houses along the ice hills of the arctic

Impact of Climate Change on the Indigenous People of the Arctic

  Let’s discover the most beautiful region of the Earth where its people are threatened by Climate Change at alarming levels. The polar region or the Arctic is located at the northernmost part of Earth. Its unique ecosystems where the indigenous people to the Arctic thrive. Due to their adapting nature to the Arctic’s cold and extreme conditions, they can sustain themselves. Climate Change has a significant impact on the Indigenous People of the Arctic. Even though, the Arctic comprises the Arctic Ocean, adjacent seas, and parts of multiple countries. Such as Alaska (United States), Canada, Finland, Greenland (Denmark), Iceland, Norway, Russia, and Sweden. And additionally, the land within the Arctic region has seasonally varying snow and ice cover, with predominantly treeless permafrost (permanently frozen underground ice) containing tundra. The clear chilly Arctic seas contain seasonal sea ice in many places which is continuously melting at an alarming rate.

 Mainly, life in the Arctic includes zooplankton and phytoplankton, fish and marine mammals, birds, land animals, plants, and human settlements. All these ecosystems are under threat as the Arctic is warming at twice the rate of the Global Average. Consequently, the media, researchers, Arctic inhabitants are concerned about the visible changes in the climate of the region. Even though the adaptive actions called for are underway. Furthermore, any naive responses may lead to ineffectiveness. Resulting in ineffective strategies, adverse outcomes, and copying past policy failures.

Indigenous Arctic People
Indigenous people of the Arctic

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Indigenous people of the Arctic

The indigenous people have lived in their Arctic homelands for millennia. Consequently, the land, and waters of the Arctic anchor indigenous societies. Mainly, they provide resources upon which their cultures continue to survive. Mainly, the proportion of indigenous people is estimated to be about ten percent of the total population living in arctic areas. There are over 40 different ethnic groups living in the Arctic. Ranging from the Saami in circumpolar areas of Finland, Sweden; Norway and Northwest Russia; Nenets, Khanty, Evenk and Chukchi in Russia; Aleut, Yupik and Inuit (Iñupiat) in Alaska, Inuit (Inuvialuit) in Canada and Inuit (Kalaallit) in Greenland.

There is a great variety of cultural, historical, and economical backgrounds among the groups. From state policies, modern transport to the introduction of a mixed economy which has resulted in changes in the way indigenous communities live. Due to the globalization of the modern way of life, the changes are the only thing they share in common.

Even though the indigenous people have a specific connection to the land that they have inhabited. Each community has a distinct language, culture, and traditional livelihoods. Mainly, such as reindeer herding, fishing, and hunting which characterize the indigenous people in the Arctic.

Recently, the political organization of indigenous peoples has led to international recognition and clarification of human and political rights concerning indigenous populations. Especially, the Rights to land and natural resources have become an important part of the culture and survival of indigenous peoples in the Arctic.

Arctic Climate Change
Climate Change in the Arctic

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Impact of Climate Change

The Arctic environment shapes the culture & activities of the Indigenous People. Even though, past generations have skillfully adjusted harvesting activities and lifestyles to environmental changes. But now the rapid climate change, combined with social, economic, and political conditions, presents new challenges.

Through ways of life closely linked to their surroundings, Indigenous Peoples have particularly insightful ways of observing and interpreting environmental changes. As their ways of life are so closely linked to their surroundings, they are experiencing climate change effects. As well as noticing changes that are unprecedented in their lifetimes.

The Indigenous population has attained the following knowledge and observations of current trends:

  • The weather seems unpredictable due to instability. As evidenced by the Hunters and elders who could be predicting the weather are now frequently unable to do so.
  • Snow quality and its characteristics are changing with more freezing rain being witnessed. Hunters are increasingly unable to build igloos, which they still rely upon for temporary or emergency shelters.
  • Sea ice is declining, as well as its rigidity is changing. The pack ice is further from shore and often too thin to allow safe travel for marine hunters.
  • Seasonal weather patterns are changing, resulting in more rain in autumn and winter. Additionally, more extreme heat in summer.

Furthermore, the water levels in the majority of lakes are disappearing, species of animals particular to the region are becoming endangered. There are storm surges that increase erosion in the coastal areas. The sun rays are so strong during the summer months that sunburns and strange skin rashes have become common.

Climate change in the Arctic has become the biggest threat to the survival of indigenous communities.

Arctic Climate Change
Melting icebergs

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Effects on Biodiversity

As climate change emerges as perhaps the most serious threat to biodiversity, the Arctic region, with its dramatic visible changes, has come increasingly into focus. Along with the indigenous and local communities who base their livelihoods and culture on this fragile ecosystem. The Arctic contains unique biodiversity that is well adapted to the often dark and cold winter conditions, as well as to the short growing/reproductive period in the Summer.

The wealth of life in the Arctic includes between 500 million and about a billion birds, which breed in the Arctic and migrate throughout the world via several flyways. This abundance of biodiversity supports more than 400,000 indigenous peoples who inhabit the Arctic region.

Climate change has already begun to affect the functioning, appearance, composition, and structure of Arctic ecosystems.

 These changes to Arctic ecosystems are having significant impacts on Arctic species and the indigenous and local communities who rely on them for their livelihoods and culture.

The indigenous people keep a check on the area they inhabit to keep an eye on the impacts of climate change. In fact, many aspects of Arctic biodiversity are being monitored informally daily as an inherent part of traditional livelihoods and activities such as hunting, herding, farming, and fishing.

