Indigenous Communities and The Mountain Institute Awarded St Andrews Prize for the Environment

The Mountain Institute, Peru has won a major award for an innovative project to help mountain communities adapt to the complete loss of glaciers. The 2018 St Andrews Prize for the Environment was awarded on April 26 at the University of St Andrews in Scotland. The project successfully integrates indigenous knowledge from the highlands of Peru with modern technology to help local communities.

The Mountain Institute, Peru received the 2018 St Andrews Prize for the Environment (Source: St Andrews Prize for the Environment).

The prize was set up in 1998 and is managed and awarded by a panel of trustees with varying backgrounds and expertise. Individuals and teams from across the world submit applications for the Prize, which has gained international recognition. It comes with a cash prize of $100,000, which The Mountain Institute, Peru plans to use to expand its cooperation with communities in the Andes.

The project began in 2013 to assist communities in the Nor Yauyos-Cochas Landscape Reserve, about 200 kilometers east of Lima, affected by water scarcity. It illuminates the issue of glacial retreat, an increasingly prominent issue for mountain communities in the reserve, which sits 2,500 to 5,700 meters above sea level. The Andes lost 48 percent of its glacial ice since 1975. Many of the smaller glaciers have completely vanished, exposing desolate rocks and creating hardships for those that depend on glaciers for their water supply. The project’s solution captures rainwater with pre-Inca water management systems that have revived the local ecosystem and recharged aquifers.

The prize, given by the University of St Andrews in Scotland and sponsored by the oil and gas company ConocoPhillips, seeks to recognize initiatives that promote positive impacts on the environment and communities. Lord Alec Broers, chair of the St Andrews Prize for the Environment Trustees, called the project “exciting and different” in a statement, referring to its bottom-up approach.

The Nor Yauyos-Cochas Landscape Reserve features the puna landscape (Source: The Mountain Institute).

The partnerships with indigenous groups allowed communities to co-design the revitalization with The Mountain Institute, Peru. Ancient water regulating systems, such as reservoirs and irrigation canals, were reinstated. They date as far back as 1000 A.D. The hydraulic system, which had not been used continuously for five centuries, was abandoned after the Spanish conquest of the Inca Empire. Only now are they being recreated to harnesses the natural resilience of the puna ecosystem, which is comprised of wetlands, peatlands, and grasslands.

The project’s staff indicate that the increased soil and groundwater storage has led to gains in livestock productivity, greater food security, economic benefits, and improved richness and abundance of biodiversity. The result is a healthy puna ecosystem and surrounding community that is more resilient to climate change.

Local farmers from Nor Yauyos-Cochas working to restore their ancient water management system (Source: The Mountain Institute).

In his comments at the award ceremony, Jorge Recharte Bullard, director of the Andean Programme of The Mountain Institute, Peru, said the award is “recognition to the urgency to find solutions that, rooted in local cultures, secure mountain peoples’ water and livelihoods.”

“The communities there are dynamic, full of initiatives, and aware of their role in the stewardship of their environmental resources,” added Enrique Mayer, a professor emeritus of anthropology at Yale University who conducted fieldwork in the region. “All solutions have a local dimension first and a wider science accumulation of knowledge and expectations afterward,” he told GlacierHub.

The initiative is part of a larger project throughout the Peruvian Andes by the Mountain Institute, Peru, which also won the 2017 Solution Search “Farming for Biodiversity” contest in the “water impact” category. The Mountain Institute has worked for many years in the high Andes, and “deserves the prize and all the applause one can give it,” Mayer said.

For an earlier report on this project, before it received the St Andrews Prize, see this link.

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Calling for Global Climate Justice

The Illimani glacier as seen from the Bolivian city of La Paz (Source: Raoul Kaenzig/Université de Neuchâtel).

The current state of climate policy in Bolivia is one of caveats: activists have carved out a legal space for indigenous concepts such as “Mother Earth,” but state policies simultaneously encourage the expansion of agriculture further into the Amazon. In addition, CO2 emissions have reached an all-time peak, contributing to the melting of the Andean glaciers and emerging environmental crises in Bolivia like drought. In a recent article in the Journal of Political Ecology, Anders Burman theorizes a corrective to the contradictions that are inherent to the Bolivian’s conservation efforts. The divide, as he sees it, exists along the axis of differing ontological practices—what forms of existence are deemed rational and acceptable to indigenous and non-indigenous actors. By bringing the capitalist and the indigenous into sincere dialogue, he seeks to resolve these growing climate disturbances.

