Climate change is altering our planet irreversibly. Yet we rarely have the opportunity to talk to people whose daily lives are viscerally linked to nature. Last week, I met Keith Wolfe Smarch, a 60-year-old Aboriginal carver and hunter in Canada’s Yukon Territory.
The sage spoke of mice. Over the past few years, temperatures have started to drop rapidly from high to low, causing the snow at the top to melt and refreeze as ice. The mice continue to feed under the snow, but under a sheath of ice. Many don’t even survive. Nor are the iconic Great Gray Owls, which feed on mice. With the new layer of ice, they no longer hear the mice, as they used to, under the snow. And if they discern dinner, they can’t break the ice to help themselves. The number of owls and mice has plummeted, says Keith. Until five years ago, he heard the birds hoot all night long. Now it’s a few times a year.
This is just one story, but it highlights how little we listen to and amplify Indigenous knowledge and observations of climate change. Science is essential, but it does not capture every change. If we respect, learn from, and combine both kinds of knowledge, we have a better chance of adapting, and even of mitigating the climate crisis somewhat. India is fortunate to have so many communities that can offer us this knowledge. We must seize this opportunity and learn from them.
(The author is one of the founding directors of Chintan Environmental Research and Action Group)
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