Science and Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK): A Research Bridge to Understand Climate Change

Climate change: it’s real, scientifically documented, linked to human use of the planet, and a danger to survival for all of us. That it’s been declared “controversial” according to many corporate, political, and religious leaders is even more dangerous. But the Union of Concerned Scientists is committed to leading the preservation and sharing of knowledge that can help us act responsibly and practically, and resist the temptation to pretend climate change isn’t real. There’s nothing narrow about their approach; recently, their blog profiled Samantha Chisolm Hatfield, Ph.D., a Native American scientist who is combining traditional and scientific approaches in order to improve our understanding of what’s happening, and what needs to be done.

“Much like analyzing tree rings for fire, disease, and flood events, TEK can offer a broader view of ecological and scientific topics researched and examined  that are localized in nature, but broad in perspective. Trends that have been documented through generations are more likely to offer detailed long term data patterns, provide tools for a better analysis, and add more comprehensive insight than stand alone western scientific methodologies. Items such as basket materials, regalia changes and fluctuations (due to materials being impacted by events such as floods, fires, or other catastrophic impacts can cause alterations and fluctuation patterns to traditional regalia and use), or even cooking and eating utensils can provide data that can be added into assessing climate change researched topics such as weather fluctuations, tree material adaptations, foods and crop impacts, any issue relating to environmental composition and the human interaction with environmental resources. Even songs, or stories that were once assumed to be merely entertainment can prove to be valuable tools in the quest to understand our changing environment and climate change events.

“TEK, when applied, has been able to realize information that can clarify climate change research and analyses further, adding to the base knowledge about cycles and anticipated results, explaining certain impacts with an added depth and breadth that has been lacking in western scientific methods sans TEK. In this time of climate change uncertainty, TEK offers a tool that, can be applicable for insightful results, bridging the interdisciplinary gap that has existed within the traditional rigor of conventional scientific research. Unconventional methods are now at the forefront of addressing climate change research, information, analyses, and policy. This is one of the many ways that Traditional Knowledges can provide understanding in a rapidly changing world.” Read more…

action-sn-landing-heroSo if you’re thinking that science is inadequate, because scientific leaders don’t think about culture, think again! Tomorrow, we inaugurate a president who sometimes says climate change is a real, human issue, and sometimes says it isn’t a problem, dancing between disregard and anti-regulatory stances. His distrust of science, and facts in general, means that organizations like the Union of Concerned Scientists and grassroots activist coalitions like 350.org will be important leaders in the effort to make sure everyone has access to clean water, clean air, clean earth, and valid information about sustainable, practical efforts to slow down climate change and deal with its effects. And what’s happening in the field is innovative, responsive and interesting. Remember, KNOWLEDGE IS POWER!

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