Indigenous voices are by no means quiet in Bolivian politics, and indeed indigenous cultures have even been celebrated by the government since a wave of neoliberal multiculturalism took root in Bolivia in the 1990s. But Burman argues that the Bolivian government, even in legally granting subjectivity to entities like mountains, glaciers, and rivers, failed to actively integrate the ontological legitimacy of those indigenous spirits. Indigenous Aymara practices have been treated as folklore—as imperfect embodiments of scientific truth. In other words, the Bolivian state pays lip service to notions of multiculturalism without actually accepting those other cultures as existentially valid.

Quinoa farmers in the Bolivian countryside (Source: Alfredo Camacho/Bioversity International).

The gap in ontological rendering also intervenes between non-state activists and indigenous leaders. Even where climate activists and indigenous organizations are in fundamental agreement, they express the problems of climate change in fundamentally different ways, preventing them from working together. For climate activists, climate change is coded into a terminology that emphasizes greenhouse gas emissions, CO2, and the Keeling curve, while indigenous Aymara people speak about climate in terms of achachilas, awichas, ajayu uywiris, and maranis. Indigenous delegates are invited to participate in climate meetings, but they are not called upon to speak; rather, they listen to urban activists recount the proceedings of the Kyoto Protocol. 

A migrant woman in La Paz (Source: Raoul Kaenzig/Université de Neuchâtel).

The climate movement in Bolivia, while characterized on the surface by plurality and heterogeneity, is effectually a non-indigenous, middle class movement. The form of climate action in Bolivia that receives media attention and political space does not emerge from any progressive synthesis of differing ontological positions, but from a select group of well-positioned actors. This asymmetrical power dynamic, in which scientific knowledge is seen to constitute legitimate knowledge, participates in the greater global system of power asymmetries, whereby capitalist, western-centric, colonial levers continue to extract value from the non-western world.

In climate negotiations within Bolivia, Burman sees the vestiges of European colonial expansion, which was characterized not only by the colonization of peoples, but of knowledge itself. With the expansion of the colonial sphere came the destruction of different ways of conceiving of the world and one’s place within it. Indigenous and local forms of knowledge were brutally repressed, and even after former colonies became liberated, the coloniality of knowledge lingered.

Part of Burman’s task is to integrate extant indigenous knowledge into the project of environmentalism. But what exactly do those forms of knowledge look like? In contrast to the prevailing Western notion of nature as an amoral, outside entity, in Andean conceptions of nature, mountains, rocks, glaciers and rivers are agents with intentionality, perceptive to human actions. Human beings and non-human entities are equally endowed with ajayu, the force of living agency and subjectivity. Powerful actors, like ancestors, are the same substance as the mountains, and they control the weather. If the human world does not adhere to a certain ceremonial and ethical standard, the natural world responds by punishing the local community. 

From 1963-2009, the Illimani glacier lost 35% of its ice area (Source: Candelaria Vasquez/Creative Commons).

So the indigenous concept of “pacha usu,” which can be translated as “climate illness,” while linguistically similar to the scientific notion of climate change, refers not merely to pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, but to the ethical degradation that attends to modern practices such as mechanized agriculture, industrially processed foods, ritual disappearance, and community alienation. To indigenous activists, the snow is melting on the mountains and glaciers because of an ethical failure on the part of one segment of humanity. For the Aymara people, the segment of the population responsible for climate change are called Q’ara. They exploit the land and the labor of others and do not participate in the moral economy of the indigenous community. The Jaqi, however, are those whose lives are characterized by reciprocity—with the land, the community, and the spirits. These are ethical labels related to specific livelihoods and social practices and are not limited to any individual ethnic category.

The city of La Paz is a popular destination for rural migrants (Source: Cliff Hellis/Creative Commons).

Burman sees the epistemological practices of the Aymara as an alternative approach to structuring relations between the self and the world, and as a challenge to the colonial, extractive apparatus that is destroying the planet. This effort, which he calls “ontological disobedience,” is a mode of securing the space necessary for alterities to transform the dominant capitalist framework. Under this framework, CO2 molecules coexist with maranis, and INDCs and achachilas cohabit the conversation about climate justice.

