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Reindeer herding, indigenous people and climate change

Filed under: — rasmus @ 24 January 2009 - (Español)

Lavo 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.


83 Responses to “Reindeer herding, indigenous people and climate change”

  1. 51
    spangled drongo says:

    If you can have mosquitoes in Alaska you can have robins.
    Their migration is more likely due to habitat loss in lower latitudes than global warming.

  2. 52

    Lynn writes:

    I wouldn’t trust anything a university has to teach, esp in the hard sciences.

    This may be the most anti-intellectual thing I have ever heard from you. A lot of the people who run this blog teach at universities, and most the readers, including guys like me, learned their hard science at universities (Pitt in my case). Are Newton’s Laws a corporate scam? Are the big corporations behind relativity or thermodynamics? What do you think is true instead — Velikovskian catastrophism and astrology? The Electric Universe Theory?

    I usually respect your contributions here, but this one doesn’t deserve any respect.

  3. 53
    Joe says:

    Hello,

    In Finnish wikipedia I calculated around 50 Finnish words for snow. Many of these are very rarely used and not known to all Finns even. Maybe the Sami have more, but 300 sounds like a lot…

    I have not heard of climate change affecting reindeer herding. The biggest problem is land ownership.

  4. 54
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Jim Norvell claims: “You are losing the argument about AGW with anybody that seriously considers the data.”

    No, only with those who don’t understand it or choose not to understand it. I’d love to hear you explain simultaneous tropospheric warming and stratospheric cooling without a greenhouse mechanism.

  5. 55
    Jim Norvell says:

    The problem is which data set do you believe. I can pull up papers from many reputable Journals that come to opposite conclusions. The argument that “the Science is settled” is not true.

    Jim N

    [Response: “Belief” in data is a highly non-scientific issue. Data are what they are – imperfect reflections of underlying reality, each with their own issues. Working out what is going on requires finding a consistent picture that includes as much of the data as possible. And who here has ever said ‘the science is settled’? What science is that any way? – gavin]

  6. 56
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Jim Norvell, You might be able to find dueling papers on issues like whether climate change will strengthen hurricanes. I defy you to pull up a paper from a peer-reviewed journal that dissents from a core issue of the consensus position–and which managed to survive a month without being thoroughly debunked.
    Methinks, Jim, that you are talking our of an orifice other than the one usually used in polite conversation.

  7. 57
    Knut says:

    It’s a bit odd that reindeer and polar bear are described as threatened. Not presently at least!

    The population in Northern Norway of reindeer are more than twice as big as it was 60 years ago – and far too big for the grazing capacity. When there is little vegetation left on the ground, ice will be formed directly on the earth. That’s the problem.

    The population of polar bears are 5 times bigger than 60 years ago. That it is reduced in certain areas are a result of hunting – the Inuits are not happy to see their children threatened of becoming bear snacks.

    Alarmists are the real danger.

  8. 58
    Chris Colose says:

    Jim Norvell

    Splitting this into a “settled/non-settled” dichotomy makes no sense. There are a few things that are settled as much as anything in science can be settled…CO2 is a greenhouse gas, greenhouse gases keep the planet warmer than without them, the global temperature has risen over the last century, human being are emitting CO2…The only places where these things are disputed are blogs, facebook and myspace type forums, opinion pieces, and the like.

    There are lots of things which are still disputed in real academic settings, probably because there is little theoretical, experimental, or observational evidence for deifnitive claims. How ecosystems will shift in a warmer climate, hurricane changes in a warmer climate, what the best solutions are to climate change, etc.

  9. 59
    Jim Eager says:

    Re Jim Norvell @30, we’ve had more than few engineers drop by to tell us that the “data” doesn’t support the theory of anthropogenic caused warming. I believe the last one was an electrical engineer who just couldn’t get his head around the fact that trapping and retaining sensible heat is not at all what CO2 and other greenhouse gases do. So, for starters, as a mechanical engineer, what is your understanding of the radiative physics of greenhouse gases, CO2 in particular?

  10. 60
    Jim Eager says:

    Knut, current polar bear populations are not uniformly up by a factor of five in the Canadian Arctic. Some regional populations are actually in decline. And I have to wonder if some measured increases are actually temporary greater concentrations locally as more bears congregate while to waiting longer for freeze up.

  11. 61
    Sekerob says:

    Jim Eager, 60+59, here’s one for your engineers:

    THE IRRELEVANCE OF SATURATION: WHY CARBON DIOXIDE MATTERS

    The link has a hyphen needing removal as geo-cities is considered spam [edit – fixed].

  12. 62
    Rod B says:

    Chris C (58), I would agree with 95% of your settled science items, but I would argue that the marginal increase in warming from a marginal increase GHG emissions is not settled — among the other things you mentioned.

  13. 63
    Jim Eager says:

    Sekerob, I know Hank understands the physics of the greenhouse effect. I was wondering if Jim Norvell does, and if this is the source of his problem with the “data.”

