The critical geography of community-based participatory research for climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction in Alaska

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: Sociology & Social Policy


Context The impacts of climate change on Indigenous communities are expected to be more significant than on non-indigenous communities, as they have closer ties to their environment. However, Indigenous communities also have in-depth knowledge about their environment, which has been created and adjusted over thousands of years, and been passed down through generations. The ways that these communities use this knowledge to deal with climate change, as well as other risks (e.g. volcanic eruption, blizzards and pollution) has become an important area of climate change research. With this recognition, there have been more projects that have sought to understand Indigenous knowledge to better inform ways of dealing with climate change and environmental risk. Most of these also seek to combine Indigenous knowledge with scientific knowledge, as both are important for dealing with risk. They use methods that involve local people, and try to reach those that would not otherwise be involved in research. This is important to better understand the challenges that those who are most at risk face. As well as this, both local people and the researchers are encouraged to learn from each other, especially as this builds trust between the two. Although these projects are valuable in their own right, they pose significant challenges that are not always properly addressed. For example, although these methods try to reach community members that would not usually be engaged in these projects, communities have their own politics, which mean that some members may prevent others from taking part. How researchers deal with this is a topic of debate: some argue that researchers who are not from the community should challenge these situations, but this does not always work. One place where this could be difficult is in Arctic Alaskan Indigenous communities, where a history of oppression has led to distrust of people outside of the community, especially researchers who have often entered a community to collect data, but have failed to share their results or to provide benefits to the community. There is also concern that some projects are claiming to use these methods that involve the community, even where they do not, which has led to misleading results and ethical problems. Climate change is being felt earlier and most intensely in the Arctic. In Northern Alaska, seasonal changes have reduced the safety of hunting for whales and geese, which Indigenous communities rely on for food. As well as this, less sea ice has left soft beaches exposed to storms, which flood the community, causing damage and the potential for loss of life. Changes in how people live have affected how they deal with risk. For example, modern housing (which is permanent) means that people cannot migrate with the seasons, which was once a way of dealing with the harsh environment to increase chances of finding food. Objective Many projects have already looked at how local people deal with climate change risk and environmental risk in Alaska. Yet, few projects have looked at how these projects were conducted, and the impact that researchers, who were not a part of the studied community, had on the community. To make better use of the valuable research already conducted in Alaska, the ways that scientific research is used (and not used) by local communities needs to be better understood, which includes how researchers are viewed by these communities. This is something that a number of researchers working in climate change and environmental studies have called for. Therefore, the aim of this project is to examine the ways scientific research and outside researchers are used in Indigenous communities in the North Slope Borough, Alaska, for action on climate change and environmental risk


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000746/1 30/09/2017 29/09/2027
2113218 Studentship ES/P000746/1 30/09/2018 28/02/2023 Anuszka Rachel Maton