In an interview with GlacierHub, Burman described ontological disobedience as acts that do not comply with the reality that is mandated by the powerful. “It might be as simple as introducing other concepts and notions – and, in the end, other beings – than the ones sanctioned by modernity into the environmental justice debate. This may be the basis for a radical critique of capitalist extractivism – a critique from outside of the modernist ontological concepts that underpin the current world-system. Environmental conflicts are often also ontological conflicts, and as an anthropologist working with environmental issues, I see it as my responsibility to try to face up to that analytically,” he stated.

 

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From Sea to Summit: the Māori and the Crown

New Zealand’s tallest mountain, Aoraki, at sunset (Source: Andrea Schaffer/Creative Commons).

Typically, the stones that have made their way through faraway moraines down to the mouths of glacier-fed rivers never return to their high-altitude origins. But on the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Waitingi between the British Crown and the indigenous Māori people of New Zealand, Māori and Crown representatives came together to usher two stones from the mouth of the Waitiki river to the base of the Tasman Glacier, New Zealand’s longest glacier. A recent article in Te Kaharoa documents the lifework of an indigenous Māori activist, Anne Sissie Pate Titaha Te Maihāroa Dodds, and her efforts to build peaceful relations between Māori and non-indigenous communities.

The colony of New South Wales was founded by Britain in 1788, and while its territory technically included much of what is now New Zealand, Britain didn’t become involved politically on the islands until the 1820s, in response to reports about European lawlessness. Ultimately, the Treaty of Waitingi was signed in 1840, with the Crown and Māori chiefs coming to a contractual agreement over New Zealand’s relationship to settler colonialism. The treaty has been the source of longstanding dispute because of conflicting political agendas and issues of translation that continue to plague relations between sovereign states and indigenous communities worldwide.

In short, notions of rights over property and land emerge within individual cosmological systems, and when these systems are forced to confront one another, it is nearly impossible for each side to understand the other. The article’s author, Kelli Te Maihāroa, explained in an interview with GlacierHub that for the Māori, Papatūānuku (Earth Mother) is considered sacred and does not belong to human beings, although human beings derive from and return to her. This understanding is the complete inverse of that held by the British, for whom land could be possessed and parceled. Any treaty that offered permanent control over the land and its resources was incoherent in traditional Māori culture.

One of the lakes that feeds into the Waitaki (Source: TimN NZ/Creative Commons).

Though Te Maihāroa Dodds recognizes these disputes, she has chosen to dedicate her life to community-building across boundaries, bringing indigenous and non-indigenous parties together in pursuit of a more equitable future. The article is a life-history of Te Maihāroa Dodds that elucidates the many corners of New Zealand life, indigenous and not, that she has touched. A steadfast promoter of Māori tino rakatirataka (self-determination), she has advocated for environmental awareness in keeping with Māori traditional practices.

On December 31, 1989, Te Maihāroa Dodds and others organized an Ocean to Alps celebration (New Zealand’s mountains are known as the ‘Southern Alps’) to mark the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Waitingi. To commemorate the event, two stones were chosen from the mouth of the Waitiki river by a Māori tribal chief. According to the author, the chief was a deeply spiritual man, and was probably drawn to the Mauri (life force) of the stones. “As we would say, it was speaking or calling to him,” she stated. The two stones were then transported via boat by a group of Māori and Crown representatives up the river, and ultimately placed at two locations: the Tasman Glacier’s moraine and its visitor center (to commemorate the event).

The Waitaki River as it rolls out to sea (Source: grumpylumixuser/Creative Commons).

For Te Maihāroa Dodds, it runs in the family. She is a direct descendant of Te Maihāroa, a Māori priest who in the late 19th century unified Māori living on New Zealand’s South Island against the influx of Western encroachment. Like her great-grandfather, she has a commitment to the land as it was traditionally understood— not belonging to human beings, but acting as the bearer of mankind.

