suggests one potential way to reframe the conversation around climate adaptation and make it more appealing.

Exploring different frames of mind

Orlove’s team looked at the frames of thinking that mountain-dwellers use to understand the changes happening around them. Mental “frames” help us sort new information and reconcile it with our previous knowledge and beliefs. For example, says Orlove, “If a hydropower plant in the Italian Alps doesn’t get enough water to generate electricity, what kinds of associations do the villagers make when they think or talk about these changes?”

The team examined how mountain-dwellers utilized two frames when talking about glacial retreat. The first was a climate change frame that focuses on global changes and the need for global solutions. The second was a community frame emphasizing action at a local level and recognizing positive opportunities for local advancement, in addition to the negative challenges of environmental change.

By analyzing peoples’ speech patterns during in-depth interviews, focus groups, and in records of community meetings, the researchers investigated how often people in the mountain communities used these two frames when talking about the impacts of climate change.

Different regions, different challenges, similar framing

The study found that villages in all three research sites are undertaking actions that could be described as adaptations to climate change. However, the communities themselves don’t always think of their actions that way. The authors present three cast studies.

Tourism in the North Cascades

Glaciers, rivers, lakes, and snowpack draw tourists to the slopes of Mount Baker in Washington State, providing the major source of income for the towns of Concrete and Glacier. But those natural resources are at risk as the planet’s temperature climbs.

Orlove’s team argues that these communities in the North Cascades are adapting to glacial retreat by finding ways to expand other forms of tourism. One example is through festivals that celebrate historical heritage and wildlife, and help to bring the community together.

A firemen’s muster during the Cascade Days festival in Concrete, Washington. The study authors argue that festivals like this help to attract tourism independent of the area’s disappearing glaciers, and thus could be considered an adaptation to climate change. (Source: Ben Orlove)

However, Concrete and Glacier residents rarely used words associated with the climate change frame when describing the changes or the local response. Instead, they use a community frame, emphasizing the importance of bolstering tourism and supporting livelihoods and the next generation.

“These kids who get out of high school, there’s not much for them to do except go out of town and find a job in [the nearby town of] Mount Vernon or Seattle,” said one interviewee. “Some of them of course go to college, but probably the majority of them don’t. So there’s no real way to make a livelihood up here. We’re dependent on tourism.”

Hydropower in the Italian Alps

As glaciers in the Italian Alps shrink, river levels are declining, reducing the ability of hydropower plants to generate electricity. To keep up with demand, the villages of Trafoi, Stilfs, and Sulden have installed biomass generators that burn wood chips to generate electricity, and the extra heat gets piped into homes.

The researchers found that although residents sometimes describe the wood chips as a renewable resource — a term from the climate change frame — they’re more often to rely on the community frame. Many villagers mentioned liking the wood heat for its coziness, and emphasized that that the wood chips are a local resource that supports local independence. Others mentioned the next generation, noting that the wood chip industry provides local jobs and that the pipes have provided conduits to install fiber optic cables; both of these encourage younger people to stay in their communities rather than seeking a future elsewhere.

Water in the Peruvian Andes

The village of Copa in the Peruvian Andes is also watching its water supply fall. Meanwhile, its need for water has only increased, as warmer temperatures and irregular rainfall make crop irrigation more important.

A village official and his children in Copa, Peru
A village official and his children in Copa, Peru. (Source: Ben Orlove)

To adapt to these changes, Copa has upgraded its water infrastructure to reduce water leakage. It is using concrete to line the canals that carry water from the river, and building pipe systems to bring water into homes instead of hauling buckets from the canal. As with the previous examples, these developments are most often seen through a community frame, with a focus on how the modern water system earns recognition for the village. “They speak with pride of the village square,” says Orlove, “with piped water giving it a more urban look.”

By the numbers

Using both human judgment and computer keyword analysis, Orlove and his team analyzed how often people in these communities referred to environmental changes, whether they attributed these changes to climate change, and whether they described their activities as adaptive responses to the ongoing changes.

They found that the villagers frequently talk about climate change impacts. In interviews, focus groups, and community meetings, changes in ice, water, socioeconomic changes, weather, and agriculture come up in about 13 percent of conversation turns (defined as the words that one person speaks without interruption). “In other words,” the paper notes, “they do not find climate change hard to see.”

However, people linked these alterations to climate change in only 4 percent of the conversation turns, and they describe their actions as adaptive responses in only 5 percent of conversation turns. Overall, people were five times more likely to refer to the community frame than the climate change frame (4.83 percent versus 0.93 percent).

Reframing the conversation

In each of the case studies, communities see the effects of climate change and take steps to address the impacts. Yet they do all of this without making much use of climate change terminology. While the villagers believe in climate change and do occasionally bring it up in conversation, the community is more relevant for them.

To Orlove and his colleagues, this challenges the notion that people need to ‘believe’ in climate change in order to take action against it. Furthermore, the authors write, “it could be argued that the community frame is more effective than the climate change frame because it emphasizes ‘co-benefits’ of adaptation” — such as protecting local resources from outsiders, retaining control over energy production, and increasing one’s connection to their community.

The findings emphasize that climate change communication should be more of a dialogue than a one-way conversation, and that scientists can learn a great deal from the communities they work with.

“It’s not that the only solutions are found in these locally organized communities,” says Orlove, “but people have not often looked for resources there, and when you do, you’ll see that there is social capital. People value their town, and they know each other and interact. They care about their environments and about their communities. We can recognize that as a resource that shouldn’t be overlooked at a time when climate needs far exceed available funds.”

This ability of people to engage with their neighbors and to craft solutions they care about could be helpful outside of mountain villages as well, says Orlove. “If we see self-organizing here, can we see self-organizing in other places, like in New York?”

This article originally appeared on State of the Planet, a news site for Columbia University’s Earth Institute.

Read More on GlacierHub:

Video of the Week: A Stroll Through Myvatnsjokull Glacier

New Funds Help Girls On Ice Canada Expand Access to Glacier Expeditions

The Impact of the GRACE Mission on Glaciology and Climate Science

Why Mountains Matter: International Mountain Day 2018

International Mountain Day, celebrated at the United Nations Headquarters in New York on 11 December, encouraged collaborative talks regarding the protection of mountain ecosystems, sustainable development and international cooperation. This year’s event was hosted by Kyrgyzstan, a country whose landscape is 95 percent mountainous, according to Kyrgyzstan’s Permanent Representative, Mirgul Moldoisaeva.

The Tien Shan in Kyrgyzstan during summer 2006 (Source: PKNirvana/Creative Commons).