    Captcha suggests: employ hours,
    presumably reading Spencer Weart’s The Discovery of Global Warming, and David Archer’s Global Warming; Understanding the Forecast, IMO two essential books for understanding the greenhouse effect.

  14. 64
    Hank Roberts says:

    > migration is more likely due to habitat loss
    > in lower latitudes than global warming.

    Nope. Look it up. You know how.

    (That’s for next reader along, just to say, don’t believe everything anyone posts at RC. We have our share of opinionators without citations.)

  15. 65
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Rod B. says, “…I would argue that the marginal increase in warming from a marginal increase GHG emissions is not settled…”

    Actually, Rod, that’s one of the things we know best. If that’s wrong, it’s all wrong–unless you believe in a magical negative feedback that stops warming at our current temperature.

  16. 66
    Ron Taylor says:

    Rod B, what on earth are you talking about in 62? What you say makes so sense at all.

  17. 67
    Joe says:

    Here is GISS data from Sodankylä which lies in the Finnish Lapland. I do not see any great change in the temperature that might seriously affect the reindeer. However, maybe you guys see something significant.

    http://data.giss.nasa.gov/cgi-bin/gistemp/gistemp_station.py?id=614028360003&data_set=1&num_neighbors=1

  18. 68
    Rod B says:

    Ray (65), The area of band spreading for example is quite less than settled, compared to, say, GHG absorption of infrared radiation in general. We know GHGs absorb energy from radiation; this is what I would call something “we know best.” It’s just not certain by how much gets absorbed in different situations and environments even though there are reasonably good ideas. Also the concentration-to-forcing-to-temperature physics and math is less than certain. They change the log multiplier empirically occasionally (at least once of late) to “better match experience.” That’s a reasonable thing to do, but not indicative of a “best known” part of the science. Even the log factor itself is variable: sometimes with simple concentration ratios, sometimes not; sometimes linear instead of log; etc. Again, reasonable science given what we know, but which is not “best known”.

  19. 69

    RE #52, all the basic science at universities is legit, I’m sure. Corporations want experts who get them results, after all. It’s just the controversial knowledge (especially about enviro issues) that may harm corporate bottom lines — like pesticides are poisonous, or global warming is caused by our GHG emissions — that gets twisted, suppressed, defunded, or ignored.

    I’ve read of lots of such cases over the years, & experienced some myself or know others who have been suppressed. I can’t remember them all off-hand, but a good book to start would be TOXIC DECEPTION, and maybe THE REPUBLICAN WAR ON SCIENCE (tho I don’t remember if that one also implicates universities). I remember reading about twisted scientistific study finding pesticides are not hormone disrupters at some university funded by the pesticide company.

    There are lots of way to “do science” that cover up the underlying scientific truth with varying degrees of dishonesty, and some scientists have even been put in prison for out-and-out fraudulent science.

    The tobacco cover up is just the tip of a big ice berg.

    All I can say is that Foucault’s dictum, “power is knowledge,” is more true than Foucault ever imagined.

    That’s why when RealClimate started up, I was actually very heartened to see many scientists who not only do their science honestly on this controversial issue, but also speak out publically, and some who even suffer for it from the powers that be.

  20. 70
    Harmen says:

    Could local piling up of CO2 also play a role?

    I am thinking about CFC’s…

    http://www.reuters.com/article/environmentNews/idUSTRE50T0AV20090130

  21. 71
    jyyh says:

    The yearly temperatures do not tell much how different organisms react. Some have different cold tolerances to extreme winter temperatures, some require a spring with none or little refreezes, some can spread in new areas during a warm enough autumn, and some might even need a summer that is very cool and still a midnight that is sunny to thrive. The point is that every species, including humans, react differently to various changes in the environment.

  22. 72
    Hank Roberts says:

    Harmen, that’s a recent observation; there haven’t been enough observations to describe a baseline against which you could conclude there were a trend. Watch for another report in six months.

    Further on the same link you gave:
    “… Much of this may have to do with yearly biological changes in plants, Stephens said …”

    CFCs matter because they are new and extremely stable in groundside conditions — so don’t break down in the time it takes for mixing to carry them to the stratosphere where their chemistry becomes a problem. That’s not ‘piling up’

  23. 73
    Joe says:

    The sami supposedly have knowledge of environment that the rest of us are missing (because we do nto have the status of “indigenous”). Well, let me tell you a secret: the sami do not have any innate knowledge about the environment. They are not some backward people who still maintain the traditional way of living. They are using snowmobiles instead of dogs and sleighs. They live in houses.

  24. 74
    Harmen says:

    Hank,

    CFC’s are relevant because these gases do not distribute evenly over the globe.. Piling at the poles..creating two ozon holes…

    You are talking about persisent gases…CO2 is very persistent..it remains in the atmosphere an average 100 years once emitted…CFC’s are much more persistent, they remain in the atmoisphere for thousands of years…Concentrations are much lower though…

    I still think the question is relevant..

    385 parts per million…does that imply..

