6273 Why Physical Climate Change Scientists Need To Listen to Indigenous Voices

Saturday, February 18, 2012: 8:00 AM
Room 212 (VCC West Building)
Elizabeth C. Weatherhead , University of Colorado, Boulder, CO
As we now start to understand the complexity of climate change, it is more important than ever to listen to indigenous populations and include them as valued partners in scientific research.  From direct observations of change, to identifying the most important phenomenon, those who live closely to the land can provide valuable insights.  Examples from literature show the depth and range of these insights and their importance to further scientific exploration.  At the most basic level, indigenous observations can significantly extend the geographical and temporal abilities to record recent changes on the Earth.  More importantly, indigenous knowledge has pointed to the notable sea ice changes, land use changes, and alteration of animal behavior-all critical signs of how the Earth is currently changing.  Some of the most interesting and important changes taking place are not focused around the mean temperature of the Earth, but the varied impacts of changes to the radiative balance, circulation and biofeedbacks of the complex Earth system.  Physical scientists, by listening to the range and depth of reports, can look to quantify these changes, see whether the changes are local or more global in nature, and potentially estimate what the future may hold for these observed changes.  The process from identification, to understanding, through to projecting into the future gives a greater understanding of the Earth system and can result in breakthroughs in science as well as societally useful results.  The collaboration requires bridging cultural, language and paradigm barriers, as indigenous and scientific perspectives can start with different assumptions, ways of communicating and values.  Working through these differences can take effort and time, but also can reap significant rewards.  Identifying the extent to which indigenous observations are explained by our physical understanding of the Earth is an important step forward.  We are only now beginning to appreciate the value of such observations and historic knowledge as a valuable path to understanding the Earth.
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