Attendees at the International Mountain Day side event included representatives from mountainous countries, officials from UN agencies, and students.

Austrian Permanent Representative Jan Kickert emphasized to the audience that mountains will see a great deal of change over the next few decades. The ambassador added that mountain conservation is a “crucial role of all of humanity,” and as developed nations, it is “our job to help mountainous [developing] countries.”

International Mountain Day Presentations 

Andorra representatives Joan Lopez and Landry Riba started off the day’s discussions. Riba stated that the average altitude in Andorra is 1,996 meters, making the majority of the region mountainous. Climatology is a dynamic factor affecting agricultural activity in Andorra; livestock and tobacco are two main agricultural topics of concern. To withstand current and future climate variability, Andorra will move toward resilient thinking in its agricultural sector through action planning, joint efforts with other sectors, and crop diversification and research.

International Mountain Day attendees engaged in discussion (Source: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations/Flickr).

Ben Orlove, a professor at Columbia University and GlacierHub editor, spoke at the event and referenced research documenting the intensified rate of warming in mountain environments. Orlove discussed the impacts of glacial retreat on water availability, glacial lake outburst floods, and evolving indigenous traditions. Orlove stated that there is a “strong call for adaptation of mountain communities.” He expressed the value in learning from indigenous peoples in order to prepare mountain communities and to adapt to a changing climate.

George Grusso, an FAO representative, explained that “what happens in the mountains has an impact on the rest of the world.” He emphasized that people around the world rely on mountains for a number of products, including tea, rice, silk, lentils, beans and coffee.

Left to right: Samuel Elzinga (Utah Valley University), Andrew Jensen (Utah Valley University), Ambassador Blais (Canada), Joan Lopez (Andorra), Yoko Watanabe (UNDP), Ambassador Kickert (Austria), Ambassador Moldoisaeva (Kyrgyzstan), Ben Orlove (Columbia University, GlacierHub editor), Carla Mucavi (Moderator), Landry Riba (Andorra), and Giorgio Grussu (FAO) (Source: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations/Flickr).

During the event, Grusso announced the Mountain Partnership/FAO and UNDP’s Global Environment Facility (GEF) Small Grants Programme which aims to improve livelihoods of mountain communities by helping producers obtain fair pricing for their goods. Yoko Watanabe, a UNDP representative, added that the program is ongoing in 24 countries and in over 30 mountain ecosystem-specific projects.

Andrew Jensen and Samuel Elzinga, student representatives from Utah Valley University, spoke about the Utah International Mountain Forum, which promotes youth involvement in the environmental movement, water conservation, recycling and paper consumption reduction.

#MountainsMatter: Key Messages

#MountainsMatter was the theme of this year’s International Mountain Day. The hashtag’s purpose aimed to spread awareness around rates of temperature increase in mountain regions throughout the world and emphasize how change to mountains will influence everyone.

Mountains cover roughly 22 percent of the earth’s land surfaces and provide between 60-80 percent of all freshwater resources, according to UN Facts & Figures. Mountains matter to a variety of people for a variety of different reasons, and more people will continue to be affected as temperatures rise and mountain glaciers retreat.

Click on the FAO video below to learn more about why #MountainsMatter.

GlacierHub News Report 08:23:18

GlacierHub News Report 08:23:18

The GlacierHub News Report is a bi-monthly video news report that features some of our website’s top stories. This week’s newscast is special because managing editor Ben Orlove is joining our newscast. We will be presenting stories ranging from the IPCC to glaciers in Russia to a tradition of citizen climate science and even controversial lands in India.


This week’s news report features:


Glacier Researchers Gather at IPCC Meeting in China

By: Ben Orlove


The authors of a major IPCC report on oceans and the cryosphere gathered in Lanzhou, China, in July 2018. They discussed the reviews which the first draft of the report had received. They also planned the next steps to advance the report.

Read more here.


Debris-Covered Glaciers Advance in Remote Kamchatka

By: Andrew Angle

Summary: On the remote Kamchatka Penisula in Eastern Russia, most glaciers are retreating due to climate change. However, in one area, some glaciers have advanced due to volcanic debris on top of the ice that has limited melting.

Read more here.


Amid High-Tech Alternatives, a Reckoning for Iceland’s Glacier Keepers

By: Gloria Dickie

Summary: It may be one of the longest-running examples of citizen climate science in the world. With Iceland’s glaciers at their melting point, these men and women— farmers, schoolchildren, a plastic surgeon, even a Supreme Court judge— serve not only as the glaciers’ guardians, but also their messengers.

Read more here.

War Against Natural Disasters: A Fight the Indian Military Can’t Win

By: Sabrina Ho

Summary: Ladakh is frequently exposed to floods and landslides when snow and glaciers melt. A recent paper warns of the current nature of a military-led disaster governance, including heavy military presence, in disaster risk reduction.

Read more here.


Video Credits:

Presenters: Ben Orlove and Brian Poe Llamanzares

Video Editor: Brian Poe Llamanzares

Writer: Brian Poe Llamanzares

News Intro: YouTube

Music: iMovie

Meet the Writers of GlacierHub, 2017/2018 Edition

As glaciers retreat, they alter water resources, create natural hazards, reduce tourism and transform cherished landscapes. Here at GlacierHub, we have a team of writers hailing from across four continents to bring you original daily reporting on glaciers and the global impacts of climate change.

With funding support from Columbia University’s Earth Institute and Center for Research on Environmental Decisions, our writers from Columbia University’s Master of Arts in Climate and Society program cover stories about communities living near glaciers and the challenges brought about by glacier retreat. This year’s cohort has developed exciting new projects from a bi-monthly GlacierHub News Report to a Video of the Week post and will continue to bring you the latest glacier news throughout the summer.

We hope you enjoy the website and this introduction to our GlacierHub team!

Some of GlacierHub’s summer writers. From left to right: writer Brian Llamanzares, editor Ben Orlove, and writer Andrew Angle (Source: Ashley Chappo).


Meet our summer writers from the Master of Arts in Climate and Society program at Columbia University:


Andrew Angle (Source: Andrew Angle).

Andrew Angle has a B.S. in Physical Geography from Penn State University and is a 2018 graduate of Columbia University’s Climate and Society program. He first became fascinated with glaciers on a research trip with Penn State to study the impacts of climate change on the glaciers of the Peruvian Andes and southwest Alaska. As a writer for GlacierHub since fall 2017, Andrew has covered a number of diverse topics from U.S. National Park entrance fees to glacier-covered volcanos and glacial geoengineering. He hopes to apply the writing skills he developed during his time with GlacierHub to connect people with science and policy decisions.


