The project began with selecting the project’s sites. In September, 2010 in Moscow there was a working meeting of representatives of organizations of indigenous peoples of the North, Siberia and the Far East of Russia, at which the influences of modern climatic changes on the traditional way of life of indigenous peoples were presented and discussed. The possibility of regional indigenous organizations creating a local network to monitor climatic changes was also discussed. As a result, the following territories were chosen for the project: the Republic of Sakha-Yakutia (hereafter – Yakutia) and the Kamchatka Krai (hereafter – Kamchatka). The following persons became regional project coordinators: Ms. Ekaterina Yevseyeva (Center for Ecological Education "Eyge" (Yakutia) and Ms. Victoria Sharakhmatova (Aboriginal Information Center "Lach" (Kamchatka).
Experts involved in relevant research in Yakutia, on Kamchatka, in the Nenets Autonomous District (on Kolguyev Island) and on the Chukotskiy Peninsula were invited to join the project.
In November, 2010 representatives of organizations – key executors of the project (Centre for Support of Indigenous Peoples of the North, "Eyge" and "Lach") – met in Moscow, chose specific territories for the project's implementation (Aldan and Anabarsky areas in taiga and tundra zones of Yakutia and areas in central and Western Kamchatka) and approved the project working plan.
Later in the course of the project, the project's leaders, coordinators and experts went to the project's site and regional centers (Yakutsk and Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky). Seminars, round tables and conferences were also held in Yakutsk, Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky and Moscow.
Results of this work are the following.
Monitoring of climate change in the project territories
Many scientists are skeptical of ecologists’ warnings about future global warming and related hydrometeorological cataclysms.
In a number of research institutes in Yakutia and Kamchatka researchers do not note any significant changes in climate or dangerous tendencies. According to them, global climatic trends are not connected with human activities. At the same time, Prof. Shepelyov (Deputy Director of The Institute of Permafrost Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences), for example, believes that humans do have an influence on climate, but that so far no one has taken it into account. He points out three important human factors which have been in place for the last 100-150 years, however the influence of which is hardly considered:
• Due to an increase in the number of water reservoirs. As evaporation from the surface of the water occurs much more intensively than evaporation from lands, the amount of precipitation during the last 70-80 years has increased.
• Due to colossal deforestation. Forests take moisture from the air; as a result of wood-felling in these areas moisture increases on a large scale.
• Due to smoke and aerosols – moisture hangs in the air, condensing on small particles.
All three of these factors interact via the principle of positive feedback – they reinforce the actions of each other. These factors are important for snow cover. An increase in reservoir surfaces, a reduction of forestland and growing smoke in the atmosphere promote an increase in snow cover and duration. As a result the reflectance of the Earth’s surface increases, and accumulation of heat decreases.
On the whole, it is necessary to admit that interaction with regional scientists within the project was not effective: academic research agenda has very little in common with monitoring in order to adapt the population's way of life to changes in climate.
Ecologists, unlike academic scientists, approach the problem of climate change differently and put their questions in a sharper way. Since in the majority of cases they are not scientists, their relation to the problem is not so careful and critical. From their point of view current climate change is quite significant and could lead to catastrophic consequences, and above all, human activity is the main reason for these changes.
However, it should be noted that a number of researchers share the point of view of ecologists on the problem of climate change.
According to Prof. Yuriy Plusnin, one of the principal project experts, the project territories and local observers on Kamchatka were chosen correctly and successfully. Assessment of two regions of Yakutia as potential points for climate change observation confirmed their suitability for monitoring. However the Anabarsky district (in the tundra) is difficult for researchers to access. Therefore, if it is necessary to give up on that monitoring site, then Aldan is more preferable (in the taiga). If other criteria are more important – above all, ease of recording of climatic changes – then Anabar, especially the Arctic coast, is more preferable. Inhabitants of this area have noted considerable climate changes and corresponding changes in local flora and fauna. Local respondents consider that climate change has started to influence everyday life of the Arctic inhabitants, affecting human health and the traditional way of life of the local population.