In an interview with GlacierHub, Te Maihāroa emphasized that solidarity lay at the heart of the event— honoring different histories and celebrating a shared vision for the future. Since the Crown and Māori represent the two partners of the Treaty of Waitangi, both parties saw the event as a celebration of the two peoples. Though not all iwi (Māori tribes) agree about the nature of the treaty, the commemoration was widely supported by both Māori and non-Māori.

According to the author, the journey from sea to summit— from Waitiki river to Aoraki glacier— marked a return of a living object to its source. Similarly, the participants were marking a return to the spirit, if not intent, of the treaty: the funds came from the New Zealand government, while the ceremonial objects were provided by Māori chiefs. “The transportation of the kohatu (stone) from the mouth of the Waitaki River to the Tasman Glacier was about honoring the source from where the kohatu came from and the journey down the river. The return of objects to their natural place of origin is often undertaken by the Māori,” Te Maihāroa stated.

The Tasman Glacier lake (Source: ginny russell/Creative Commons).

The river and the glacier are both sacred ancestors of the Māori, and non-indigenous participants were involved in order to celebrate past agreements and forgive transgressions in the name of mutual progress. “The celebration was a return to the spirit of partnership in which the treaty was signed. Unfortunately, it was broken after only a few years by the Crown. This in essence was another extension of goodwill, generosity of spirit and partnership, an opportunity to reset the relationship again after 150 years. The Waitaha people welcomed first North Island tribes and then colonial settlers,” Te Maihāroa said. “It is encompassed in our extension of ‘manaakitanga‘— caring, hospitality, hosting, looking after visitors,” she added. Through marriages, the visitors have become a part of Māori whakapapa (geneology), and they share a future— one that activists like Te Maihāroa Dodds help to facilitate for the well-being of all New Zealanders.

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Roundup: Drone Research, Tianshan Glaciers, and Indigenous Alaskans

Roundup: Drones, Glacier Mass and Vulnerability

 

Drone Research Points to Global Warming

From Pacific Standard: “Aaron Putnam is an hour behind them, hiking with a team of students, research assistants, and local guides. He’s a glacial geologist from the University of Maine, and he and his team are here to collect the surface layer of granite boulders implanted in those moraines that formed at the margins of the glacier…The team hopes that data derived from the rock can tell them when the ice melted. ‘This was the singular most powerful, most important climate event in human history. It allowed us to flourish,’ Putnam says. ‘But we don’t know why that happened.’ Putnam is trying to determine what caused the Ice Age’s demise; the answer could help us identify the triggers that cause abrupt climate change.”

Learn more about how the study of glaciers points to our climate’s future here:

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The research team photographs the landscape near the study’s sampling site (Source: Kevin Stark/Pacific Standard).

 

Central Asia Feels Effects of Global Warming

From Molecular Diversity Preservation International: “Global climate change has had a profound and lasting effect on the environment. The shrinkage of glacier ice caused by global warming has attracted a large amount of research interest, from the global scale to specific glaciers. Apart from polar ice, most research is focused on glaciers on the third pole—the Asian high mountains. Called the Asian water tower, the Asian high mountains feed several major rivers by widespread glacier melt. Changing glacier mass there will have a far-reaching influence on the water supply of billions of people. Therefore, a good understanding of the glacier mass balance is important for planning and environmental adaptation.”

Learn more about glacier mass balance and associated environmental adaption here:

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An aerial photo depicting a sector of the Tianshan mountains (Source: Chen Zhao/Flickr).

 

Perspectives from Indigenous Subarctic Alaskans

From Ecology and Society: “Indigenous Arctic and Subarctic communities currently are facing a myriad of social and environmental changes. In response to these changes, studies concerning indigenous knowledge (IK) and climate change vulnerability, resiliency, and adaptation have increased dramatically in recent years. Risks to lives and livelihoods are often the focus of adaptation research; however, the cultural dimensions of climate change are equally important because cultural dimensions inform perceptions of risk. Furthermore, many Arctic and Subarctic IK climate change studies document observations of change and knowledge of the elders and older generations in a community, but few include the perspectives of the younger population.”

Learn more about the younger generation’s perception of climate change and its impacts here:

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An Indigenous Iñupiat Alaskan family (Source: Edward S. Curtis/Wikimedia Commons).