Natalie Belew (Source: Natale Belew).

Natalie Belew is a 2018 graduate of the M.A. in Climate and Society program at Columbia University and completed her Bachelor of Arts degree in History and East Asian Studies at Trinity University. She joined GlacierHub in fall 2017 hoping to cultivate her writing skills in climate communication and to explore the cultural and historical contexts surrounding glaciers across the world. The topics she has tackled since then include the Lendbreen tunic, the Karakoram Anomaly, and the discovery of a medieval glacier lake in Svalbard, among many others. Beyond Columbia, Natalie hopes to combine her interests in climate science and East Asian history and pursue a doctorate in the environmental history of China. Her experience at GlacierHub has been phenomenal in helping her to understand complex scientific concepts surrounding glaciers. She looks forward to carrying forward her time at GlacierHub in her future endeavors.


Sabrina Ho Yen Yin (Source: Sabrina Ho Yen Yin).

Sabrina Ho Yen Yin has a B.Sc. in Geography from University College London and graduated in 2018 with her M.A. in Climate and Society from Columbia University. She started writing for GlacierHub in fall 2017 to hone her skills in climate communication by translating sometimes difficult-to-understand scientific pieces into fun and readable stories. She hopes to apply these skills to her work at the Singapore Ministry of Education when she imparts geographical knowledge to her future students. In the meantime, these past months have been a journey of discovery on just how interesting and diverse glacier news can be! From writing about human-related issues such as tourism in the Bhilangana Valley and extreme sports in Antarctica to ecological topics such as tracing plant species competition and crustacean diversity near glaciers to uncovering human history through glacier archaeology, she has challenged herself to write on a wide range of topics. Despite returning to the tropics after her studies, glaciers will always have a special space in her heart.


Shreeya Joshi (Source: Shreeya Joshi)

Shreeya Joshi graduated in 2018 with a master’s degree in Climate and Society from Columbia University. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Studies from Mount Holyoke College. She is specifically interested in climate change adaptation techniques and policies as well as strategic environmental communications. When she is not thinking about these topics, she’s most likely thinking about food. At GlacierHub, she helped launch the website’s Video of the Week, worked on social media and wrote about the restoration of grizzly bear populations in the North Cascades and capturing climate change through art, among other topics.


Brian Llamanzares (Source: Brian Llamanzares).

Brian Llamanzares is a former CNN Philippines news correspondent. He is the CEO and founder of Time Master Watches and a graduate of Columbia University, completing his master’s degree in Climate and Society. Brian also worked briefly at the Philippine Senate as a supervising legislative staff officer and more recently as a political consultant. In his spare time, Brian volunteers as a Youth Ambassador for Habitat for Humanity Philippines and the Philippine General Hospital. He has a passion for public service and an interest in disaster risk reduction management. While at GlacierHub, he founded the bi-monthly GlacierHub news report and wrote about a major climate lawsuit and a glacier hike for a cause, among other topics.


Jade Payne (Source: Jade Payne).

Jade Payne started writing for GlacierHub in spring 2018 while pursuing her M.A. in Climate and Society at Columbia University. She spent her earlier years living in Florida, so she has enjoyed writing about glacial environments that are very different from what she is accustomed to. Her work includes covering the importance of glaciers to harbor seals to the captivating glacial artwork of Diane Burko, among other topics. After graduation, she hopes to continue working in climate change communication, especially when it comes to humanitarian causes. When she’s not busy with her school work, she enjoys going on hikes and playing with her dog Milo (the shiba inu).


Angela Soriano Quevedo (Source: Angela Soriano Quevedo).

Angela Soriano Quevedo holds a master’s degree in Climate and Society from Columbia University. Her interest in glaciers began as an intern for the regional NGO CONDESAN where she learned about sustainable mountain development and natural resources. As a writer for GlacierHub since fall 2017, she has gained a great understanding of the challenges faced by mountain communities surrounded by glaciers. While at GlacierHub, she has written about climate vulnerability in her home country of Peru to health threats from a glacier volcano in Iceland, among other topics.

Yang Zhang (Source: Yang Zhang).

Yang Zhang is a graduate of the M.A. in Climate and Society program at Columbia University and will be joining GlacierHub as a writer this summer. She holds her B.A. in International Law. Between undergraduate and graduate school, she worked for the government of China in forestry diplomacy and international environment negotiation. After that, she worked as a policy dialogue coordinator for an Asia Pacific-targeted NGO on sustainable development project management in developing countries and regional forestry policy mechanism coordination. She is also a big fan of SNL.


Meet our other staff writers from the fall and spring semesters:


Amanda Evengaard (Source: Amanda Evengaard).

Amanda Evengaard holds a bachelor’s degree in Product Design from Parsons and is a graduate of the M.A. in Climate and Society program at Columbia University. Amanda is interested in climate sensitivity, how changing climate affects society and the environment, and how to make decisions for a sustainable future. Previously, Amanda worked in design, production and sustainability with the designer Donna Karan at the D.O.T training center in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and at Urban Zen, New York. She kept you covered on the last glacier of Venezuela, glacier reconstruction, and a Swiss community fighting to save its glacier, among other topics.


Tae Hamm (Source: Tae Hamm).

Tae Hamm graduated in 2018 from the Climate and Society master’s program at Columbia University and holds a B.A. in Geology from Lawrence University. Tae is interested in sustainable packaging as well as urban planning for disaster risk reduction. He’s an avid reader of books in all forms and shapes, but he buys his books only on Kindle. Tae wrote about glaciers’ influence on the blister infection of the White Bark Pine treea female climber and pioneer, and the geochemical evolution of meltwater from glacial snow, among other topics.


Miriam Nielsen (Source: Miriam Nielsen).

Miriam Nielsen is a video producer (and occasional writer) who likes making things about climate change and the environment. She is a graduate of the Master of Climate and Society program at Columbia University, but she spends most of her time on Twitter or playing Ultimate Frisbee. At GlacierHub, she reported on diverse topics from glacier dropstones to Asia’s vanishing glaciers, among many others.


And meet our editors:


Ben Orlove (Source: Yurong Yu).

Ben Orlove is the managing editor of GlacierHub and an anthropologist at Columbia University. He has conducted research in the Peruvian Andes for many years, and more recently has carried out field work in Bhutan and Kyrgyzstan, as well as in the Italian Alps. He also has carried out research in mountain areas in the western United States.


