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Traditional knowledge and adaptive measures against climate change in high mountain ecosystems

Traditional knowledge and adaptive measures against climate change in high mountain ecosystems

By Walter Chamochumbi *

As long as climate denialism and the inertia of those responsible for this crisis persist, the future is uncertain and of high risk, especially for these populations. Hence the importance of conducting research on traditional knowledge and adaptive measures, such as those developed for centuries by Andean agrocentric cultures in the face of adverse environmental factors. Society-nature: rationality and environmental problems The Andes Mountains is one of the most extensive and representative geographic regions of Peru and South America. Its biogeographic configuration is extremely complex and heterogeneous, as well as the geomorphology, climates and ecosystems of the hydrographic basins of its western and eastern slopes. It is also an important seat of multiple native cultures, which under adverse climatic and topographic conditions, developed valuable knowledge and adaptive technologies in the management of various ecosystems for food production and the satisfaction of their basic needs.

In the high Andean areas, the adaptive process of different human groups is the result of their multiple interactions as society-nature. Thus, its study implies considering two key dimensions: i) The environmental, to characterize the social processes of occupation-adaptation and the relations of predominance and political-administrative control over the territory and its repercussions on the environment; and ii) The cultural one, because when analyzing the environmental implications derived from the relations of society-nature interaction on the occupied territory, there are certain cultural contexts in which specific impacts are manifested (1). The forms of life or positive manifestations rehearsed by dissimilar cultures and societies in certain territories and ecosystems are explained according to the concept of environmental rationality, because it alludes to a body of values ​​or principles oriented towards the search for a positive environmental purpose. To that extent, the imbalances or lags in the adaptive process are also the result of multiple conditioning factors of the society-nature interaction system. Which -as an antithesis- leads us through the threshold of irrationality, configuring the concept of environmental problems: that is, when the conditioning factors of the society-nature interaction system configure a set of elements of imbalance, known as defects of rationality ( irrationality).

The previous concept, however, does not contradict the scope of the holistic Andean worldview. On the contrary, the environmental implications derived from the society-nature relationship must be understood in the context of certain cultures, territories and environmental settings. Therefore, the cultural framework will imply understanding a specific form of rationality or a type of behavior that society will manifest on the occupied space-territory, reasonably assuming that it provides its means of life.

Multiple relationships of human societies with the environment

In this regard, we highlight the contribution of Julián Steward (1955) (2), who integrated the analysis of the population-environment components. Being its most important and original contribution the theory of multilinear evolutionism, according to which human societies contemplate multiple and variable trajectories in their processes of change and adaptation. Steward studies the discontinuity of the evolutionary process, as: "sometimes it leads to greater energy control and greater social complexity and other times to simpler social and economic forms" (3).

For their part, Salhins and Service (4) achieve an interesting advance in the study of the evolutionary process of communities, proposing to integrate two main phases: i) “… evolution creates diversity due to the adaptation mechanism, which constantly forges new forms in function of microenvironmental changes. And ii) “… organisms inevitably evolve from simple to more complex forms, from organisms with less energy control to those with greater control” (5). Indeed, the evolution of the populations follows -in general- an ascending process in time but with different directions and discontinuities. Based on this idea, we envision multilinear evolution from a dialectical perspective, representing it as a figure of helical form and function: sinuous and contradictory but progressive. The native populations follow different evolutionary paths conditioned by various factors (objective and subjective, endogenous and exogenous) relative to the occupied territories and their environmental environments, in whose particular processes and over time, their adaptive strategies tend to diversify and become more complex, except in In extreme cases, due to other factors, their strategies have been simplified (even collapse).

Currently, following the research on systems theory and from the original use of the ecosystem concept, it is widely accepted that the study of the society-nature relationship cannot be approached as two separate components, but rather interrelated, because they constitute the compositional parts of a systemic whole (6). Thus, both components are interrelated in a whole representing a complex of relationships of mutual causality. So they can be measured with some basic indicators, such as -for example- quality of life to refer to the profile of a society, and environmental quality to refer to the status quo of nature.