 

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Scientists Look to Locals for Climate Change Study

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

Climate change data is usually collected by scientific instruments and satellites, but a recent study in Nature Climate Change reveals the importance of collecting observations made by local communities. The observations of subsistence-oriented communities indicate that climate change is threatening local food security by impacting animals and plants integral to the continued survival of these communities.

For the research paper, titled “Observations of climate change among subsistence-oriented communities around the world,” author Valentina Savo and five co-authors compared 10,660 observations from 2,230 localities in 137 countries with historical model simulations of climate change. The researchers analyzed local literature dating between 1994 and 2013 to explore relationships between climate and the perceptions of local peoples. Such observations from local communities are sometimes labeled Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK), which is defined as knowledge that is passed down for generations about the community’s environment and cultural interactions with that setting.

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Laguna Colorada, Bolivia, with Punta Grande in the background. Source: Phil Whitehouse/Wikimedia Commons

Even though satellite data and global climate models can accurately observe and predict climate change effects like drought and vegetation depletion, scientists have little reliable data on secondary climate change impacts. This includes information about the effects of drought on local animals, and how local animal population loss impacts rural communities. The authors state that methods such as theirs which document the  impacts that climate change is having on local ecosystems can provide material for predictions of fine-scale climate change impacts. Furthermore, effective strategies can be created to help adapt to climate changes.

This study focused on subsistence-oriented communities, which are defined as communities that “include indigenous and non-indigenous people who depend on natural resources for their livelihood and cultural identity.” The communities where observations were made were spread across the globe, but the Pacific Islands, central Africa and the North American Arctic accounted for the largest percentages of observations. Many cases were also drawn from the Himalayas and the Andes, where communities are reporting multiple changes in plant and animal species attributed to drier weather and warmer temperatures and retreat of glaciers.

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Figure 1: Geographical distribution of data. Source: Observations of climate change among subsistence-oriented communities around the world/Nature Climate Changerr

The researchers collected information on changes in weather, changes in physical landscape, and changes in ecosystems. This includes climatic conditions, resource abundance, and weather patterns. Some of the best examples of climate change impacts can be seen in the coldest climates. For example, increasing temperature combined with decreasing snowfall are the most common observations among communities in Arctic and sub-Arctic northern locations. In Sweden, changes in temperature, weather, and ice formation have led traditional Sami herders to abandon some of their herding practices. In Alaska, the coast is eroding at an increased rate due to reduced sea ice and more storms. Snowfall, permafrost, glaciers, and sea ice are all singled out in Figure 1 as being in decline.

Furthermore, increased temperatures are impacting the oceans, changing fish and marine mammal migration on which the communities rely. Alaskan fisheries have seen an alarming number of sharks, jellyfish and other species that are typical of warmer waters. While migrating ocean wildlife is continuing to shift to deeper or higher-latitude waters, land plants and animals are following the same pattern, shifting either north or to higher elevations to escape the increasingly warmer latitudes or altitudes.

Previous research has noted broad consistency in observations made by local subsistence-oriented communities and local instrumental data. This reinforces the value of local observational data, which fills gaps left by sparse instrumental data.

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Changpa nomadic people of the Himalayas. Changtang, Tibet. Source: Pseudois

It is important that science recognizes the observations made by subsistence-oriented communities. Models and satellites cannot tell you how winds and ice conditions link together to inform animal behavior, but the community that lives with these conditions can. By collecting and comparing information from local communities, we can not only better grasp fine-scale climate change impacts but also create specific strategies for at-risk communities to better adapt to climate change.

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Could Glaciology Use a Dose of Feminism?

A new study in Progress in Human Geography argues that the viewpoints of women and indigenous people are not being represented in glaciology and that a feminist perspective is needed to counterbalance this deficit.

Does feminist glaciology provide just a splash of media attention, or is this something the field really needs? (Photo:Tyler Corder/Flickr)
Does feminist glaciology just provide a splash of media attention, or is this something the field needs? (Photo:Tyler Corder/Flickr)

The authors—Mark Carey, M Jackson, Alessandro Antonello, and Jaclyn Rushing of the University of Oregon—are calling for a reimagining of what constitutes appropriate and usable knowledge in the natural sciences, especially glaciology. They argue that valuable perspectives are left out of glaciology because its history is steeped in military operations, as well as the fact that there is a current interest in risky fieldwork. The inclusion of marginalized viewpoints will allow for a more complete representation of glaciers, science, and climate change, they assert.