Livelihoods of the Indigenous People
Indigenous Livelihoods in the Arctic

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Effects on Livelihoods

Particularly, the Inuit hunters in northern Greenland tread carefully on increasingly thinning ice. While at the same time the key marine species they depend on — seals, walrus, narwhals, and polar bears — are migrating from the areas in which they are traditionally hunted. This is a result of changes in local ecosystems due to climate change.

Whereas, in the high ranges of the Himalayas, Sherpa, Tamang, Kiranti, Dolpali, and other indigenous groups are witnessing the melting of glaciers. Similarly, the same is true in other mountain regions of the world such as the Peruvian Andes. This has caused worry to the indigenous Quechua as the glaciers on their mountain peaks are receding.

In the Kalahari Desert, the San have learned to deal with the periodic but all-too-frequent occurrence and experience of hunger and poverty. Mainly, arising from a combination of economic, political, environmental, and climatic events. The San, like other indigenous peoples, have had to devise ingenious strategies to cope with environmental change. And its consequences, yet they are reporting that the character of such change they are witnessing is different than ever witnessed before.

All over the world, indigenous peoples are confronted with unprecedented climate change affecting their homelands, cultures, and livelihoods.

Indigenous people depend on natural resources for their livelihoods and they often inhabit diverse but fragile ecosystems. At the same time, many indigenous peoples remain among the world’s most marginalized, impoverished, and vulnerable peoples.

Adapting to climate change in the Arctic
Adapting to Arctic Climate Change

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Adapting to Arctic Climate Change

Even though, they have contributed the least to the greenhouse gas emissions that characterize anthropogenic climate change. Whereas, they are the ones to bear the brunt of the climate crisis. Mostly, having minimal access to the resources, be it political or institutional support needed to cope with the changes.

They have to navigate their way across the dramatically shifting environments of their homelands. And to comprehend and find effective strategies that will allow them to respond to the changes happening right before their eyes. From the diminishing sea ice and reduced snowfall now characterizing the Arctic regions to receding glaciers.

Also in high altitude regions, increased coastal erosion and rising sea levels. This has lead to reduced rainfall in temperate ecosystems and increased fires in tropical rainforests.

It is clear that for the Arctic ecosystems to continue to provide adequate food, water, and nutrient cycling. That is critical to the survival of species and the preservation of biodiversity. Additionally, also biodiversity-related to traditional and local knowledge and livelihoods.

Various steps must be taken to adapt to the impacts of climate change. While national and international policies are being developed, but in the meantime, Arctic communities have stepped up. Fishing sites have been moved closer to shore in response to thinning ice to ensure safety. Winter grazing patterns for livestock, such as reindeer, have shifted in response to differences in ice and snow conditions.

Combatting Climate Change in the Arctic
Sea ice melting and icebergs


Combating Arctic Climate Change:

One of the most important, yet underappreciated, features of the Arctic sea ice is the ability of its blindingly white surfaces to reflect sunlight. The main role of these frozen seas at the top of the world is to act as a massive parasol to keep the planet cool and its climate stable.

As of yet, much of that ice is rapidly vanishing. Due to rising temperatures which have locked the Arctic in a self-destructive feedback loop. It starts with the process of getting warmer, which leads to the reflective white ice dissolving into the darker, blue water. This continues leading to the absorption of more of the Sun’s warmth rather than reflecting it back into space. This in turn leads to the warmer water which speeds up melting, which means yet more absorption of heat, which drives further melting – and so on in a vicious cycle. Mainly, this is part of the reason why the Arctic is warming around twice as fast as the rest of the planet. Last July, the ice cover was as low as it had ever been at that time of the year.

The most alarming situation would be if we lose our protective white shield entirely – which some reckon could happen just decades from now – it could have the same warming effect as another 25 years of fossil fuel emissions at current rates, which would mean more intense droughts, flooding, and heatwaves. This would worsen the livelihoods of the Arctic Indigenous communities even further.

On the flip side, many scientists frown upon such technological interventions in Earth’s planetary system, known broadly as “geoengineering”, arguing that fiddling with nature might cause further damage.

Arctic Ice Project
Arctic Ice Project

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Arctic Ice Project:

As planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, some have been driven to explore desperate measures. One proposal put forward by the California-based non-profit Arctic Ice Project appears as daring as it is bizarre. It involves scattering a thin layer of reflective glass powder over parts of the Arctic, in an effort to protect it from the Sun’s rays and help ice grow back.

However, some biologists are concerned about the potential effects on the creatures at the base of the Arctic food chain. Depending on how much light the silica beads used in the Arctic Ice Project mainly to reflect, they could block sunlight from photosynthesizing plankton, such as diatoms, algae that live under the sea ice and around it. Any change in plankton abundance could cascade up the food web and have unpredictable effects on organisms from fish to seals and polar bears.

In conclusion, there are being measures to combat the rising problems arising out of increasing temperatures which disturb the fragile Arctic Ecosystems which in turn affects everybody. It is not isolated to the Arctic region but affects the Indigenous communities residing in the areas and also gravely impacts the world. So, we as human beings have to take collective responsibility to combat climate change by individually doing our part. Being opting for eco-friendly alternatives while purchasing products or being part of conservation groups to leave a lasting impact on this Earth. Let me know who you individually choose to leave a positive impact on this Earth in the comment section down below.


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