The project has shown that the vast majority of the locals who were asked know about occurring climatic changes. And inhabitants of the Polar region know more about global warming, than inhabitants of the taiga, which indirectly confirms assumptions that climate change in the North is occurring more intensively than in the South. Opinions of inhabitants of the tundra and the taiga regions on the possible consequences of global warming vary somewhat. For example, the number of those who consider that global warming will have a positive impact on quality of life and on traditional livelihood in the tundra several times exceeds that of the taiga. The reason of such views from inhabitants of the tundra is possibly due to the positive sides of global warming – increase of crops of berries, warm summers, less discomfort from strong colds in winter time, etc. Nevertheless, the majority of respondents consider that global warming will lead to undesirable consequences. At the same time, it is necessary to consider obvious "induced representation" of the population about current climatic trends: people quite often respond to what they are told by mass media.
As for real monitoring, it should be emphasized that an almost negligible number of people among indigenous peoples are capable of that activity. These are almost always men engaged in traditional economy. The absence of women is explained by their engagement in social problems and lack of skills regarding analytical activity.
The involvement of school students for monitoring, especially of those in nomadic schools, can be most promising.
Requirements of local observers forming the monitoring team
These should be people capable of presenting expert opinion (i.e. not only their own take on the issue, but also to project what others believe, to adequately represent opinions of other fellow villagers) on a range of specific local issues (specifically – i.e. in the field of meteorology or environmental management, local crafts or old traditions; local – i.e. relating to the local community, instead of retelling TV "stories"). Thus, they can be even poorly educated, but clever and clear-headed persons whom locals trust and to whom locals listen. Those persons cannot be determined by their education level, positions or regalia.
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As a result of the project it was proposed to get involved in observation and the recording of such weather phenomena and climatic changes which are beyond the field of vision of experts, which are not measured by them and often cannot be measured. Such observation is not yet established or controlled by anyone. It is an absolutely free and voluntary activity. The only condition required for such observation is that it should be reliable and verifiable and that any other person should be able to check and compare them with his/her observations. But for this purpose it is necessary that such observations should be made and recorded (written down) by different people in the same way, uniformly. Such uniformity can be guaranteed by specific guidance. As a result of the project such a guide has been published in Russian: "Climate change and its influence on activity of the human. Methodical guide to organization and implementation of "public monitoring" of climate changes and their influence on environmental management and activity of the human in the North", by Prof. Y. Plyusnin.
As a result of the project’s work an initial network of indigenous monitoring of current climatic changes has been created. Observers in Yakutia (2 persons in the Arctic area and 2 in the taiga) and on Kamchatka (2 persons in the central part of the peninsula) are members of this network. Observers from Chukotka, working on the SIKU (“Sea Ice Knowledge and Use in the Arctic”) project also joined this team.
A special "climate" page has been created at the Center for Support of indigenous peoples of the North (CSIPN) site (http://www.csipn.ru/izmenenie-klimata) to which full information on this project was submitted and where new data on the work of the indigenous network of climatic monitoring as well as other information concerning the subject of climate change in the Arctic has been and will be published.
The intellectual basis of the organization and development of the climate change monitoring network by indigenous peoples representatives is the system of traditional knowledge, primarily – information collected by generations on the interrelation of certain changes in the surrounding environment.
In present-day scientific literature, research on global climate change is, on the whole, widely represented, while regional climate change influencing traditional livelihood of indigenous peoples lacks attention. Comparison of results of traditional and tool observations is significantly more complex (multifactored) and, respectively, the informational content of traditional characteristics, which make it possible to witness concrete consequences of climate changes at the ecosystem level. Thus native persons pay special attention to the condition of biological diversity and efficiency of "their" ecosystems and consider various changes of inanimate nature in this context.
Materials on the traditional knowledge of indigenous peoples make it possible to estimate how modern bearers of this knowledge perceive the current ecological situation. As any climatic changes influence life support systems (traditional nature use, traditional livelihood and living conditions), it is obvious that monitoring of climate changes is a vital part of local community life.
Climate change also brings social consequences for local communities. Such consequences are a blow to local society's long-standing structure, to the unity of its members, and to public solidarity.
Four main types of such consequences can be marked:
1. so called "swelling" of local society due to arrival of aliens;
2. the simplification of public structure;
3. the society weakening because of people leaving their traditional areas;
4. total disappearance of a settlement in territory that has become unsuitable for traditional living.
The “Methodical Guide” by Prof. Plyusnin describes this in more detail.