The study has garnered a great deal of attention for its provocative premise. Comments, blog posts, and articles have piled up since the study was published in January. Articles have mockingly called glaciers sexist or complained that the federal government wasted taxpayer dollars funding this study.

This research was funded by a grant awarded to Mark Carey by the National Science Foundation, who addressed criticism with a response that pointed out that only a small fraction of the grant went to this study.

The researchers found, after a thorough literature review, that the exclusion of women and indigenous people’s knowledge comes, in part, from a tradition of glaciers and the military. For example, during the Cold War, the United States viewed the Arctic as an area of strategic concern and began to prepare for military operations in the region.

The importance of learning how to survive and maneuver in those harsh Arctic areas provided “institutional resources, growth, standing, and credibility,” for glaciology, the authors argue. Thus, with the militarized history, the authors say that glaciology was influenced by colonialism, domination, and Western ideals that often ignore women and indigenous peoples. This history may have affected what is currently considered respected forms of glaciology.

USS Skate surfacing in the Arctic in 1959. The authors argue that the military (especially during the Cold War) had a large role in creating present-day glaciology. (Photo: U.S. Navy/Wikimedia Commons)
USS Skate surfacing in the Arctic in 1959. The authors argue that the military (especially during the Cold War) had a large role in creating present-day glaciology. (Photo: U.S. Navy/Wikimedia Commons)

The authors say that though there are various ways to study glaciers (like modeling, experiments, and satellites), the one that garners the most attention— and therefore funding and validity— is traditionally-masculine fieldwork.

Glaciologist Garry Clarke told GlacierHub in an email that he finds this type of “[a]dventure ‘Rambo’ glaciology,” along with other points brought forth in the study, “embarrassing to most glacier scientists.” Even so, researchers working within harsh glacial conditions are often considered heroes. The authors argue that when prominent publications feature stories that focus more on the adventure, rather than the science, of glaciology, they perpetuate the validation of risk.

Lead author Mark Carey said their aim was to provide a broad perspective on the field, rather than critique individuals or their activities.

“Note that we are talking about how broader sociocultural values influence the reception and perception of science, not about individual scientists and whether their science is valuable or solid, which is not the point,” Carey said in an interview with Science.

The authors concluded that risk-taking fieldwork in the sciences not only often excludes women, but also those who cannot afford to become mountaineers. By only validating physically-demanding activities by affluent researchers, glaciology loses key knowledge that could advance the field.

Glaciologist Elisabeth Isaksson of the Norwegian Polar Institute told GlacierHub in an email that she may have “rolled her eyes” at this paper a few years ago, but upon further reflection and discussions with her peers she has come to realize the importance of a study like this one.

“Being a somewhat older female glaciologist I do think it is time to put the limelight on many of these aspects so I welcome a paper like this! However, some of the aspects brought up in the paper might be unknown for the younger generations who has been brought up in a more gender equal scientific world…”

Villagers crossing a glacier. The authors argue that local knowledge is not utilized enough in glaciology.(Photo:Sajith T S/Flickr)
Villagers crossing a glacier. The authors argue that local knowledge is not utilized enough in glaciology.(Photo: Sajith T S/Flickr)

The authors were also concerned with the lack of non-scientific perspectives. They found that while women were the members of indigenous societies who managed water usage, irrigation, and otherwise interacted intimately with glaciers, their knowledge has not been seen as critical or useful to traditional glaciologists.

Not only do women hold key knowledge, they are also disproportionately affected by climate change and glacier risks.

“Women might be less able to migrate out of a flood zone during a sudden glacier melt. In Peru, we know that men migrate to the cities for jobs, whereas women are more confined to their homes and child rearing,”  Carey said in a press release for the study.

Because these women often do not read or write, the authors argue that researchers should utilize techniques such as “audio-visual storytelling” in glacier communities to showcase cultural perspectives. Similarly, the authors suggest that art, such as that by Zaria Forman, is a way to “re-position and re-envision glaciers as greater than their usual status as passive research subjects…”

Another antidote the authors mention is to simply include more women in fieldwork. The study points to a program in Alaska, Girls on Ice, which teaches girls mountaineering skills. Though the authors argues that this program still expects girls to conform to traditionally-masculine fieldwork, they see this approach as crucial.

