The Sámi are keenly aware about climate change, and are thus concerned about their future. Hence, the existence of the International Polar Year (IPY) project called EALÁT involving scientists, Sámi from Norway/Sweden/Finland, as well as Nenets from Russia. The indigenous people in the Arctic are closely tuned to the weather and the climate. I was told that the Sámi have about 300 words for snow, each with a very precise meaning.
It is important get a fusion of traditional knowledge and modern science and adopt a holistic approach. The indigenous people often have a different world view, in addition to having invaluable knowledge and experience about nature. Furthermore, if the end results are to be of any value beyond academic, then the stakeholders must be involved on equal terms. For instance, remote sensing data from NASA – for better understanding of land-vegetation – can be combined with traditional knowledge through the use of geographical information system (GIS).
The big challenge facing reindeer herding peoples in the Arctic is the ability to adapt to a climate change, according to a recent EALÁT workshop that was held in Guovdageaidnu (Kautokeino), with representatives from the US, Russia, Sweden, Finland as well as Norway.
In Russia, however, climate change was not perceived as the major concern, according to the reports from the work shop, but rather industrial development constraining their use of land. Climate change should nevertheless be a concern.
The traditional adaption strategy amongst the nomadic indigenous people have involved a migration and moving the reindeer herd from one pasture to another, when exposed to climatic fluctuations. In addition, they aim to keep a well-balanced and robust herd structure. But today there are more severe land constraints, such as obstructing infrastructure, fences, and national borders, limiting the ability to move to regions where the grazing is good. Furthermore, projections for the Arctic suggest changes well beyond the range of observed variability.
The reindeer herds are affected by climatic swings, particularly when hard icy layers are formed on snow (or within the snow layer) making the food underneath unreachable. Warm summers may also cause problems, and insects (pests), forest fires, and the melting of permafrost can be additional stress factors.