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  • Ways of Knowing: Traditional Knowledge as Key Insight for Addressing Environmental Change x
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Lynda E. Chambers, Roan D. Plotz, Siosinamele Lui, Faapisa Aiono, Tile Tofaeono, David Hiriasia, Lloyd Tahani, ‘Ofa Fa’anunu, Seluvaia Finaulahi, and Albert Willy

Abstract

Traditional calendars document seasonal cycles and the communities’ relationships to their biophysical environment and are often used by communities, particularly subsistence farmers, to synchronize their livelihood activities with the timing of ecological processes. Because the timing of these ecological processes is not always consistent from year to year, the use of traditional seasonal calendars can help communities to cope with climate variability, particularly when biophysical phenomena become less predictable in relation to the Gregorian calendar, as has been observed in relation to climate change. Although the structure and content of seasonal calendars vary across the Pacific Ocean region, for many indigenous communities, knowledge of seasonal calendars can increase their capacity to cope with climate variability and change. To increase the effectiveness of their products and enhance their relevance to and uptake by the community, several Pacific meteorological services are now using traditional seasonal calendars in their climate communication and education, including in forecasts and warnings. The use of a participatory approach resulted in strong relationships and improved dialogues. Local communities appreciated assistance in enabling their knowledge to become available to future generations, and its inclusion in meteorological service products makes these products more accessible and relevant to community members.

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Sandy Smith-Nonini

Abstract

This article uses the dilemma of climate change as an entry point to explore the utility of a complexity framework for a more comprehensive social science of environmental sustainability. A theory of complex adaptive systems (CAS) is especially appropriate for the Anthropocene, a newly proposed geological period defined around humanity’s impact on the biosphere. Aspects of complexity theory have been entering public consciousness through popular accounts of climate “tipping points” and “emergent” change—the risk that Earth’s climate could shift into a new pattern in a relatively short time period. Social structures, including capitalism, are complex systems, as are social movements. The paper reviews CAS research with special attention to applications in social ecology. It discusses two case studies of exemplary research on human management of environmental resources and one case study of the antiglobalization movement, all conceived within a complexity framework. The central argument is that complexity thinking will enhance social studies of sustainability and efforts to create a more resilient economy and biosphere.

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Sarah E. Vaughn

Abstract

This article examines the ways Red Cross training in vulnerability capacity assessment (VCA) structures people’s understandings of the ordinary. This examination is situated within the context of Georgetown, Guyana, after disastrous flooding in 2005 led the Red Cross to deploy VCAs as a method for participatory climate adaptation. The article focuses on the circulation of narratives about the ordinary, which are used by VCA trainees to cultivate ethical responses to flood hazards and the use of water management equipment. It is argued that participatory climate adaptation can be understood as not simply a mode of governance, but rather as a model for reimagining the ordinary. While other scholarship on participatory climate adaptation addresses how daily life is informed by the political and ideological dynamics of such projects, this article focuses on the ordinary from the view of “mobile” climate adaptation technologies. From this perspective, VCA trainees take action but often times rely on sheer intuition to create knowledge practices in an attempt to navigate crisis in the everyday. In turn, they learn that while the VCA may nourish alternative forms of expertise, it is no easy or fool-proof solution for climate adaptation.

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Shannon M. McNeeley

Abstract

Much of the academic literature and policy discussions about sustainable development and climate change adaptation focus on poor and developing nations, yet many tribal communities inside the United States include marginalized peoples and developing nations who face structural barriers to effectively adapt to climate change. There is a need to critically examine diverse climate change risks for indigenous peoples in the United States and the many structural barriers that limit their ability to adapt to climate change. This paper uses a sustainable climate adaptation framework to outline the context and the relationships of power and authority, along with different ways of knowing and meaning, to illustrate the underpinnings of some tribes’ barriers to sustainable climate adaptation. The background of those structural barriers for tribes is traced, and then the case of water rights and management at the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming is used to illustrate the interplay of policy, culture, climate, justice, and limits to adaptation. Included is a discussion about how the rulings of the Big Horn general stream adjudication have hindered tribal climate change adaptation by limiting the quantity of tribal reserved water rights, tying those rights to the sole purposes of agriculture, which undermines social and cultural connections to the land and water, and failing to recognizing tribal rights to groundwater. Future climate projections suggest increasing temperatures, and changes in the amount and timing of snowpack, along with receding glaciers, all of which impact water availability downstream. Therefore, building capacity to take control of land and water resources and preparing for climate change and drought at Wind River Reservation is of critical importance.

