Earth in Transition

How Traditional Ecological Knowledge Addresses Climate Change

SER's Working Group, the Indigenous Peoples’ Restoration Network (IPRN),  convened an historic one-day gathering of indigenous experts from around the world to discuss ideas and share expertise on how TEK can address global climate change.  This meeting was funded by The Christensen Fund and the Starflower Foundation.

The Earth in Transition gathering was held on September 13, 2005, in Zaragoza, Spain, the day before SER's three-day World Conference on Ecological Restoration (September 14-17). The Conference included a special track on indigenous knowledge with invited participants presenting papers on their theories, research and methodologies regarding TEK, climate change and ecological restoration.

More than 800 ecological restoration professionals from around the globe attended the World Conference, and TEK experts had the opportunity to network, educate, share resources and begin to influence the field of ecological restoration. Invited TEK experts and practitioners included 40 indigenous leaders and activists from the Arctic and Subarctic regions; Africa, Central Asia, and Australia; the South Pacific\Indian Ocean islands, South and Central America, and the Caribbean.

"The purpose of Earth in Transition is to facilitate a meaningful, face-to-face dialogue not only among TEK experts, but between TEK practitioners and climate change experts who use Western scientific models," says Dennis Martinez, founder and chair of the IPRN. Along with indigenous experts, SER also invited Western scientists who have been studying and tracking global warming.

"Many Western science practitioners are not aware of the rich knowledge base of TEK in this area," says Martinez. "Earth in Transition is an unprecedented opportunity for cross-fertilization of ideas among TEK experts and also between TEK practitioners and Western scientists." TEK is an invaluable resource for experts who are trying to understand, analyze and find ways to mitigate the negative effects of global climate change. 

Indigenous cultures have preserved primary knowledge about climate change and how to address its effects, and their knowledge combined with the knowledge of Western scientists can help the field develop a more holistic and penetrating understanding about the short- and long-term impacts of climate change on the earth and its inhabitants.

All species and the ecosystems in which they live are affected by global climate change. Scientists and TEK practitioners agree that we are only just beginning to feel its effects, and that we can expect more dramatic changes, from rapid glacier melting and oceans rising to the reduced protection from the ozone layer, resulting in increased incidents of cancer among humans and crop failures in the regions most affected.

Rainfall patterns are shifting, leading to droughts and floods, while warming oceans are changing sea life around the world. It is clear to scientists and TEK experts alike that we are still unable to predict all the far-reaching effects of climate change on species and natural processes. But local effects that are affecting indigenous communities have been tracked for centuries by native peoples and their observations will assist in our predictive capabilities.  Likewise, local indigenous solutions may help guide Western science in finding ways to mitigate larger-scale climate change effects.  At the same time, scientific solutions may help local indigenous communities with their mitigation and survival efforts.

Earth in Transition is the continuation of a long-term effort by SER to facilitate the meaningful integration of TEK in the Western-science dominated field of ecological restoration. There is no precedent for world-wide comparisons of TEK on the topic of climate change, and so a central purpose of the Earth in Transition conference is to gather as much information as possible about climate change from the indigenous perspective and to share it among TEK experts and Western scientists so that a synergistic collaboration can occur, and the most workable and useful solutions for our current global situation can be identified.