Ashley Chappo (Source: Ashley Chappo).

Ashley Chappo is the senior editor of GlacierHub. She is a graduate of Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs and Columbia Journalism School. Prior to GlacierHub, Ashley worked in the newsrooms of the New York Observer, World Policy Journal, and Manhattan Magazine, more recently covering the Arctic for the World Policy Institute’s Arctic in Context initiative. Her favorite part of working for GlacierHub is getting to know the talented writers and reading their stories on the latest glacier research and climate policy. You can follow Ashley on Twitter @ashleychappo or view her digital portfolio at


Meet the Writers of GlacierHub, 2016/2017 Edition

GlacierHub writers and editors, 2017 (Source: Yurong Yu).


Here at Glacierhub we have a team of passionate writers and scientific explorers working hard to bring you original reporting on glaciers and the global impacts of climate change. With funding support from Columbia University’s Earth Institute and Center for Research on Environmental Decisions, our writers cover stories about communities living near glaciers and the challenges brought about by glacier retreat.

During the fall and spring, GlacierHub is staffed by writers from Columbia University’s Master of Arts in Climate and Society program. In the summer, we recruit writers from diverse educational backgrounds to continue bringing you stories about the world’s glaciers and glacier retreat. We hope you enjoy this introduction to our GlacierHub team!


Meet our summer writers:


Will Julian (Source: Will Julian).

Will Julian recently earned his M.A. in Anthropology at Columbia University. He came to GlacierHub through a patchwork of past work that includes a Chinese government climate change research center; a Haitian startup that seeks to convert agricultural waste into electricity; and summers riding horses and motorcycles in China’s glaciated Tian Shan mountains. While at GlacierHub, he was able to write about topics that aligned with his intellectual interests, ranging from the role of glaciers in indigenous Maori rituals to the historical importance of glaciers in shaping pan-Germanic ideology and changes in predator-prey dynamics in the Arctic.


Rachel Kaplan (Source: Rachel Kaplan).

Rachel Kaplan has a B.A. in Geology-Biology from Brown University, and is currently pursuing twin passions in polar fieldwork and science communication. The last few years have taken her to the Western Antarctic Peninsula to study microbial ecology, Alaska’s North Slope to research Arctic lakes, and many latitudes in between. Writing for GlacierHub has allowed her to expand her scientific horizons and explore topics as varied as seabird ecology, community preparedness for an eruption of Cotopaxi, and waste management for mountaineers on Denali. When not in the field or at a computer, Rachel enjoys hiking, rock climbing, and scuba diving.


Rosette Zarzar (Source: Rosette Zarzar).

Rosette Zarzar is a rising senior at Columbia University studying Sustainable Development. Writing for GlacierHub has given her a whole new perspective on the effects of global warming on glaciers and just how much glacial retreat can affect societies around the world. She has written about topics ranging from the closing of ski resorts due to glacial retreat to geopolitics in China and Tibet. Rosette hopes to pursue a law degree after her B.A. and work to protect the glaciers that she has been writing about all summer.


Meet our Fall 2016 – Spring 2017 writers from the Master of Arts in Climate and Society program at Columbia University:


Souvik Chatterjee (Source: Yurong Yu).

Souvik Chatterjee recently earned his M.A. in Climate and Society from Columbia University and is currently interning at the United Nations in the Department of Public Administration and Economic Development. His work at GlacierHub was great training and a worthwhile experience for the type of work he is doing now, researching information from different sources and writing documents that are about the same length as GlacierHub’s articles. During GlacierHub, Souvik wrote about glaciated volcanoes in Kamchatka and a new car named after the Stelvio Pass, which has many glaciers. These eclectic experiences made him a more well-rounded person and gave him unique interactions and experiences.


Holly Davison (Source: Yurong Yu).

Holly Davison graduated from Boston University in 2010 with a B.A. in Sociology and minors in Earth Sciences and French. After graduation, she worked in human resources at Next Jump Inc., a 200-person e-commerce company. She’s recently earned her master’s degree in Climate and Society at Columbia University and is particularly interested in how natural disasters affect water quality, having been evacuated after a flood as a teenager. While at GlacierHub, Holly wrote about topics ranging from glacier tourism to a meltdown at a Canadian ice core facility. In her free time, she enjoys glassblowing and cooking.


Alexandra Harden (Source: Alexandra Harden).

Alexandra Harden wrote for GlacierHub during the Fall Semester 2016. She recently graduated from the Climate and Society program at Columbia University and holds a B.A. in Political Science and Writing and Rhetoric from Colgate University. Her previous work was in Boulder, Colorado, with the Consortium for Capacity Building, focusing on helping vulnerable communities mitigate and adapt to climate change. While at GlacierHub, she kept you covered on stories from iceberg killing fields to mapping landslides in the Himalayas.


Ben Marconi (Source: Ben Marconi).

Ben Marconi wrote for GlacierHub in fall 2016. He earned his B.S. in geology from Weber State University in Northern Utah and recently completed his M.A. in Climate and Society from Columbia University. At GlacierHub, Ben reported on topics ranging from the controversy over summit certificates at Mt. Everest to extreme skiing expeditions. He is interested in defining paeloclimates during mass extinction periods to improve our current approach to mitigating climate change. While not working on these projects, Ben can be found skiing, climbing and running in Central Park.


Brianna Moland (Source: Brianna Moland).

Brianna Moland has an M.A. in Climate and Society from Columbia University. She is currently working as an intern with the World Resources Institute in Washington, D.C. She learned so much about the way humans interact with glaciers by writing for GlacierHub. Some of her favorite posts involved communities that rely on glaciers for melt water, their natural beauty and their role in the Earth’s climate system. Brianna encourages anyone that is interested in environmental studies to check out GlacierHub, or consider writing as a part of its team.


Sarah Toh (Source: Yurong Yu).

Sarah Toh has a B.A. in Geography from Oxford University and recently earned her master’s degree in Climate and Society at Columbia University. She is a curious person and started writing for GlacierHub because she wanted to learn about glaciers in different parts of the world. She has definitely been able to do that in her eight months with GlacierHub and has written about topics she did not anticipate, from krill poop to an old outdoor ice rink in New Zealand and an expedition on Spitsbergen. When she was not writing for GlacierHub, she could be found completing assignments, playing badminton and exploring New York City. She will be returning to Singapore, where (surprise, surprise) there are no glaciers, but she will be looking forward to continuing to read the work of the new writers at GlacierHub.


Yurong Yu (Source: Yurong Yu).

