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“Those insects don’t have apps in their heads”

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Reflections on the Arctic Circle Assembly 2017
by Monique Newton

The annual Arctic Circle Assembly, held in Reykjavik, Iceland, is an international gathering of people to share ideas, create dialogue, and find ways to cooperate on Arctic issues. I attended the Assembly this October and was inspired by the number of people with diverse perspectives who were advocating and demonstrating action on climate change – the greatest threat to Arctic peoples and wildlife.

I see climate change as humans in conflict with our environment. It is increasingly clear that we need to transform our behaviour dramatically to address this conflict. It will require resilience, humility, personal accountability, and self-awareness about our place on the planet.

As many of the Assembly discussions I attended demonstrated, addressing the impacts of climate change in the Arctic needs a transdisciplinary approach that includes science, traditional knowledge, and shared experiences from Indigenous people’s within and outside the Arctic.

There are many examples of small nations and communities in the Arctic and elsewhere that are implementing creative, adaptive, and solutions-oriented actions to address climate change and resource depletion. Several opportunities exist for meaningful collaboration between Arctic and non-Arctic communities, and between science and traditional knowledge practices, to address challenges facing the Arctic.

During the Assembly, Hindou Ibrahim from the International Indigenous People’s Forum on Climate Change shared an illustrative story. Farmers in Chad had been provided phones with weather apps by a non-governmental organization (NGO) meant to help farmers with changing weather patterns. The apps were not very reliable, but the long-practised method of observing insect behaviour is. Village leaders arranged for the NGO representatives to witness their methods and an opportunity arose to demonstrate one cloudless day when the villagers announced it was going to rain shortly. Members of the NGO were in disbelief as their apps did not show a forecast of rain. But the villagers were watching the insects – because, as they noted, those insects don’t have apps in their heads – and sure enough it rained that afternoon!

The point is not to create a dichotomy between traditional and scientific knowledge. It is not a debate that one side or another must win.

Monique Newton is a Senior Manager with the WWF Arctic Programme.

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