Indigenous peoples can keep their traditional way of life only in undisturbed or lightly disturbed ecosystems; therefore one of the main conditions of their existence is maintaining the level of biological diversity and efficiency of "their own" biotic communities. They have been coping with such complex challenges for many centuries, and in some cases for millennia. In this regard there is a widely recognized need to divide territories with intensive industrial and agricultural production from vast untouched or poorly transformed ecosystems.
Today indigenous peoples of the North are doubly threatened: global warming and the growing] negative impact of technocratic (industrial) civilization which newcomers bring with them – voluntarily or not.
On present-day global warming
The causes and mechanisms of modern global warming are studied insufficiently. There are two main popular theories explaining this phenomenon. The anthropogenic hypothesis connects temperature growth with the fast increase in the concentration of a number of gases in the Earth's atmosphere as a result of industrial development that prevents thermal re-radiation from the Earth into space (what is known as the "greenhouse effect"). Authors of the second, the natural hypothesis, consider that global warming is caused by cyclic processes, mainly by changes of incoming solar radiation, and a number of other causes of natural origin.
In historic times considerable fluctuations of climate are clearly traced on the basis of materials from archaeological research and thanks to written sources. Climatic fluctuations were specifically noticeable in the Arctic zone where until recently people's lives were completely dependent on the condition of consumed biological resources. Modern climate researchers consider that the Arctic has been and is still warming up twice as fast as the majority of other regions of the Earth – both today and in the last few decades.
In the Arctic region are the northern limits of many animal and plant species, and these species form the basis of life support for the Northern peoples. The structure and abundance of trade resources, and access to them are very sensitive to changes in climate, which means that inhabitants of the Arctic were forced to and are still forced to permanently adapt to changing conditions in the environment. Indigenous peoples and all the species of plants and animals of the North (biota) have more than once endured the warming and cold snap periods during the long period of their existence and have managed to adapt to them. Indigenous peoples have managed to develop special strategies of environmental management, which are adapted to the low level of biological diversity and productivity of Northern ecosystems, and is also specifically resistant to sharp negative changes in the environment. All changes made by traditional societies to their own social structure and to the Northern biotic communities happen at the speed of principal biological processes and therefore "are well received" by biotic communities and by human communities as well.
Influence of industrial civilization
Today indigenous peoples of the North suffer from the strong influence of post-industrial society. In modern "Western" civilization the consumer attitude (resource and recreational) to nature dominates more and more, and is defined by the interests of a group of persons or even of an individual. Under such influence the principles of interaction between Northern indigenous peoples and nature underwent and continue to be exposed to degradation and considerable distortions.
Modern methods of industrial development of the North occur in "abnormally short" terms not compatible with adaptive opportunities of the biota and of aboriginal communities and therefore have extremely destructive effects not only on the environment, but also on the mentality, culture and social organization traditions of these ethnic groups.
When analyzing the consequences of global warming, the fate of various ethnic groups of the North (in the Arctic and Subarctic regions) is of minimal interest to those Russian experts representing the modern "industrial approach” to the challenges of climate change. One could assume that these experts are not even familiar with traditional way of life of indigenous peoples or with the biological resources used by them.
Traditional knowledge and local traditional cultures represent cultural mechanisms of the adaptation of Northern indigenous peoples to an extreme environment in general and to climate fluctuations in particular. However, the area where all kinds of adaptive mechanisms adjoin is, certainly, traditional nutrition.
Direct links between the biological and cultural mechanisms of the adaptation of ethnic groups to the Arctic environment can be clearly traced when studying traditional food and technologies of production (gathering, processing, preparation and storage of different types of food products). All of these, together with customs and rituals connected with traditional diet, make the special unity of national cultures of the indigenous peoples of the North. During the last 50–60 years, traditions of nutrition have undergone significant transformation. The causes of this are both natural factors and the "modernization" of the lifestyle of indigenous northerners – all these factors lead to the weakening and degradation of mechanisms of cultural and biological adaptations of the Arctic peoples, which have been developing for centuries to an extreme environment. So, today the place of residence of a person considerably defines the type of his/her nutrition.
Traditional food is becoming more and more a symbol of ethnic origin for representatives of indigenous peoples; an element that serves to emphasize the connection with cultural traditions of their peoples. The role of traditional food is extremely important, since it preserves its many traits throughout tens and hundreds years, even after living conditions of the ethnic group have changed. But in daily diet the range of dishes of traditional cuisine is being considerably reduced, and the set of consumed nutrients is becoming an unbalanced mix of elements, characteristic both for "traditional", and for "supermarket" food, with the increasing shift towards the "European" type of food. It is important to note that indigenous northerners who have unlimited access to "supermarket" food, nevertheless, constantly lack protein, and experience cultural dissatisfaction and psychological discomfort.
