Fifth Symposium on Policy and Socio-economic Research
Second AMS Conference on International Cooperation in the Earth System Sciences and Services


Traditional knowledge and adaptation to climate change in the Canadian Arctic

Barry Smit, University of Guelph, Guelph, ON, Canada; and M. Andrachuk, L. Fleming, and T. Pearce

Human livelihoods and well-being are affected by changes in climate, as well as ongoing stresses from political and economic systems. Among indigenous peoples, adaptation to these changes involves the application of traditional knowledge. CAVIAR (Community Adaptation and Vulnerability in Arctic Regions) is a research consortium that is systematically assessing the vulnerability of communities across the circumpolar Arctic to changing environmental conditions, including climate change. The project involves case studies, using a common methodology, to document exposures and adaptive strategies to deal with changing conditions. Through collaboration with representatives from community organizations, resource management bodies, and government at all levels, CAVIAR research outlines the ways in which Arctic communities actually experience environmental and other change, how it affects them, how they deal with it, what limits they face, their capacity to adapt in the future, and the role of governance and knowledge systems in adaptation.

This presentation will draw on examples from several case studies across the Canadian Arctic to demonstrate research outcomes and focus on the role of traditional knowledge in vulnerability and adaptation to global environmental change. Inuit in the Canadian Arctic experience climate in relation to their use of sea ice (hunting, travelling), risks to infrastructure, food security, and health, but they generally perceive their major vulnerabilities in relation to cost of living, employment, and other socio-cultural issues. Since responses to existing climatic and non-climatic stresses are taken by individuals (within the bounds of governments and institutional arrangements), traditional knowledge plays an important role in their perception of risks, the ways that they avoid or address those risks, and their capacity to deal with environmental changes. The low number of adaptation initiatives undertaken in anticipation of future climate change can, in part, be linked to Inuit beliefs and their preference to avoid discussion of adverse future conditions.

Recorded presentation

Joint Session 12, Ways of Knowing: Traditional Knowledge as a Key Insight for Dealing with a Changing Climate II
Wednesday, 20 January 2010, 8:30 AM-10:00 AM, B213

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