How climate change is affecting the Social & Traditional System of Indigenous People?

Asim Mudgal
Asim Mudgal
Asim Mudgal is an aspiring writer creating space for self-development and inclusivity.

Indigenous people have historically relied on the environment for a living. Climate change is anticipated to have an impact on people's habits and way of life. Even after precautionary measures, human-caused greenhouse gas emissions have been the greatest. Furthermore, emissions have increased the severity and frequency of floods, droughts, heatwaves, wildfires, and shifting rain patterns. Waste products and carbon emissions from industrial activity are also factors.

Eventually, we see that Indigenous communities face the direct impacts of climate change that lead to threats to their livelihoods, culture, and ways of life, affecting their socio-economic vulnerabilities. Even though Indigenous people have contributed less to greenhouse emissions due to cultural heritage, they still face severe consequences, they are directly affected by environmental destruction, such as deforestation, land degradation, and pollution from mining and oil and gas extraction. Likely, this destruction is the leading cause of climate change.

Deforestation: Increasing Carbon Footprint and Land Degradation

From past years till now, the part of land that belonged to Indigenous communities has been cleared for industrial benefits, and that has impacted the root of the natural ecosystem. In the world, indigenous peoples have raised their voices against such activities, but their words went unheard. Eventually, the leading results are global warming and severe climate patterns impacting the natural vegetation, crops, and available forest fruits for the Indigenous community. Additionally, carbon emissions have been impacting our natural heritage. 

"In the high altitude regions of the Himalayas, glacial melt affects hundreds of millions of rural dwellers who depend on the seasonal flow of water, resulting in more water in the short term but less in the long run as glaciers and snow cover shrink."

"In the Amazon, the effects of climate change include deforestation and forest fragmentation, and consequently, more carbon is released into the atmosphere, exacerbating and creating further changes." (WHO)

It is essentially evident that the rate of deforestation has led to an imbalanced process of the natural carbon cycle as forests act as a sink for the increasing amount of CO2. Further, the imbalanced carbon cycle increased the carbon footprint amount and induced an uneven climate pattern, resulting in numerous adverse effects on agricultural production. Additionally, economist Nicholas Stern reports that climate degradation would have been stopped to a certain extent if we had recognised and honoured indigenous land rights. 

A traditional or indigenous pattern of food and agriculture has enriched the food availability for indigenous groups. Eventually, the much-appreciated climate pattern returned for agricultural production and the collection of food products. In parts of Asian and African communities, the staple cropping system has been threatened because of processing land degradation. 

Climate-change-related impacts are causing loss of tribal land and access to culturally important resources such as sacred sites, plant and animal species, water, and traditional homelands (Carothers et al. 2014, Cozzetto et al. 2013a, Lynn et al. 2013, Voggesser et al. 2013). 

Apart from land inequities, climate change is also impacting indigenous health. It is clear that due to changing surroundings, Indigenous people are vulnerable, forced to live and change places where the availability of adequate resources is low, thus, leading to medicinal atrocities among communities. Furthermore, they suffer from basic food, shelter, and clean water facilities. Moreover, the problem lies in the new culture and atmospheric adaptation. 

Chaudhary and Bawa (2011) studied indigenous knowledge about climate change and its consequences for biodiversity and agriculture in the Darjeeling Hills region in the Eastern Himalayas, confirming numerous weather, ecosystem, biodiversity, agriculture, and livelihood-based climate change indicators. Further, they suggested that people at higher altitudes appear more sensitive to climate change than those at lower altitudes. Vedwan and Rhoades (2001) examined apple farmers in Himachal Pradesh, in the Western Himalayas, recording impacts of climate change on blossoming, yield, fruit quality, and the increase of new pests and diseases. 

Responding To Climate Change: Traditional Systems. 

Swinomish tribal members from Washington state participate in a clam garden restoration in British Columbia. PHOTO COURTESY OF SWINOMISH INDIAN TRIBAL COMMUNITY (Source: YaleEnvironment360) 

Swinomish tribal members from Washington state participate in a clam garden restoration in British Columbia. Swinomish Indian Tribal Community Photo (Source: YaleEnvironment360)

Indigenous communities worldwide are adapting to new and subtle ways to live and survive in a changing climate. The traditional ecological knowledge they have acquired brings lots of grace to the surroundings they live in. Even though the climate impact and their contribution are negligible, the changes they suffer are drastic. 

Indigenous peoples are coping with the loss of biodiversity and adapting to climate change through numerous strategies such as migration, irrigation, water conservation techniques, land reclamation, changing when, where, and at what elevation plants are cultivated, as well as livelihood adaptation, to name a few (Mirjam Macchi, 2008). Bridges and McClatchey (2009)  outlined how the traditional ecological knowledge system of atoll dwellers in the Pacific allows them to observe and respond to subtle climate changes that have local impacts. Eventually, it could provide a model for global responses to climate change. Likewise, the villagers in the Himalayan regions have started growing new crops that they haven't grown previously and have enhanced crop diversity and diets. Simultaneously, the resulting diversification could mitigate the effects of climate change on livelihoods and help people adapt (Chaudhary and Bawa 2011). Furthermore, villagers in Bangladesh are creating floating vegetable gardens to protect their livelihoods from flooding. While in Vietnam, communities are helping to plant dense mangroves along the coast to diffuse tropical-storm waves. Similarly, indigenous groups in North America are coping with climate change by focusing on the economic opportunities that it may create, like increasing demand for renewable wind and solar power energy, which could make tribal land resourceful, thus limiting greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, there may be opportunities for carbon sequestration (WHO). 

Even though research is underway, it is likely visible that the answers to changing climate conditions lie in adopting traditional ecological knowledge and beliefs.