Yurong Yu earned her B.A. in Regional International Development in China. She recently graduated with her M.A. in Climate and Society from Columbia University. She is interested in the impact of climate change on regional areas, especially the Himalayas. Yurong feels the work done at GlacierHub is creative, innovative and fantastic. While at GlacierHub, Yurong wrote about many topics ranging from glacier animation to ice core evidence of copper smelting and growing glaciers.


And meet our editors:


Ben Orlove (Source: Yurong Yu)

Ben Orlove is the managing editor of GlacierHub and an anthropologist at Columbia University. He has conducted research in the Peruvian Andes for many years, and more recently has carried out field work in Bhutan and Kyrgyzstan, as well as in the Italian Alps. He also has carried out research in mountain areas in the western United States.


Ashley Chappo (Source: Ashley Chappo).

Ashley Chappo is the senior editor of GlacierHub. She is a 2016 graduate of Columbia Journalism School and a dual degree master’s candidate at Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs. Prior to GlacierHub, Ashley worked in the newsrooms of the New York Observer, World Policy Journal, and Manhattan Magazine, most recently covering the Arctic for the World Policy Institute’s Arctic in Context initiative. Her favorite part of working for GlacierHub is getting to know the talented writers and reading their stories about such diverse topics as penitentes found on Pluto to glaciers granted personhood status. You can follow Ashley on Twitter @ashleychappo or view her digital portfolio at

Norwegian Institute Releases Video Interview with Ben Orlove

Orlove speaking at the Centre for Advanced Study (source: Gro Havelin/The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters)

The Norwegian Centre for Advanced Study (CAS) recently released a video of an interview with Ben Orlove, the editor of GlacierHub, focusing on a lecture which he gave earlier this year in Oslo. The journalist Karoline Kvellestad Isaksen, who is affiliated with CAS, conducted the interview and produced the video. Orlove, an anthropologist, is a professor at the School of International and Public Affairs and the Earth Institute at Columbia University.


Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters and the Centre for Advanced Study, Oslo (souce: Baarsen/DNVA)
Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters and the Centre for Advanced Study (source: Baarsen/DNVA)

The lecture, “Glaciers in Nature and in Public Life: Science and Society in the Anthropocene,” was jointly sponsored by CAS and the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters. It was held on April 28 in the Academy’s main building, a nineteenth-century mansion overlooking the Oslo Fjord.

In the interview, Isaksen and Orlove discussed the themes of the lecture. They opened with the broad significance of glaciers as signs of climate change around the world, and the ways in which glaciers cut across the divide between wealthy and poor nations. They recognized the direct economic impacts of glacier retreat, particularly on water resources and natural hazards, but they pointed out that the importance of glaciers extends beyond these economic concerns to issues of human identity.

Pilgrims at Qoyllurrit'i in the Peruvian Andes (source: Allen/GlacierHub)
Pilgrims at Qoyllurrit’i in the Peruvian Andes (source: Allen/GlacierHub)

Citing pilgrimages in the Andes and the Himalayas, Orlove stressed that glaciers are cherished by indigenous people. He reported on a conversation with a group of Quechua alpaca herders in Peru, who said that they had wondered whether the glaciers on a nearby peak were shrinking because the mountain–recognizing the growing lack of respect for the earth on the part of humans–was angry or because it was sad. They decided that the latter was the case. It was this point that led Isaksen to title the interview “The Mountain Is Sad.”

Orlove added that glaciers matter greatly to people in other, less remote, settings as well. He offered Seattle and Yerevan, Armenia, as examples of modern cities where specific glaciers are also valued, and commented that glaciers touch even the people who live far from mountains, because of the way that they allow people to recognize the deep importance of the natural world. These esthetic, emotional and spiritual connections with glaciers allow them to build awareness of need for rapid, effective action on climate change.

Audience at Orlove lecture at the Centre for Advancded Study, Oslo (source: Gro Havelin, The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters)
Audience at Orlove lecture at the Centre for Advancded Study (source: Gro Havelin/The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters)

Isaksen and Orlove discussed other threats to glaciers besides climate change, particularly from mining, whether the direct removal of glacier ice for sale, as in Norway, or the destruction of glaciers by mining companies seeking access to ore, as in Chile and Kyrgyzstan.

Closing the interview, Orlove said that when we look at glaciers, “we see this beauty, we see this fragility, above all we see this urgency.”

Ancient Cultures Inspire Current Adaptations in the Andes

Ben Orlove giving a talk, Lowe Art Museum, Miami (source: Univ. of Miami)
Ben Orlove giving a talk, Lowe Art Museum, Miami (source: Univ. of Miami)

On 24 February, GlacierHub’s managing editor, Ben Orlove, gave a talk titled “Bodies, Objects, and Power in Andean Landscapes and Waterscapes” at the Lowe Art Museum at the University of Miami. His lecture was one of a series of public talks linked to the exhibit “Kay Pacha: Reciprocity with the Natural World,” the first major display of the museum’s extensive holdings of pre-Columbian art from Peru. The exhibit, curated by Traci Ardren of the university’s Department of Anthropology, presents the Andean belief that humans and nature are involved in mutual exchanges, each supporting the other. This worldview is connected to the Andean emphasis on dualities, in which two entities, sometimes subdivided into four sub-parts, complement each other and form a whole.

Orlove underscored the linkage of landscapes and waterscapes to indicate that Andean peoples see land and water as basic elements that constitute nature, in contrast to Western views that emphasize land as primary, and see water as a secondary substance that travels over the land. He discussed the Inca name for their empire, Tawantinsuyu, the four-parts-together, with the imperial capital of Cusco located at the point where the four parts meet. He stressed the importance of water management for the Inca Empire. They constructed terraces which were watered by irrigation canals, allowing the expansion of the cultivation of maize—a prized crop, served at the ritual feasts, many tied closely to an annual calendar, that celebrated the relationships that linked the imperial rulers, local ethnic communities, and the spirits of the mountains and the earth.

Pre-Columbian khipu from Peru (source: Lowe Art Museum)
Pre-Columbian khipu from Peru (source: Lowe Art Museum)

Villagers in Tupicocha, Peru, displaying khipus (source: F. Salomon)
Villagers in Tupicocha, Peru, displaying khipus (source: F. Salomon)

An extensive network of roads and storehouses allowed goods to be moved throughout the empire. To keep track of goods and to facilitate their redistribution, the Incas used an accounting system known as khipus. These khipus are complex structures of knotted cords, still incompletely understood, which served as records, and perhaps as abacus-like calculators as well.  