The challenges (problems) connected with nutrition of Northern indigenous peoples affect various aspects of culture, medicine and biology and are the most important component of adaptive opportunities of these peoples as regards climate change and negative industrial impacts.
Local authorities and regional science representatives (as part of the scientific community in the Russian Federation as a whole) consider that climate change, if it happens, occurs without human influence and that not warming, but a climatic cooling should be shortly expected. Therefore in this direction one does not yet see any clear prospects and there are no grounds to believe that any real adaptation measures will be accepted at the regional level.
Research made during the project implementation showed the following. On the one hand, the peoples of the North cannot survive as independent ethnicities separate from their traditional cultures, which is what lies at the heart of their unique experience of interaction between people and nature and among themselves. On the other hand, there is so far no alternative in the Northern regions to ecologically balanced traditional methods of use of renewable resources which correspond to the level of biological diversity and productivity of a certain biotic community and therefore do not destroy natural systems.
The current state of traditional communities of the North shows that for these people the most menacing factor affecting their life is not climate change, but rather the implacably growing impact of Western civilization, with its industrial image and exclusively commercial relations.
In the conditions of complete lawlessness, when there is no law-enforcement practice even under provisions of the Constitution of the Russian Federation, indigenous peoples simply cannot use their century-tested ways of adaptation to changing conditions in the environment. The most important of these ways is high mobility of human collectives; the ability to quickly change a place of residence under adverse conditions. But now it cannot be applied, since the majority of traditional lands of the indigenous peoples of the North have been already taken away from them or were made unsuitable for traditional use because of industrial pollution. Now indigenous peoples are trying their uttermost to completely assimilate; to keep at least the foundations of their ethnic originality, language and cultural traditions.
Priority development of traditional methods of nature use is an essential precondition of ecologically safe sustainable development of the Northern regions, as only in this case it is possible to provide sustainable load distribution to renewable natural resources and to optimize ethno-social and demographic processes; putting local population in the most advantageous position. Thereby it is possible to reduce the influence of immigration connected with industrial development of the North; the immigrants, as a rule, are carriers of ecological, socio-economic and cultural stereotypes dangerous to the Northern regions.
Traditional ways of adaptation of indigenous people of the North to environmental changes and opportunities of their use in present-day conditions
It seems that this is the main method of adaptation to changing conditions in the environment. Indigenous people of the North in Russia have never entered into any legal relations with the state regarding the lands that historically belong to them: they did not sell the lands as did indigenous peoples of Alaska, did not receive adequate monetary compensation and did not charge [to] the state to govern the territories. The Soviet state simply declared these lands "state property", which granted the right to today’s authorities to govern them at their own discretion.
- High mobility of human collectives, the ability to quickly change a place of living under adverse conditions.
Now the principle of changing residence (nomadic) can hardly be practiced as territories of peoples of the North have already been taken away from them for industrial construction, mining, private hunting grounds or fishery sites. Many territories are unsuitable for traditional living because of industrial pollution. Besides, the sovereignty of a number of the Federation subjects legally allows their authorities to forbid indigenous peoples from other regions from leading a nomadic way of life, including fishing and hunting.
- Complementary strategies of nature use as between neighboring peoples
- Selfless aid to those in need
- Perception of new forms of nature use
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Analysis of the project materials leads to the following conclusions:
1) Industrial development, especially under conditions of uncontrolled market relations and legal permissiveness for extracting companies, is much more terrible than climate change, especially as experts increasingly tend to consider it a temporary process.
2) With the increasing industrial potential of Northern territories, the spiritual sprain on local indigenous peoples leaves them unprotected in the face of the immigrating masses which have very different values in life and consider their stay in the North as temporary, until they have earned a sufficient amount of money.
3) Recommendations for development of adaptation strategies for peoples of the North to climate change are not simply false, but are an extremely dangerous step which is leading these peoples away from their real problems. These problems are, above all, the destructive impact of industrial development and the loss or weakening of traditional cultural and spiritual wealth, the possession of which alone can give strength for the fight for their own primordial living environment and traditional way of life.