Local knowledge and environmental fluctuations in the Western Pacific
New approaches to sustainability and climate adaptation in Vanuatu
Dr. Carlos Mondragón, El Colegio de México
The case study looks at indigenous adaptability to environmental change in the maritime region of the Western Pacific known as Island Melanesia. It draws on extensive ethnographic experience of local environmental knowledge and short- and long-term fluctuations in the small islands of the Torres group, in the north of the Vanuatu archipelago. I offer a critical assessment of the contemporary state of human-environmental relations in this community, with special attention to sea level rise and the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO). I place these topics within the framework of 1) primary food production systems and guardianship of forest and marine resources, and 2) on local reactions to observed climatic and geological fluctuations over the past decade. I thereby address ENSO-related horticulture and ceremonial activity, and cultural responses to the shoreline dynamics provoked by sudden sea level fluctuations as a consequence of seismic activity. I argue that environmental fluctuations have long been a part of Melanesian engagements with the physical world, giving rise to coping strategies that are inherent to traditional knowledge practices. I emphasize that the geomorphology of the Melanesian islands –which tend to be small land masses that are often graced with multifarious soil types and forest and marine resources– possesses degrees of ecological adaptability that are absent from other Pacific Islands’ contexts, i.e. the low-lying atolls of Micronesia and Polynesia, which are often taken as idiosyncratic of all small island societies. I then shift the scale to recent assessments by the Vanuatu National Advisory Committee on Climate Change (NACCC) and the South Pacific Regional Programme on Adaptation to Climate Change in the Pacific Island Region (ACCPIR), and offer strategies to how these programmes can incorporate local knowledges and be more sensitive to environmental specificities.
The presentation can be downloaded here in pdf format.