    385 parts per million evenly distributed around the globe?..

    or..for example..

    390 parts per million at the poles and 380 parts per million at the equator?…

    But i guess you already answered my questions..

    We will know more this summer…

    [Response: Both CO2 and CFCs are very evenly spread in the atmosphere. For CO2 differences are on the order of maybe 10 ppm or so (out of 385ppm) as a function of the age of air (older air in the stratosphere has lower CO2). For CFCs there are some gradients in the stratosphere – but you have the sign wrong – there are less CFCs in the polar air because they have been partially photolysised in the tropical upper stratosphere prior to descending over the pole. – gavin]

  25. 75
    Runsasluminen says:

    The number of snow-words in a Sami dialect (remember there are several dialects that are not reliably mutually intelligible) has been pegged at 200 by a Sami writer named Kerttu Vuolab.

    http://www.turunsanomat.fi/kulttuuri/?ts=1,3:1005:0:0,4:5:0:1:2006-06-12,104:5:384921,1:0:0:0:0:0:

  26. 76
    Mark says:

    Harmen, 74. I say you’re male. Of course, there may be some chimerism in your body. And hormones in the beef are feminime hormones, so you aren’t actually 100% male anyway. And there’s the difference in the relative amounts of male properties that vary amongst hominids like us.

    So when I say “you’re a male”, someone can argue that it is wrong. But then again, just calling someone male or female is correct enough to deal with most humans.

    Just like 380ppm is close enough to correct for the purposes of climatological effects. After all, even a long lasting high pressure ridge dies well within the 30 years averaging used for climate. So a high pressure zone having a non-median composition has little effect on the climate, irrespective of its effect on weather.

  27. 77
    Mark says:

    Joe, #73. They also live on the edge. At the edges the change is more apparent. Like people living near but not IN a dessert will notice the growth of the dessert whilst someone in New York will not be able to tell.

    Living in a house and owning a snowmobile doesn’t change that the land is edge land. Barely habitable to humans.

  28. 78
    Phil. Felton says:

    Rod B Says:
    27 January 2009 at 12:31 PM
    Ray (65), The area of band spreading for example is quite less than settled, compared to, say, GHG absorption of infrared radiation in general. We know GHGs absorb energy from radiation; this is what I would call something “we know best.” It’s just not certain by how much gets absorbed in different situations and environments even though there are reasonably good ideas. Also the concentration-to-forcing-to-temperature physics and math is less than certain. They change the log multiplier empirically occasionally (at least once of late) to “better match experience.” That’s a reasonable thing to do, but not indicative of a “best known” part of the science. Even the log factor itself is variable: sometimes with simple concentration ratios, sometimes not; sometimes linear instead of log; etc. Again, reasonable science given what we know, but which is not “best known”.

    Analytically we get a linear response for weak absorption and squareroot for strong absorption transitioning through a log regime. Which is appropriate depends on the molecule, its concentration etc. In the present atmosphere for CO2 log is right, but for CFCs it’s linear. It’s ‘well known’ but very complex.

  29. 79
    Rod B says:

    Phil (78), It’s all relative. Some things are best known, some well known, some pretty good, some fairly close, some a good guess, and some with no clue. The absorption forcing relationship and the band spreading with different concentrations are not “most well known” as Ray contended (though I might be taking Ray more literally than he meant), but more in the middle of the pack. Stuff like a = F/m is in the top class.

    We don’t know why or how or when exactly the forcing function changes from linear to log to square root; nor the exact coefficients that goes with each. On the surface this looks odd since the function progresses from C1 to C~5 to C1/2 (C being concentration ratios) in the above sequence. Though the coefficients with the linear and square root functions might mitigate the seeming anomaly; or it might actually be correct — there is lab work that points in that direction; but the most well known?? Nor is how and by how much the spreading absorption increases with higher concentrations known with precision. Shoot, we don’t even really know the precise process of radiation absorption by gases per se – it’s been billed by climatologists as arguably the most difficult part of the science.

  30. 80
    Rod B says:

    ps that was C to the “about 5″ power…

  31. 81
    Hank Roberts says:

    And further reply to Harmen — you should read up on why there are ozone holes at the poles. No “pile up” — Gavin pointed out you have the sign wrong; sunlight breaks down the CFCs; there’s sunlight every day outside the polar areas. The ozone holes occur at the poles. What do we know about the poles? Sunlight and temperature conditions differ from the rest of the globe. There can be temperatures low enough for high ice clouds; circular wind patterns; and the change in chemistry that happens with the transition from 6 months of dark to 6 months of sunlight. Read about it.

  32. 82
    Rod B says:

    Gee, my post 79 didn’t look that wordy when I was drafting it. Sorry. I need to take some Hank brevity lessons, I guess. ;-)

  33. 83

    Just found this blog entry. Benj and I have a short multimedia piece about Sámi reindeer herdsmen and climate change on our Website. It features some of the folks involved with the Ealát project.

    http://www.bendrum.com/facing_climate_change/multimedia/nordic/


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