Graduation year: 2022
Semester/year area of interest proposed: Spring 2020
Major status: ENVS single major
Other major (if applicable):
Minor(s) (if applicable):
Climate change is an ever-changing, forever-evolving process. As its negative effects increase in severity, they also become more apparent. This emphasizes the uneven distribution of these effects and the vast differences between communities in terms of preparedness and ability adapt to a changing world. The majority of Earth’s citizens haven’t seen any changes or ecological damage that warrants a drastic response. However, certain populations, such as indigenous Arctic communities, are already witnessing disturbing and severe climatic and ecological changes (Mustonen 2002). These changes are threatening their very lives, and are already undermining the ecology, economy, society, and culture of Arctic peoples. These impacts are “stripping arctic residents of their considerable knowledge, predictive ability, and self-confidence in making a living from their resources” (Berkes 1998). The IPCC has reported adjustments to traveling and hunting activities and planned relocation of some coastal communities. These indigenous communities are dependent on funding, capacities, and institutional support for adaptation (IPCC 2019). However, with our current political climate and the character of indigenous relations historically in the U.S., the success of those adaptations is uncertain. The urgent and complex nature of climate change and its effects make it the perfect venue for collaborative research and action, with the potential to give greater autonomy to indigenous Arctic peoples’ in defining their adaptation strategies. Combining indigenous knowledge and Western science has the potential to drastically improve our understanding of the direct effects of climate change, and is necessary for reducing vulnerability and increasing resilience of indigenous Arctic peoples.
Science has been unable (and often unwilling) to recognize and accept the knowledge of indigenous people (frequently termed “traditional ecological knowledge” or TEK) as valid or functional. Traditional and local knowledge provide not only observations, but also “detailed interpretations that draw on knowledge of webs, links, and feedbacks within ecosystems and landscapes” (Fox 2002). Coupled social-ecological systems, those that are composed of varied human and non-human entities that interact, need to be understood and approached as complex adaptive systems (Berkes and Folke 1998). Social-ecological systems are characterized as interdependent and strongly coupled, so much so that human entities adapt to changes in their environment and their environment changes as a result of those adaptations (Stockholm Resilience Center 2020). Complex systems occur at multiple scales, and therefore cannot be analyzed at one level alone, necessitating local observations and place-based research (Berkes 2002). Understanding “the dynamic interaction between nature and society” requires case studies that situate those interactions in particular places and cultures and place-based research and local observation that is culture specific, historically informed, and geographically rooted (Friibergh Workshop 2000). The co-production of knowledge in research on complex problems and social-ecological systems such as climate change has the possibility to dramatically improve the quality of our collective scientific knowledge and wisdom (IGI Global 2020). Through a process characterized by mutually beneficial interactions between researchers and local stakeholders, important questions, relevant evidence, and convincing forms of argument can be formulated. Such co-production of knowledge can be enhanced by employing a dialogic model of communication, and in doing so, can begin to reconcile TEK and Western science. This collaboration has the potential to open the door for partnership approaches instead of expert-knows-best science, allowing for perspective-taking and a mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge (Proctor 2020).
Western science and indigenous knowledge can be reconciled in a way that is conducive to progress in climate change research and in developing adaptation and mitigation strategies. The use of indigenous knowledge as just another information set from which data can be extracted to plug into scientific frameworks of understanding is one position on how to deal with indigenous knowledge. This approach is more widely accepted by scientists, but in some cases extracts traditional knowledge from its cultural context, compromising its integrity. Instead of thinking of them as opposites, it is possible to look for the potential commonalities of the two knowledge systems and to look for points of agreement rather than disagreement. Western science and indigenous knowledge are both based on observations of environment, and result from an intellectual process of “creating order and making sense of disorder” (Berkes 2002). There is a gray area between what Western society acknowledges as scientific truth and other forms of knowledge that have different but perhaps complementary ways of perceiving and describing the natural world. The acknowledgement of Western science as but one knowledge system among many that just happens to be the dominant discourse is the first step towards greater coproduction of knowledge and a broader understanding of climate change realities.
Climate change research and the development of adaptation strategies for Arctic indigenous communities can be greatly enhanced by the employment of local knowledge, broadening of what is considered to be a valid source of information, and collaboration of Western science and indigenous/traditional ecological knowledge systems. The impending climate catastrophe has already begun to affect certain populations, especially indigenous Arctic populations. Perhaps a sea change is in order, and we will only be able to grapple with the crippling social and ecological effects of climate change if we begin to give warranted credence to TEK and collaborate between systems of knowledge to ascertain the best course of action for those being impacted the most by climate change.
- What are some of the ways that climate change is affecting indigenous Arctic communities?
- How has Western science regarded traditional ecological knowledge historically?
- What factors are being taken into account when developing federal climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies?
- How is dominant scientific discourse affecting the way that indigenous knowledge is perceived?
- What are the impacts on indigenous populations of our current climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies?
