When only uncertainty is certain

by seawalker on November 14, 2016 - 5:23pm

                The article ‘US tribes work with scientists against climate change’ (published in Al Jazeera) describes an initiative in the South-Central United States that has brought together Native American communities and climate scientists in the race for adaptation to increasing uncertainty in local weather patterns due to global climate change. The increasing frequency and severity of drought and flood events is making the provision of safe drinking water to households a challenge on tribal lands in this region; a natural forcing that is made more complicated by the fact that many reserves don’t have full control over their water facilities. In some cases, the state has even diverted water from tribal lands to large cities without any sort of tribal approval or compensation.

                The article covers an initiative begun in 2012 between the South Central Climate Science Centre and local tribal leaders and resource managers, with both groups working together to provide answers, predictions, and adaptations for an uncertain future. Tribal representatives are responsible for identifying the unique vulnerabilities in their communities, including cultural practices that might be affected (such as the loss of species that serve important ceremonial functions). In turn, the SCCSC oversees research projects on the regional impacts of climate change on ecosystems, weather patterns, etc. from four state universities and several research teams, and translates the scientific results into easy to interpret guidance documents and instructional videos for the tribal leaders. This communication is achieved through tribal liaisons, who act as “match makers” between research projects and Native American communities. One such liaison explained how her work is essential to the resolution of behavioral conflict, saying “tribes tend to be protective of their resources and wary of outside interference… so relationship building is essential.”

                The learning from this program goes both ways.  Tribal leaders are trained on conducting vulnerability assessments that address the unique cultural needs of their communities, and given access to federal funding for adaptation measures. At the same time, scientist participants in the program gain access to local environmental knowledge systems and a holistic viewpoint of the environment that serves to broaden the scope of their research. The same tribal liaison is also quoted as saying “If we listen to the people that have a cultural link to the earth, they can share with us the changes they have seen over time”.  As mentioned above, this type of collaborative problem solving and joint learning goes a long way to alleviate behavioral conflict- conflict that stems from historic injustices and lack of trust between parties.

                In addition to the program’s recognition of the value of combining local environmental knowledge with more traditional scientific approaches, I believe that this program provides a good example of another trend in environmental management. Management practices are moving away from a command and control approach that is highly reliant on the “expert opinion” provided by scientists, but that often results in policy makers being removed from the resources or environments they seek to control. When complex ecosystems are viewed as a machine whose moving parts can be manipulated separately, there is no space left for uncertainty. In many resource management schemes such as Newfoundland’s cod fishery, this has resulted in devastating collapse. The collaborative research between the SCCSC and tribal leadership directly tackles this uncertainty, but instead of striving to remove it from the equation it simply tries to give resource managers as much information as possible, hopefully allowing them to build resilient systems in the great uncertainty of global climate change. 

Works Cited- 

Crane Linn, Emily (August 7, 2016). US tribes work with scientists against climate change. Al Jazeera. Retrieved from http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2016/07/tribes-work-scientists-climate-change-160713092436522.html





You did a great job explaining the importance of working with the local tribes and South Central Climate Science Center to ensure a beneficial outcome of safe drinking water while addressing global climate change. This subject is interesting to me because I have a passion to help slow global warming, in anyway I have access to.
This article shows that more than 44 tribes in the California are struggling with this same issue. I feel that it is vital for humanity to come together and concur this dilemma.

Your title was pretty intriguing, which is why I came to read your blog post. When reading your blog post I noticed that you provided some very interesting details. The use of these details helped you explain how important it is to work with these tribes and other groups of people to create safe drinking water, while also trying to effect climate change positively.
It is very important that we all come together and try to positively effect climate change and bring clean drinking water to everyone. This is a good start, but we all need to get involved. Bringing clean drinking water to people is actually something that needs to be done in some places in the United States like Flint, Michigan. There is even some people in Western New York, near why I live that have had this problem as well.

Hi seawalker,

Overall this is a great post, I think you did a very good job and describing the initiative in a clear and concise manner. I also liked how you mentioned the benefits of incorporating indigenous or lack knowledge. I think that this is very important for the state to recognize since indigenous people may often feel excluded from providing input on resource management problems. I also think it is important that you emphasizes that the scientists would benefit from this local knowledge since it may provide a unique perspective on their research which they may have no considered before. I hope that in the future more states begin to adopt this collaborative approach as it seems to be very effective and, as you mentioned, it alleviates any tensions between indigenous people and the state.

However, you did mentioned that the program was initially started due to the concern about drought and flood events in the area posing a risk to access of water. Since, this is a severe situation that may be why the state felt the need to incorporate the indigenous people. However, I hope that states will chose to adopt this collaborative approach even when they are not under crisis.

The situation of the state diverting water from tribal lands to large cities reminded me of a similar situation in Canada. On a reserve in Manitoba near Shoal Lake, the water is extracted from the lake to Winnipeg away from the indigenous tribe nearby who rely on this water. As a consequence, the tribe requires bottled water to be shipped from Winnipeg to them – since they can no longer access the water in the lake. For more info, you can check out this article: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/the-price-of-winnipegs-wate...