Contemporary indigenous cultures in the Andes

Orlove emphasized the radical disruption in Andean life that was brought about by the conquest of the Incas by the Spaniards in the early 16th century. This cataclysm ended the Inca Empire, decimated populations, and forced local peoples into harsh labor in mines. He emphasized that much of the indigenous technology and culture has nonetheless survived to the present. He presented four cases in which these traditions evolved into new forms that address the concerns of contemporary indigenous communities. Drawing on Frank Salomon’s research in Tupicocha, Peru, Orlove discussed a village which preserves ancient khipus and honors them in an annual festival in which they are brought out of a storehouse, unwrapped and displayed, and then wrapped and stored once again. These rituals offer insights into the ancient practices of the Incas. In a similar fashion, the annual, ritual-filled  construction of a canyon-spanning bridge, made entirely from ropes of local straw, sheds light on earlier practices, and provides testimony of the ties of reciprocity that connect the villages involved in the construction.  

The other two cases in Orlove’s talk examined high-elevation regions with glacier-covered peaks. Zoila Mendoza’s study of the Qoyllurrit’i pilgrimage, held each year before the winter solstice to a glacier peak, also shows the importance of annual ritual cycles. As Mendoza has noted, “mountains have been the focus of veneration and ritual [in the Andes] since pre-Hispanic times.” Orlove included images from Mendoza’s video of the pilgrimage in his talk.

Pre-Columbian shovel used for irrigation rituals (source: Lowe Art Museum)
Pre-Columbian shovel used for irrigation rituals (source: Lowe Art Museum)

The pilgrims’ visit to the site in the Cusco region had long included a tradition of harvesting ice from the glacier, but the glacier’s retreat has led them to suspend this custom, a change that causes them great concern. They still worship at other shrines and go up to the mountain, but now return without glacier ice. 

Villagers in Pinchollo, Peru, displaying shovels used in irrigation maintenance rituals (source: A. Stensrud)
Villagers in Pinchollo, Peru, displaying shovels used in irrigation maintenance rituals (source: A. Stensrud)

Astrid Stensrud’s research in the Colca Valley of Arequipa shows how agricultural villagers work to maintain and extend irrigation canals in the face of glacier retreat which has reduced water supplies. The community work parties that dig and reinforce canals involve festivals, tied to an annual calendar of rituals, that draw on centuries-old cultural symbols. As in the case of Qoyllurrit’i, the regularity of the traditions promotes close attention to environmental change; in this instance, the villagers draw on traditions to adapt to climate change.

Current adaptation projects

Orlove concluded with a discussion of the indigenous responses to climate change which draw on these cultures. In addition to the Colca Valley case mentioned above, he selected, as one example among many, the Cusco-based group Asociación Andes. A group of indigenous communities have set aside lands at different elevations in which they experiment with native crop varieties. They monitor the results to see which varieties perform best in the context of higher temperatures, irregular rainfall, and new pest outbreaks.

pre-Columbian ceramic figure displaying a staff of office (source: Lowe Museum of Art)
Pre-Columbian ceramic figure bearing a staff of office (source: Lowe Art Museum)

Villagers from Calca, Peru, with leader bearing a staff of office (source: Asociación Andes)
Villagers in Calca, Peru, with leader bearing a staff of office (source: Asociación Andes)

As Orlove emphasized, the project leaders draw on long-established symbols of authority, such as ritual staffs, to coordinate the villagers’ efforts across a wide region. To underscore the integration of ancient traditions with elements from the modern world, he showed a photograph of a local indigenous woman who was making a video recording of the discussion of the agricultural experiments.

This Andean case is not the only one in which established traditions inform adaptation to climate change. Comparable examples can be found in other mountain regions of the world, including the Himalayas, the Alps and the Tien Shan. As Orlove suggested at the end of his talk, indigenous cultures’ resilience is a valuable resource for a world that is facing climate change.

Meeting at COP21 Seeks Coordination of Glacier Countries

Eighteen people, representing seven small mountain countries, gathered on 8 December at the UNFCCC Conference of Parties (COP21) in Paris to discuss glacier retreat and its consequences. They reviewed the issues that they considered most serious and considered the possibility of forming an international organization of glacier countries.

Meeting 5 December 2015 of Kyrgyz and Tajik delegations to COP21 with Ben Orlove and Christian Hueggel source: Svetlana Jumaeva)
Discussion 5 December 2015 of Kyrgyz and Tajik delegations to COP21, Christian Huggel and Ben Orlove and Christian Hueggel to plan 8 December meeting (source: Svetlana Jumaeva)

This meeting included representatives from Tajikistan, Bhutan, Peru, Bolivia, Switzerland, Austria and Norway; among them were country negotiators at the COP21, leaders in national agencies and NGOs, and officials within bilateral aid organizations, as well as academics and one UN official. It was organized by Ben Orlove, the managing editor of GlacierHub, a professor at Columbia University and a member of the working group of the Mountain Societies Research Institute at the University of Central Asia. He attended COP21 as an official observer of the Nepal-based International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD).

The meeting was facilitated by Miguel Saravia of CONDESAN, the Consortium for the Sustainable Development of the Andean Ecoregion, who facilitated the access at the COP site to Peru’s office suite. This facility, available to the Peruvian delegation and their guests, provided a haven of quiet and privacy, conducive to discussion and reflection, within the bustle of the COP.  It drew on the suggestions of the representatives of the glacier countries, expressed in prior conversations and meetings with Orlove in the months leading up to the COP; in the days before the 8 December meeting, delegates from Kyrgyzstan and Nepal, whose schedules impeded participation in that meeting, offered a number of ideas that were included in the discussion there.

Event in Peru Pavilion at COP21 immediately prior to meeting of glacier country representatives source: Ben Orlove
Event in Peru Pavilion at COP21 immediately prior to meeting of glacier country representatives (source: Ben Orlove)

The impetus of the meeting came from examples set by other organizations that bring together countries sharing common climate change impacts. These include the Alliance of Small Island States, the Arctic Council, and the Coalition of Rainforest Nations. Another such group, the Delta Coalition, which was announced at the COP on 2 December, links 12 countries to make deltas more visible in global policy discussions, establish partnerships, and undertake concrete actions in order to increase resilience in these regions.

Though the sense of the meeting was that further discussion and study was needed before a Council of Small Glacier States or some similar organization could be established, the group achieved a number of positive steps: examining possible activities for such an organization, conducting a ranking exercise of concerns, reviewing cases that could offer suggestions for the organizations, and establishing concrete action steps to take before the next meeting of the group.

