Scientists turn to Inuit for climate clues

Climate chaos0


“The Arctic is at the epicentre of climate change. Inuit traditions and subsistence practices have already been assaulted,” stated the Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC) in a call for action at the 15th Conference of Parties (CoP15) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, underway in the Danish capital.

“Government leaders at CoP15 must take the strongest possible measures to protect our Arctic homeland,” read the call for action from the ICC, which represents approximately 160,000 Inuit living in Greenland, Russia, Canada and the United States.

Not only are political leaders around the world not doing enough to limit global warming, but also the best of mainstream science still cannot properly predict the impact of climate change in the Arctic.

This is one reason why researchers are turning to the experience of the Inuit themselves to read the signs of global warming. ICC researchers and veteran polar explorers like Will Steger, among others, have started interviewing Inuit hunters, fishermen and farmers in an attempt to mix mainstream science with traditional knowledge to better understand nature.

The Inuit, who know the weather and relief patterns and see the alterations brought about by global warming with their own eyes, are also being included in mapping exercises to precisely gain local effects of climate change.

The involvement of the Inuit is crucial also because alterations brought on by climate change increase the chances of intervention in their lifestyle – impossible a decade ago.

Kasper Brandt, an Inuit hunter from Greenland, told researchers from ICC that a barometer used for generations in his family “does not have faith in the weather anymore.”

“The Inuit no longer have the same mobility that they used to, as a consequence of modernisation in their lifestyle, so they are not as flexible to adapt to the changes in weather patterns,” explained Lene Holm, ICC Greenland’s director for environment, here on Saturday.

Temperatures in the extreme north are rising faster than elsewhere around the world, causing ice to melt at an accelerated pace. In turn, this has led to a shortening of the hunting season, with negative impacts on livelihood provision. The air has become more humid in spring, making it more difficult to keep up with the traditional practice of drying fish

Changes in the Arctic region will affect not just the Inuit. Alarm bells are sounding about the melting of the Siberian permafrost, leading to the release of massive quantities of greenhouse gases (GhG) into the atmosphere, further accelerating anthropogenic global warming.

And the melting of the ice sheet in Greenland could raise sea levels by seven meters, explained environmental biologist Stephen Schneider from Stanford University, in Copenhagen on Saturday.

Schneider, also a leading climate change scientist, said current research is insufficient to clearly understand the correlation between global temperature increase and sea level rise, and said he doubted that drastic changes could be prevented.

Using a metaphor, Schneider said that reaching the tipping point at which a seven meter rise in sea level can occur is like going towards the top of a hill after which the bus will uncontrollably go down. “The problem is that while we assume that the bus is driven by a professional driver, it’s actually being driven by some quarrelling teenagers,” Schneider commented.