- appreciate the value of traditional knowledge and local observations in perceiving and understanding climate change;
- identify factors that determine people's perceptions of ecological shifts;
- develop insight by examining survey results of local observations; and
- recognize how traditional expertise may complement scientific research on climate change.
Students use interview techniques to explore the traditional wisdom of fishers, mariners, First Nations, and other peoples whose historical connection to, and reliance on, the ocean gives them a deeper understanding of climatic cycles and events.
There is great uncertainty concerning the rate and extent of climate change across Canada. Many gaps in scientific knowledge may be filled by the wisdom of First Nations, mariners, commercial fishers, coastal inhabitants, and other peoples who, for generations, have lived in a close relationship with lakes and seas.
Traditional knowledge is a rich source of local environmental expertise, climate history, and insight into past, present, and future ecological shifts. It can help scientists formulate questions and hypotheses about climate change. Traditional knowledge also offers insight into how climate change may affect different cultures, particularly those that are closely connected with ecologically sensitive regions, such as the Great Lakes and north, east, and west coasts of Canada.
- Ask students to describe their region's climate, taking into account such factors as temperature, precipitation, seasonal changes, and proximity to the ocean.
- Then, have each student list ways in which climate affects his or her community. For example: Fall weather brings salmon upstream. Our harbour freezes over in winter. Spring rain floods the fields where we grow crops. The break-up of sea ice in summer brings polar bears ashore.
- Next, ask the class to identify cultural features, such as diet, dress, art, and religion, that may have developed as adaptations to their area, its climate, and wildlife inhabitants.
- Have students make judgments as to whether the local climate has changed in their lifetimes. Ask each student to write a brief composition describing changes that may have occurred and cultural influences that may affect his or her views of climate.
- Now, lead a discussion about the accuracy of these observations of climate change, emphasizing how cultural differences and the passage of time affect people's views of the world.
- Tell students they are going to design a survey that investigates human perceptions of climate change, keeping people's lifestyles in mind. Divide the class into pairs or small groups to draft questions. The aim is to interview people (particularly mariners, commercial fishers, First Nations, and coastal inhabitants who have lived and worked in close connection with large lakes and seas) to learn if they have noticed changes in climate. When each group has finished, bring the class back together to choose which questions to include in the survey and how best to present them. Sample questions might include:
- Since when have you lived here?
- What do you do for a living?
- Has your work ever changed?
- How much time do you spend at sea?
- Do you spend as much time at sea today as you did in the past?
- Has the local climate changed in your lifetime?
- Respond to these statements:
- Compared to the past, today's summer temperatures are: much hotter — noticeably hotter — about the same — noticeably cooler — much cooler
- Compared to the past, today's winter temperatures are: much colder — noticeably colder — about the same — noticeably milder — much milder
- Compared to the past, the break-up of sea ice now occurs: much earlier — noticeably earlier — at about the same time — noticeably later — much later
- Your lifestyle today is affected by climate more than in the past: strongly agree — agree — unsure — disagree — strongly disagree
- More snow falls today than in the past: strongly agree — agree — unsure — disagree — strongly disagree
- It rains more today than in the past: strongly agree — agree — unsure — disagree — strongly disagree
- The sea level is higher today than in the past: strongly agree — agree — unsure — disagree — strongly disagree
- Lake levels are lower today than in the past: strongly agree — agree — unsure — disagree — strongly disagree
- Ask students to compare the survey data to the "Common Sense Climate Index" for their region. Have them visit this site and click on "Climate Index for Individual Stations" They can click on the map and bring up the climate index for the station closest to them. Do the students' survey results and the climate index agree? Ask your class to comment on similarities and differences.
- Have students read and comment on folktales dealing with climatological themes, such as "Koluscap and the Water Monster" (Micmac), "Sedna, the Woman Under the Sea" (Inuit), and "How the Raven Made the Tides" (Tsimshian). Ask them to write their own folktales about climate change.
- Form a partnership with another school in Canada. Implement the same survey and compare the results for two regions.
In Deep Water
"An old man fell into the river rapids leading to a high and dangerous waterfall. Onlookers feared for his life. Miraculously he came out alive and unharmed downstream at the bottom of the falls. People asked him how he managed to survive. 'I adapted myself to the water, not the water to me. Without thinking, I allowed myself to be shaped by it. Plunging into the swirl, I came out with the swirl. That is how I survived.'"
–From a Taoist folk-tale–
"Some of the people were so happy to see the water that they jumped into the stream. They dove so deep and stayed in so long that they became fish and water creatures. They still live in that river today, sharing the water, which no one person can ever own."
–From "Koluscap and the Water Monster," a Micmac folk-tale –
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