At the outset of the meeting, the participants agreed on the great breadth of possible activities for an organization of glacier countries. Eric Nanchen of the Swiss-based Foundation for the Sustainable Development of Mountain Regions spoke of “knowledge creation, knowledge sharing and capacity-building,” to which Rasmus Bertelsen of Norway’s University of the Arctic added “policy-shaping networks.” The social actors within the countries similarly ranged broadly across government, universities, local communities, civil society institutions, and businesses.

Discussion at meeting of glacier countries source: Deborah Poole)
Discussion at meeting of glacier countries (source: Deborah Poole)

The participants also recognized a variety of structural forms. Emphasizing the value of drawing on existing efforts, Andrew Taber of the Mountain Institute (TMI) argued for inclusion within larger mountain organizations, such as the Mountain Forum or the Mountain Partnership, within which TMI has a leadership role. Others, such as Benjamín Morales Arnao of Peru’s National Institute for Research in Glaciers and Mountain Ecosystems, underscored the distinctiveness of glaciers, with their close association with climate change; Firuz Saidov and Anvar Khomidov of the Tajikistan Committee for Environment Protection indicated the specific issues of water resource management and hazards faced by glacier countries at the headwaters of international watersheds. Summarizing this discussion, Thinley Namgyel, Chief Environment Officer of the Climate Change Division of Bhutan’s National Environment Commission, emphasized that any new group would “not want to duplicate” existing efforts.

As a first step to provide focus, Orlove led the group in a ranking exercise. The participants reviewed an initial set of glacier-related issues and added other issues to the list. Each one then allocated five points across these issues, giving no issue more than two points. Three issues—hydropower planning and water resources, disaster risk reduction and early warning systems, training and human resource development—all rose to the top. The other issues—reduction of black carbon, tourism planning, biodiversity and ecosystem management, and outmigration from mountain areas—received much smaller numbers of points. The rankings from the Asian and Latin American delegates were quite close to those of the European delegates.

Participants at meeting of glacier countries, COP21 8 December 2015 source: Ben Orlove)
Tajik and Peruvian participants at meeting of glacier countries (source: Ben Orlove)

With these issues in mind, participants offered examples of prior activities. Jorge Recharte, the Andes Program Director of TMI, discussed an exchange program which linked Peru, Nepal and Tajikistan: researchers, government officials and community members formed committees to plan for early warning systems and risk reduction for glacier lake outburst flood hazards. He pointed to the great potential of incorporating local knowledge into research and adaptation, though he also reminded the group of the challenges of assuring ongoing funding—a point that others recognized. Muzaffar Shodmonov of the Tajikistan State Agency for Hydrometeorology spoke of coordination of glacial monitoring across a number of countries. Bertelsen suggested that the group consider as an example the University of the Arctic, based in Norway’s Tromsø University. This university links a number of other universities in countries within the Arctic Council, and has served effectively to develop and apply knowledge. He suggested that the emerging plans  of the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) to develop a Himalayan University Consortium might be a similar center; Orlove suggested that it could be linked to the University of Central Asia.  Matthias Jurek, an Austrian involved with the United Nations Environmental Programme, also mentioned a number of programs that draw together research and adaptation efforts in different glacier countries, including UNESCO’s International Hydrological Program. Like Bertelsen, Jurek suggested points of overlap between glacier projects and polar endeavors—linking glaciers to the global cryosphere as well as to mountains. This connection had also been raised by Pam Pearson of the International Cryosphere Climate Initiative, who spoke with several participants moments before the meeting but who was unable to attend due to prior commitments.

Discussion at meeting source: Deborah Poole)
Discussion at meeting of glacier countries (source: Deborah Poole)

As the meeting progressed, the discussion shifted to concrete action steps. Namgyel’s emphasis on the need for additional work underscored this direction. Jurek proposed a mapping exercise to develop a full list of glacier-related institutions in small mountain countries involved in research, adaptation programs, training and communication. Orlove suggested close attention to the human and social dimensions of glacier retreat, as well as the physical and hydrological aspects. Orlove also proposed developing a grid that would examine the different combinations of activities, structural forms and issues, as a way to locate “low-hanging fruit” that could serve as initial efforts to link countries. The Central Asia-Himalaya link suggested the possibility that such efforts could be drawn on selected regions, rather than the full range of glacier countries around the world.

As the end of the hour allotted for the meeting approached, the participants discussed possible venues for the next meeting of the group. Several people mentioned the World Mountain Forum in Uganda in October 2016 and COP22 in Morocco in November 2016, which is likely to have a thematic focus on water issues, though the possibility of a separate standalone conference was also raised. The participants agreed to remain in contact. This conference indicated that small mountain countries can do more together than they can do alone. The broad awareness of the potential for such coordinated action should provide the stimulus for future actions.

Mountain Societies Research Institute Enters a New Phase

MSRI working group members and UCA leaders source:MSRI
MSRI working group members and UCA leaders source:MSRI

A meeting held in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan on 3-5 July 2015 marked an important point in the development of the University of Central Asia’s Mountain Societies Research Institute (MSRI). The five members of the MSRI Working Group that provides support and oversight to the Institute met with key personnel of the MSRI. They were joined by staff of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN), of which UCA is an institution.

Founded in 2011, MSRI is a university-wide, interdisciplinary research institute dedicated to addressing the challenges and opportunities within communities and environments in Central Asian mountain regions, particularly the Pamirs and the Tien Shan Ranges.  MSRI’s goal is to support and enhance the resilience and quality of life of mountain societies through the generation and application of sound research.

MSRI addresses a region facing many challenges in the post-Soviet era, including the poorly managed privatization of state enterprises, the outmigration of educated professionals and manual laborers, and the disruption of established patterns of transhumant pastoralism, as well as tensions between countries in the region, political violence in Afghanistan just across the region’s southern border, and climate change impacts, particularly glacier retreat. These challenges all strike the poor and relatively isolated and marginal mountain regions of Central Asian countries with particular force.

Youth using mobile media facility e-Bilim source:UCA
Youth using mobile media facility e-Bilim source:UCA

MSRI’s research serves not only to generate new knowledge, but also to promote education and capacity building more broadly, to support policy and practice for sustainable mountain development, and to serve as a knowledge hub for the region. The use of research to support policy in priority areas is evident in its Background Paper Series, which addresses major themes such as sustainable land management, mountain tourism, and agroforestry for landscape restoration and livelihoods. Its manuals for pasture management and restoration, available in Tajik, Kyrgyz and Russian,  were among the first such resources to reach pastoralists in their own languages. MSRI has worked in conservation as well, for example coordinating with a global program to protect snow leopards through landscape- and community-based programs. Capacity building activities include the opening of a GIS lab available to MSRI partners and the establishment of a school-based program of citizen science in environmental areas such as water quality. MSRI’s mobile digital library, eBilim, reaches underserved mountain regions in Kyrgyzstan with critical resources.