The previous explanation is based on Godel's undecidability theorem (7), which establishes that each model is explained within a broader and more general model, proposing that the environmental problems of today's society should be analyzed within a system of reference in whose center the company is located; and that this -in turn- is framed in a much broader context of problems and metaproblems. Thus, nowadays it is inconsistent to make a complete description and analysis of the ecosystem without any reference other than the ecosystem itself, because this is - per se - insufficient to explain the different levels and forms of relationship of a society and its problems of access to resources natural resources, their economic growth and quality of life, and their environmental repercussions. Consequently, environmental problems such as warming and climate change must be studied as complex phenomena on a global-local scale, as open systems, based on multiple interactions such as society-nature, and according to the complex underlying relationships of mutual causality: flows of energy exchanges of systems and subsystems that configure and characterize techno-productive, socioeconomic, political and organizational changes, as well as sustainability in different societies and cultures in specific spaces.

Harmonies and disharmonies in the artificialization of ecosystems Pre-Hispanic original peoples established relationships of interaction with nature, based on the development of valuable experiences and knowledge about it: their ability to observe and learn in thousands of years, through multiple trial tests -error (8), implied a continuous process of artificialization (anthropization) of the occupied space-territory.

Numerous investigations confirm that during the multiprocesses of occupation-territorial and environmental adaptation, the original societies - due to the need for survival - developed detailed knowledge of the structure, composition and functioning of the ecosystems and altitudinal floors: their complex biodiversity, their microclimates and the components physical spatial distribution (vertical-altitudinal and horizontal-longitudinal). Thus, they progressively tested the necessary modifications to ensure their survival. This is the case of agrocentric cultures in high Andean areas, which knew microclimatic behavior, modified ecosystems, domesticated plants and animals, and managed biodiversity until turning them into complex agroecosystems.

Over time, due to the effect of conventional agrarian modernization and industrialization, the traditional systems of knowledge and practices of native peoples on the physical environment and bioclimatic indicators, their folkloric biological taxonomy, their production practices and their nature are at risk of being lost. experimental. Hence, in the face of the environmental crisis and the phenomenon of climate change, local knowledge and practices have acquired such a dimension and importance that they are serving as the basis for the development of new scientific knowledge and adaptive measures (9). Pre-Hispanic societies built resilient life systems adapted to different environments, achieving a high degree of knowledge in the face of climate variability and adverse factors (10). In high mountain ecosystems, the original populations evolved according to their adaptability or maladjustment, under dissimilar conditions in the management of the supply of available resources and according to the types of socio-economic organization and rationality used in the management of ecosystems. They are, therefore, processes subject to the development of certain social resilience capacities (strong or weak) of different societies and cultures to overcome difficulties and manage to adapt to the territorial and micro-environmental environment or otherwise fail and maladjust (11).

The degree of local energy management and control in the adaptive process of native populations is key. It depends on the tensions, forms of interaction and the levels of exchange of energy flows: increase in “outputs” and reduction in “inputs”. Consequently, in the face of climate variability and other adverse factors, reduce the degree of uncertainty in the management of microenvironmental factors and maximize local resilience and energy efficiency, through the intensive use of knowledge and innocuous technologies, organized by the hand of work, etc., will allow a greater degree of subsistence and autonomy of local populations in the management of their natural resources.

Unlike studying the environmental implications of the adaptive mechanisms tested at the individual level, it is at the collective level that the predominant form of relationship of societies and cultures with their territorial and environmental surroundings is best configured and expressed. The sense of identity and territorial belonging of the original populations are expressed more clearly when they refer to the collective, because they express their worldview and very existence as such (their imaginary). These forms of collective territorial identity allowed the construction of a respectful relationship with nature and a line of continuity and generational identity around it.

Currently, various factors such as the demographic density and lifestyles of the countries that increase the pressure of use on natural resources and the environment (ecological footprint), the expansion of the free market economy and the extractive projects of natural resources, the crisis systemic and centralist and exclusive development policies of countries, polluting industrialization processes and north-south agro-food technology transfer and dependence, economic and commercial interference by transnational corporations and hegemonic countries over natural resources and livelihoods of indigenous peoples, the erosion of traditional knowledge, etc., are determining factors of the phenomenon of global climate change, and in fact they are impacted on the problem of food insecurity and poverty of rural populations in high mountain ecosystems. It is therefore imperative to conduct research on adaptive measures that collect and enhance traditional knowledge and strengthen local resilience capacity.

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Video: School strike for climate - save the world by changing the rules. Greta Thunberg. TEDxStockholm (July 2021).