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Measuring perceptions of climate change in northern Alaska: pairing ethnography with cultural consensus analysis

Courtney Carothers, School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, University of Alaska Fairbanks
Caroline Brown, Division of Subsistence, Alaska Department of Fish and Game
Katie J Moerlein, School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, University of Alaska Fairbanks
J. Andrés López, School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, University of Alaska Fairbanks
David B. Andersen, Research North
Brittany Retherford, Division of Subsistence, Alaska Department of Fish and Game

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5751/ES-06913-190427

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Abstract

Given current and projected warming trends in the Arctic and the important role played by subsistence hunting and fishing in the life of northern rural communities, it is increasingly important to document local observations of climate change and its impacts on livelihood practices. We describe ethnographic research exploring local observations of climate changes and related impacts on subsistence fisheries in three Iñupiat communities in northwest Alaska and six Athabascan communities in the Yukon River drainage. We found consistent agreement among perceptions concerning a broad range of environmental changes affecting subsistence practices in these communities. These observations of environmental changes are not experienced in isolation but within the context of accompanying social changes that are continually reshaping rural Alaskan communities and subsistence economies. In this paper we reflect on our research approach combining multiple methods of inquiry. Participant observation and semidirected interviews provided the conceptual framework for broadening our focus from climate and environmental change to community residents’ understanding of climate change in the context of their holistic human-environment worldview. Cultural consensus analysis allowed us to assess the extent to which perceptions of change are shared among hunters and fishers within and between villages and regions and to identify those phenomena occurring or experienced at smaller scales. Reflecting on this multimethods approach, we highlight important questions that have emerged about how we understand, synthesize, and represent local knowledge, especially as it is used in regulatory or management arenas.

Key words

arctic; climate change; cultural consensus analysis; fishing; indigenous peoples; local and traditional ecological knowledge; subsistence

Copyright © 2014 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article  is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.  You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087