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Randy A. Peppler

Abstract

Fieldwork was conducted in 2009–11 with Native American agriculturalists and traditionalists in southwestern Oklahoma on the form and use of their weather and climate knowledge: how it is constituted, how it is used in agricultural decision-making, and the extent to which their own weather knowledge is valued in light of other forms of weather information available. Conversations rekindled memories of knowledge imparted and stories told by previous generations and illuminated observational signs some still rely upon. Conversations also revealed that while the agriculturalists and traditionalists are acculturated into contemporary society, they still hold tightly to culturally important ways of knowing about and being in the world and are keen observers of their local environments. Given the contemporary relevance of climate change and its impacts on Indigenous peoples, this paper focuses on their observations and thoughts about climate variability: Have you noticed changes? What impacts do these changes have on you, including both on your agricultural activities and your trusted observational signs? What do you think about the public discourse on climate change? According to most, a changing climate is a real phenomenon perceived at the local scale and is impacting their ability to observe relied-upon indicators, and has caused them to make changes in their agricultural endeavors. The knowledge professed by those in this study can be placed within the larger context of Indigenous environmental knowledge formation, as it follows closely with that discovered through archival research and that described by other inquiries from around the world.

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Mathew Alexander Stiller-Reeve, David B. Stephenson, and Thomas Spengler

Abstract

For climate services to be relevant and informative for users, scientific data definitions need to match users’ perceptions or beliefs. This study proposes and tests novel yet simple methods to compare beliefs of timing of recurrent climatic events with empirical evidence from multiple historical time series. The methods are tested by applying them to the onset date of the monsoon in Bangladesh, where several scientific monsoon definitions can be applied, yielding different results for monsoon onset dates. It is a challenge to know which monsoon definition compares best with people’s beliefs. Time series from eight different scientific monsoon definitions in six regions are compared with respondent beliefs from a previously completed survey concerning the monsoon onset.

Beliefs about the timing of the monsoon onset are represented probabilistically for each respondent by constructing a probability mass function (PMF) from elicited responses about the earliest, normal, and latest dates for the event. A three-parameter circular modified triangular distribution (CMTD) is used to allow for the possibility (albeit small) of the onset at any time of the year. These distributions are then compared to the historical time series using two approaches: likelihood scores, and the mean and standard deviation of time series of dates simulated from each belief distribution.

The methods proposed give the basis for further iterative discussion with decision-makers in the development of eventual climate services. This study uses Jessore, Bangladesh, as an example and finds that a rainfall definition, applying a 10 mm day−1 threshold to NCEP–NCAR reanalysis (Reanalyis-1) data, best matches the survey respondents’ beliefs about monsoon onset.

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Daniel B. Ferguson, Anna Masayesva, Alison M. Meadow, and Michael A. Crimmins

Abstract

Drought monitoring and drought planning are complex endeavors. Measures of precipitation or streamflow provide little context for understanding how social and environmental systems impacted by drought are responding. Here the authors report on collaborative work with the Hopi Tribe—a Native American community in the U.S. Southwest—to develop a drought information system that is responsive to local needs. A strategy is presented for developing a system that is based on an assessment of how drought is experienced by Hopi citizens and resource managers, that can incorporate local observations of drought impacts as well as conventional indicators, and that brings together local expertise with conventional science-based observations. The system described here is meant to harness as much available information as possible to inform tribal resource managers, political leaders, and citizens about drought conditions and to also engage these local drought stakeholders in observing, thinking about, and helping to guide planning for drought.