The girls of Girls on Ice ascending Gulkana Glacier (Photo :Alaska Climate Science Center)
The girls of Girls on Ice ascending Gulkana Glacier. (Photo: Alaska Climate Science Center)

The authors do acknowledge the current increase in female participation in fieldwork, but argue that it still fails to adequately address cultural and other non-scientific perspectives.

This study does not aim to eliminate traditional glaciology, but rather to have glaciologists incorporate other perspectives to insure a deeper understanding of glaciers, as well as climate change, which is made slightly more tangible through the study of glaciers.

Carey told Science that “[their] goal was to ask questions about the role of gender in science and knowledge—to start a conversation, not conclude the discussion.”

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UNESCO Conference on Indigenous Peoples and Climate

UNESCO will sponsor an international conference on “Resilience in a Time of Uncertainty: Indigenous Peoples and Climate Change,” the organization recently announced. This conference will be held in Paris on 26-27 November, ahead of the COP21, the Conference of Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Nations will gather at COP21 with the goal of achieving a legally binding and universal agreement to keep global warming under 2°C. UNESCO’s conference has a related goal: ensuring that the COP includes the voices of indigenous people.

The conference grows out of the recognition that indigenous peoples worldwide are among the first to experience to climate change and have the longest direct contact with environments impacted by climate change. They are also among the first to adapt and respond to the impacts of climate change, whether in high mountain regions where glacier retreat alters water resources and exacerbates natural hazards, in low-lying islands affected by sea-level rise, Arctic communities facing unprecedented warming and coastal erosion, or many other settings around the world. The observations and knowledge of environmental management of indigenous peoples are critical components for the assessment of climate change impacts and the development of response. As Douglas Nakashima, head of UNESCO’s Local and Indigenous Knowledge Systems (LINKS) programme said in a recent email message, “We hope that this event will serve to create an opportunity for strengthened dialogue among indigenous peoples, climate scientists and decision-makers.”

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Mountain woman in her home, Ambo, Tibet (source: Khashem Gyal)

This conference seeks to build on the call for action in the statement in the 2014 Summary for Policy-makers in the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change:

Indigenous, local and traditional knowledge systems and practices, including indigenous peoples’ holistic view of community and environment, are a major resource for adapting to climate change, but these have not been used consistently in existing adaptation efforts. Integrating such forms of knowledge with existing practices increases the effectiveness of adaptation.

In the Speaker Application form, the organizers invite potential speakers to contribute “papers and testimonies of concrete case studies on the indigenous peoples’ initiatives and challenges in the face of climate change.”  The website opens for submissions on 5 September and will continue to accept applications through 25 September.  The call for applications mentions several categories of participants, including members of indigenous/local communities, scientists, and representatives of governments working on relevant policies and programs.

farmer with two oxen and plow, in front of glaciers
Quechua farmer, Cordillera Blanca, Peru (source: Katherine Dunbar)

Specific topics to be addressed in the conference include

  • ››Observing and understanding the impacts of climate change
  • ››Adapting traditional livelihoods in the face of uncertainty
  • ››Indigenous peoples and climate change mitigation
  • ››Strengthening adaptation by recognizing culture and cultural diversity
  • ››Understanding and responding to extreme events and disasters
  • ››Co-production of knowledge

This event will build on several earlier events held by UNESCO on this topic. Sponsors include UNESCO’s Climate Frontlines, the French National Museum of Natural History, Tebtebba (International Indigenous Peoples’ Centre for Policy Research and Education) and COP21 itself. The scientific committee is comprised of Douglas Nakashima,  Olivier Fontan Deputy Head, Division for Climate and Environment, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Development, France, Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, the Coordinator, Association for Indigenous Women and Peoples of Chad (AFPAT), Marie Roué of the  National Scientific Research Centre, France (CNRS), Vicky Tauli-Corpuz, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and myself.

two men on horseback in Kyrgyzstan, with glaciers in background
Kyrgyz horsemen in Tien Shan mountains (source: Evgeniu Zotov/Flickr)

GlacierHub encourages community members, researchers and government staff from high mountain regions and from around the world to visit the conference website and to submit applications. We also hope to spread word widely about this important event.