- How can we reconcile Western scientific knowledge and indigenous knowledge to create comprehensive climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies?
- To what extent can indigenous knowledges be utilized in developing reactions to climate change?
HIST 297 (Native Peoples in North America) fall 2021. I will gain a background knowledge of Native American treaty rights and Federal Indian policy in North America.
SOAN 349 (Indigenous Peoples: Identities and Politics) spring 2022. I will examine social movements, identity politics, and racial formation through a sociological lens.
HIST 239 (Constructing the American Landscape). I will explore the ways in which American society and culture developed, and how those developments possibly play into modern relations with Native American peoples.
LAW 342 (Environmental Justice). I will examine the Environmental Justice movement and the disproportionate impacts borne by vulnerable constituents on a domestic and international scale.
IA 100 (Introduction to International Affairs). I will gain a broad understanding of international relations as a background for understanding the ways that the United States conflicts and cooperates with other foreign bodies.
Here are the required breadth courses I will include in my ENVS major/minor: CHEM 100, GEOL 170, ECON 260, ENVS 460, HIST 261, PHIL 215. These are in addition to my ENVS core courses, and the area of interest courses I propose above.
Revisions to date
- March 11, 2020: I revised my questions and recategorized some of them to include my updated area of interest ideas.
- March 17, 2020: I met with Jim Proctor and briefly discussed my area of interest on a broad level. He suggested incorporating ideas about the coproduction of knowledge and engagement across difference and/ or truths.
- March 17, 2020: I met with Jessica Kleiss to discuss summary first draft. She suggested revising to use a less evaluative tone and to incorporate more specific resources about the climate change impacts on the Arctic, contrasting ways of knowing, and their interaction. More broadly, I should try to focus on more of the gray area between the two ways of knowing, emphasizing that they aren’t necessarily in conflict, and the ways in which the two ways of knowing have already been integrated and use ideas from each other.
- April 5, 2020: I revised my summary to include Jessica’s feedback on my draft, and added in information about the coproduction of knowledge.
- April 8, 2020: I met with my faculty consultant, Jim Proctor. We discussed how to better demonstrate the issues faced by Arctic communities on a global scale. I plan on backing up my claims of differential climate vulnerabilities with citations to establish a scholarly tone in lieu of a judgmental tone. I also plan on doing a literature search on vulnerable communities and climate change to find some broader resources. Additionally, I will try to focus on acknowledging the limitations of both systems of knowledge, emphasizing the smaller-scale applications of TEK and the larger-scale applications of Western science.
- April 14, 2020: I revised my summary based on some suggestions from Jim. I added additional resources and incorporated some thoughts about the limitations of both systems of knowledge, and tried to put situate the issues prevalent in the Arctic community on a global scale as well as a locally situated one.
- Berkes, Fikret. 2002. “Epilogue: Making Sense of Arctic Environmental Change?” In The Earth is Faster Now: Indigenous Observations of Arctic Environmental Change, edited by Igor Krupnik and Dyanna Jolly, 335-349. Fairbanks, Alaska: Arctic Research Consortium of the United States.
- Berkes, F., and Folke, C. eds. 1998. “Linking social and ecological systems: Management practices and social mechanisms for building resilience.” Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- Fox, Shari. 2002. “These are Things That are Really Happening: Inuit Perspectives on the Evidence and Impacts of Climate Change in Nunavut.” In The Earth is Faster Now: Indigenous Observations of Arctic Environmental Change, edited by Igor Krupnik and Dyanna Jolly, 12-52. Fairbanks, Alaska: Arctic Research Consortium of the United States.
- Friibergh Workshop. 2000. “Sustainability science: Statement of the Friibergh Workshop on Sustainability Science.” Friibergh, Sweden. http://sustsci.harvard.edu/keydocs/friibergh.htm.
- IGI Global. 2020. “What is Co-Production of Knowledge.” Accessed April 5, 2020. https://www.igi-global.com/dictionary/researching-indigenous-ways-of-knowing-and-being/48060.
- IPCC. 2019. “Choices made now are critical for the future of our ocean and cryosphere.” Accessed April 5, 2020. https://www.ipcc.ch/2019/09/25/srocc-press-release/.
- Mustonen, Tero. 2002. “Appendix: Snowchange 2002: Indigenous Views on Climate Change: A Circumpolar Perspective.” In The Earth is Faster Now: Indigenous Observations of Arctic Environmental Change, edited by Igor Krupnik and Dyanna Jolly, 355-356. Fairbanks, Alaska: Arctic Research Consortium of the United States.
- Proctor, James. 2020. “Models of Environmental Communication.” Accessed March 15, 2020. https://jimproctor.us/envs/models-of-environmental-communication/.
- Stockholm Resilience Center. 2020. “Key Concepts: Understanding social-ecological systems.” Accessed April 5, 2020. https://www.stockholmresilience.org/research/research-videos/2017-11-27-understanding-social-ecological-systems.html.