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Oluwatoyin Dare Kolawole, Moseki Ronald Motsholapheko, Barbara Ntombi Ngwenya, Olekae Thakadu, Gagoitseope Mmopelwa, and Donald Letsholo Kgathi

Abstract

Climate variability and change have adverse effects on agricultural production and other livelihood strategies of the rural households. The paper hypothesizes that rural households naturally devise means of overcoming the challenges currently posed by climate variability. The research article addresses the question of how rural households apply local knowledge of weather forecasting in adapting to climate variability in the Okavango Delta. It specifically probes, among others, the extent to which climate variability has affected agricultural production over the last 10 years in the area. A multistage sampling procedure was used to select a total of 592 households from eight rural communities. Key informant interviews, focus group discussions, and a stakeholder workshop were used to obtain demographic, socioeconomic, psychosocial, and climatic information. Households used both natural animate and inanimate indicators to predict the weather. To enhance household adaptation to climatic events, indigenous knowledge weather forecasters (ethnometeorologists) engaged in discussions with community members on their observation and interpretation of local weather conditions. Households devised adaptation strategies including the selection and preservation of drought-resistant, early maturing seeds, and shift in farming calendars to overcome the vagaries of weather patterns. Local and farming communities had a favorable perception about the accuracy of indigenous knowledge in weather forecasting (ethnometeorology) and therefore continue to utilize this knowledge system in weather forecasting. Most households perceived that change in weather patterns had a direct relationship with the decline in agricultural outputs over the last 10 years. Households’ experiential knowledge and ability to quantify their losses in farm yields as a result of climate-related problems provide an important insight for policy makers on how to address the impact of climate variability in the Okavango Delta, Botswana, and in similar social ecological contexts.

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Mimi Stith, Alessandra Giannini, John del Corral, Susana Adamo, and Alex de Sherbinin

Abstract

A spatial analysis is presented that aims to synthesize the evidence for climate and social dimensions of the “regreening” of the Sahel. Using an independently constructed archival database of donor-funded interventions in Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, and Senegal in response to the persistence of drought in the 1970s and 1980s, the spatial distribution of these interventions is examined in relation to population density and to trends in precipitation and in greenness. Three categories of environmental change are classified: 1) regions at the northern grassland/shrubland edge of the Sahel where NDVI varies interannually with precipitation, 2) densely populated cropland regions of the Sahel where significant trends in precipitation and NDVI decouple at interannual time scales, and 3) regions at the southern savanna edge of the Sahel where NDVI variation is independent of precipitation. Examination of the spatial distribution of environmental change, number of development projects, and population density brings to the fore the second category, covering the cropland areas where population density and regreening are higher than average. While few, regions in this category coincide with emerging hotspots of regreening in northern Burkina Faso and southern central Niger known from case study literature. In examining the impact of efforts to rejuvenate the Sahelian environment and livelihoods in the aftermath of the droughts of the 1970s and 1980s against the backdrop of a varying and uncertain climate, the transition from desertification to regreening discourses is framed in the context of adaptation to climate change.

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Laurie Yung, Nicky Phear, Alayna DuPont, Jess Montag, and Daniel Murphy

Abstract

Agricultural producers may be particularly vulnerable to climate impacts, such as drought. To better understand how ranchers respond to ongoing drought and the relationship between climate change beliefs and drought adaptation, in-depth interviews with working ranchers were conducted. Ranchers described drought conditions as unprecedented and detailed the interacting impacts of drought and nonclimatic stressors. They viewed adaptation as critical and employed a wide range of responses to drought, but lack of financial resources, risks associated with change, local social norms, and optimism about future moisture created barriers to change. Most ranchers attributed drought to natural cycles and were skeptical about anthropogenic climate change. Many ranchers likened current drought conditions to past droughts, concluding that conditions would return to “normal.” A belief in natural cycles provided a sense of hope for some ranchers but felt immutable to others, reducing their sense of agency and efficacy. Taken together, climate skepticism, optimism about future conditions, lack of financial resources, and a limited sense of agency might be reducing investments in long-term adaptation. However, the relationship between climate change beliefs and adaptation action was not entirely clear, since the handful of ranchers adapting in anticipation of long-term drought were skeptical or uncertain about anthropogenic climate change. Further, most ranchers characterized adaptation as an individual endeavor and resisted government involvement in drought adaptation. In the context of climate skepticism and antigovernment sentiment, strategies to scale up adaptation efforts beyond the household will only succeed to the extent that they build on local norms and ideologies.

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