However, MSRI is still in its initial phases. Activities will be picking up when the first undergraduate campus of UCA opens next year in Naryn, Kyrgyzstan. Two other campuses will be built in Khorog, Tajikistan (to open in 2018), and in Tekeli, Kazakhstan (2020). The University is distinctive as Central Asia’s first regional university, seeking to promote exchanges among countries that have often looked more to build ties with powerful countries outside the region than with neighboring countries. It is also distinctive in its selection of provincial towns in mountain areas as the sites for main campuses, aiming to serve as development hubs in poor regions that are neglected in relation to the capital cities, where other universities are located. In the mountain regions, glacier retreat is threatening water supplies and increasing the risks associated with natural hazards.

Visiting UCA campus in Naryn source:Marc Foggin
Visiting UCA campus in Naryn source:Marc Foggin

The opening of UCA’s first campus will bring students and faculty members, who will engage with MSRI through research projects. There will be significant exchanges between academic departments of the university, such as Economics and Earth & Environmental Sciences, and MSRI.

To promote these exchanges and activities, UCA convened the first meeting of the MSRI Working Group.  Its five members all come from different countries: Helmut Echtler from the University of Potsdam in Germany, Hans Hurni from the University of Bern in Switzerland, Yuri Badenkov from the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow, Xu Jianchu of the Kunming Institute of Botany of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Yunnan, China, and myself. This diversity of national origins reflects the growing range of ties of Central Asia in the post-Soviet period.

Baktygul Chynybaeva interviewing Ben Orlove on Kyrgyz television source:Ryskeldi Sakte
Baktygul Chynybaeva interviewing Ben Orlove on Kyrgyz television source:Ryskeldi Sakte

The Working Group met with representatives from MSRI, UCA and AKDN, and with MSRI partners such as European bilateral aid agencies, the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations,  and the World Agroforestry Centre. It discussed priorities for research and education, and evaluated the internal organization of MSRI . On the last day of the meeting, the Working Group members visited UCA’s Naryn campus, still under construction. The group was strongly encouraged by these developments, and looks forward to working with MSRI in the future to address the urgent needs of the region.

UN looks to locals for climate solutions

When attacking a problem as complex and diverse as climate change, sometimes the best way is from the ground up. Bringing indigenous communities, including those near glacier in high mountain regions, into the discussion is the new tactic discussed at a September 24 meeting at the United Nations Development Programme in New York during Climate Week. With many heads of state present at the UN headquarters two blocks away, security was tight.

Tight security outside the United Nations (photo: Ben Orlove)
Tight security outside the United Nations (photo: Ben Orlove)

The event, “Building Indigenous Knowledge into Climate Change Assessments: A Roundtable Discussion,” was sponsored by UNESCO. It drew together nearly two dozen representatives from international agencies, NGOs, indigenous communities and universities. Its goal was to increase the presence of indigenous knowledge in climate assessments, and to use this knowledge to promote effective adaptation efforts. The meeting built on two key statements in the Summary for Policy-makers of Working Group II of the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: that “including indigenous peoples’ holistic views of community and environment are a major resource for adapting to climate change” and that these views “have not been used consistently in existing adaptation efforts.”

The animated discussions lasted well over three hours. The meeting was chaired by Douglas Nakashima, the chief of the Local and Indigenous Knowledge Systems Programme of UNESCO and Minnie Degawan, a member of the Kankanaey Igorot indigenous community of the Philippines and a Senior Advisor of the World Wildlife Fund Forest and Climate Initiative. Nakashima opened with a thoughtful review of the involvement of indigenous peoples and indigenous knowledge in the IPCC and the UNFCCC over the last 10 years, and of the efforts of the International Indigenous Peoples Forum on Climate Change, a network of indigenous peoples who engage with the UNFCCC, to expand this role.

A September 24 discussion of the indigenous communities in Asia. (photo: Ben Orlove)
A September 24 discussion of the indigenous communities in Asia. (photo: Ben Orlove)

Discussions focused on indigenous knowledge about climate change, the ways that indigenous peoples bring their knowledge into adaptation, and an exploration of the opportunities and barriers to fuller incorporation of this knowledge into global climate assessments. The issue of indigenous youth came up again and again, with the concern for assuring continuity of strong indigenous communities on their lands. They included detailed case studies of different communities and of international organizations. Of the nine speakers, five were representatives of indigenous communities, principally from Southeast Asia and North America. Indigenous people formed a majority of the discussants and commentators as well.

A discussion of international indigenous initiatives. (photo: Ben Orlove)
A discussion of international indigenous initiatives. (photo: Ben Orlove)

I spoke on communities around glaciers, including indigenous Quechua-speakers in Peru and Sherpas in Nepal. I reflected on the ways that some groupings of peoples and regions—glacier regions, the Arctic, low-lying islands—are relatively new to the United Nations, reflecting the growing awareness of climate impacts. I drew on several posts in GlacierHub, including the introduction of greenhouses to a region in Nepal, a discussion of waste management in a national park in Peru, and conflicts over the governance of mountaineering in Nepal. These stories dovetailed with other accounts at the meeting, which also examined the way that the integration of local knowledge into projects was linked to local control over land as well, and addressed the power inequalities within and between countries.

Columbia University professor Ben Orlove speaking at the UNESCO workshop (photo: Carla Roncoli)
Columbia University professor Ben Orlove speaking at the UNESCO workshop (photo: Carla Roncoli)

People spoke with intensity and listened to each other closely, providing many comments and drawing out comparisons across disparate cases. The discussion became fast-paced after Youba Sokona, the Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group III on Mitigation, offered an overview of the process of writing assessment reports with a focus on the potential for greater incorporation of indigenous knowledge. The group came up with several recommendations—still under discussion—for concrete future steps, leading up to the UNFCCC Conference of Parties in Paris in December 2015.

Presentation on IPCC process by Youba Sokona, co-chair of IPCC Working Group III (photo: Ben Orlove)
Presentation on IPCC process by Youba Sokona, co-chair of IPCC Working Group III (photo: Ben Orlove)