 

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Indigenous Livelihoods at Bolivia’s Highest Mountain

A new study conducted at Sajama, the highest mountain in Bolivia, shows that local indigenous populations have been able to adapt to the changes in water resources that result from glacier retreat. Other environmental changes, as well as shifting economic and political circumstances, have also shaped their responses. Villarroel and her coauthors describe the area in detail in their recent paper in the journal “Mountain Research and Development.”

Wetland in Sajama National Park (source: Lorini/AguaSustentable)
Wetland in Sajama National Park (source: Lorini/AguaSustentable)

With an elevation of 6542 meters, Sajama, an extinct volcanic cone, rises more than two kilometers above the surrounding plains, known as the altiplano. Precipitation is concentrated in a short rainy season in this semi-arid region. The vegetation varies with elevation and topography, with large areas of grassland, sections with shrubs, and some wetlands, which are concentrated along the streams that are fed by glacial melt and groundwater from the mountain. Though the wetlands are relatively small in area, they have great economic and ecological importance, because the herbs, sedges and grasses that grow in them remain green throughout the year.

The indigenous Aymara of the altiplano have long practiced livelihoods that are suited to this environment, centered on the raising of alpacas, a native ruminant that was domesticated millennia ago in the Andes. They carefully maintain irrigation channels that distribute water from the streams, expanding wetland areas. Though profoundly influenced by Spanish colonial rule and by the policies of the national governments of Bolivia, the Aymara have a high degree of self-government, in which communities govern the affairs of the many hamlets that compose them, through structures of customary leaders and assemblies. These communities gained recognition in the 1950s, and received additional support in the 1990s through constitutional reforms and the creation of a national council of indigenous communities.

Villarroel and her coauthors have traced the shifting patterns of water use and alpaca herding through “rights mapping methodology,” integrating the methods of the Nobel prizewinner Elinor Ostrom for studying natural resource management with participatory mapping based on Google Earth images. They found that the Aymara communities around Sajama had for decades practiced communal grazing. Households had free access to the community’s grasslands, which provide grazing during the rainy season. They also were able to graze their animals on the wetlands associated with their hamlets.

Alpacas at Sajama (source: twiga269/Flickr)
Alpacas at Sajama (source: twiga269/Flickr)

Pasture has become a scarce resource in the last two or three decades, as the water supply in streams has decreased because of glacier retreat. The population of the communities has also grown, increasing demand for pasture. Overgrazing had become a problem. In response, the communities shifted to delimiting grassland areas to which particular households have access, and individual hamlets have fenced off the wetlands. In this way, they can better limit the number of alpacas that graze in any area. They also organize meetings between hamlets and between communities to resolve disputes over access to water from streams. In addition, many households now purchase alfalfa and barley, trucked in from moister regions of Bolivia, to use as supplementary fodder. A number of the men leave the region for several months a year, earning wages to pay for this fodder.

Irrigation canal in a wetland in the Bolivian altiplano (source: Coppock/Rangelands)
Irrigation canal in a wetland in the Bolivian altiplano (source: Coppock/Rangelands)

The Sajama National Park has also influenced the response to water scarcity. Founded in 1939 as Bolivia’s first national park, it began active conservation management only in 1995, virtually eliminating alpaca grazing in the higher grasslands, and reducing hunting as well. These restrictions have led to the growth of populations of pumas and foxes, predators of the alpacas, and have brought about a resurgence of the vicuña, which had become locally endangered.

The loss of access to this area has placed further pressure on the other grasslands and on the wetlands, but it has also brought a new income source to the communities. They conduct annual round-ups of vicuña herds, in which the animals are shorn and then let free, in a kind of “catch and release” program. The wool commands a high price on the world market, and provides a supplementary livelihood. The participation of Aymara communities in the management committees of the park seems likely to assure that this arrangement will continue. Though this and other forms of market involvement allow the Aymara communities to continue other forms of traditional livelihood and self-governance, it adds another source of vulnerability as well, as Villarroel and her coauthors point out. It exposes local populations to price fluctuations, and may provide incentives to weaken community control of resources, at a time when further glacier retreat could water scarcity more acute. The future may well bring additional challenges to these resilient communities.

GlacierHub has also covered the involvement of indigenous communities in national park management in Peru.

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