Climate Change and its Effect on Alaskan Inuit Populations

by Margaret Loncki

Ford et al. (2008) explore the vulnerability of two populations of Alaskan Inuits to climate change. The authors begin by explaining the cultural importance of the “procurement, sharing, and consumption” of traditional food. Global climate change plays a very important role in these Alaskan Inuit’s ability to efficiently and successfully harvests viable food sources. As a result, Climate change has the potential to bring about social, cultural, and economic change.Alaskan Inuit populations have observed increasingly abnormal weather conditions since the 1990s. These changes have made hunting far lass predictable. Variable winds make it more difficult to determine whether or not ice is thick and stable enough to travel on. Similarly, climate change has brought about shorter ice seasons as a result of delayed ice freeze-up. This has shortened the caribou season by nearly a month,forcing hunters to harvest when weather and ice conditions are less than ideal, making the hunt far more dangerous. For the Inuits, fishing season is typically ended only because of ocean freeze-up and the inability to reach successful fishing spots. Shorter Caribou hunting seasons increases the fishing season, a characteristic of climate change that the Inuit’s tend to welcome. Rapidly changing weather conditions also make the hunting knowledge that has been passed from generation to generation less reliable, and as a result, making hunting a more dangerous task. Increased use of technology such as GPS and snowmobile has seriously changed the ways these Inuit populations hunt. Although snowmobiles allow hunters to travel farther and faster than ever before and GPS makes tracking and navigation obsolete, this new technology results in hunters taking more risks than hunters of previous generations. As reliable hunting skills deteriorate from generation to generation, hunting has become a more and more dangerous task.

The importance of sharing and social connection has been found to increase the Inuit’s ability to adapt to changing climate conditions. Food and supplies are often brought to those who do not have the resources to hunt on their own, although the importance of this practice has decreased from generation to generation. Inuit populations have slowly shifted to a more western lifestyle, more often relying on foreign markets for resources and full time jobs for financial support. Increased use of money detracts from the giving and sharing culture of Inuit communities and decreases reliance on one and other for support. Similarly, government imposition of education requirements has reduced the ability of younger generations to learn the hunting strategies and techniques of previous generations. Although hunting has been the only way of life for generations of Alaskan Inuits, it is uncertain that they will be able to maintain this way of life. In the past, they have proven to be very capable of adapting to changing weather conditions, but this soon may not longer be the case.

Ford, J., Smit, B., Wandel, J., Allurut, M., Shappa, K., Ittusarjuat, H., Qrunnut, K., 2008. Climate change in the Arctic: current and future vulnerability in two Inuit communities in Canada. The Geographical Journal 174, 45-62.

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