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Barry Smit is Canada's Research Chair on Global Environmental Change, a professor of geography at the University of Guelph and the lead researcher on an international study of 20 communities across the circumpolar world documenting the ways in which northern peoples are adapting to changes in their environment.

 

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Podcast Transcript: Barry Smit

FRENCH VOICEOVER: Ce podcast a été enregistré à l'Année polaire internationale 2012.

ENGLISH VOICEOVER: This podcast was recorded at the International Polar Year 2012 Conference.

FRENCH VOICEOVER: IPY 2012.

ENGLISH VOICEOVER: IPY 2012.

ENGLISH VOICEOVER: From knowledge to action.

FRENCH VOICEOVER: De la connaissance à l'action.

HOST: Climate change is on the news and all around us these days. Barry Smit is Canada's Research Chair on Global Environmental Change, a professor of geography at the University of Guelph and the lead researcher on an international study of 20 communities across the circumpolar world. For years researchers have worked with communities from Russia to Norway to Canada and Greenland documenting the ways in which northern peoples are adapting to changes in their environment. The project is called CAVIAR, and Barry Smit took a moment at the International Polar Year 2012 Conference – themed "From Knowledge to Action" – to talk to use about it.

00:55

HOST: So CAVIAR, your project got a great name. What does it stand for?

GUEST: CAVIAR stands for Community Adaptation and Vulnerability in Arctic Regions. And we wanted a catchy acronym, but it also describes quite well the research in this programme which seeks to identify and document the ways in which communities are susceptible to changing conditions and how they already adapt and how they might adapt in the future.

01:26

HOST: What did you look at, and what did you find?

GUEST: This programme was undertaken in 20 different communities across the circumpolar north in eight different countries. And so each community came up with conditions that were peculiar to it or distinctive to it. One of the important accomplishments of this work is that it demonstrated that by adopting this slightly different approach you get insight into some of the factors to which communities need to adapt which is different from our conventional scientific work in the Arctic. We normally start with the physical processes or the biological processes and then seek to infer what they mean for societies and economies. This work deliberately starts the other way. It starts with the communities themselves and seeks to identify the conditions that matter to them. So it's a community perspective. And there are some things that are common across these communities in the various countries of the Arctic. One is that in most communities they're already experiencing changes – changes in environmental conditions, particularly in resources that they depend upon. So in some cases that would be animal resources they hunt. In others it might be tree species that they harvest or fish populations that they harvest for economic reasons as opposed to subsistence reasons. So that's certainly one of the common findings. One of the other common findings is that these communities aren't dealing with climate change effects in isolation. They're experiencing climate change at the same time as they're experiencing changes in social conditions, in economic conditions, in the influence of southern society. So it would be faulty to try and address climate change in isolation of these other things.

03:29

HOST: Ok. And what do you think that the – you know you've done this international study which is enormous in its scope – what do you think the main factors in successful adaptation for communities are?

GUEST: The communities already adapt to changing conditions. So for things that are modest shifts in environmental conditions that they're already familiar with, they adapt in a reactive way. So for example, if there is less caribou available in their region, they'll turn to another species that might be more readily available such as musk ox. And that's happening. If the ice becomes unstable in a route that they traditionally take in order to get to the floe edge to hunt marine animals and fish, they'll take a different route. So they adapt in these sort of small ways. The issue becomes what happens when the change is such that those traditional sort of piecemeal adaptive strategies don't handle it where there is simply not the food available for them – in-country food – or the ice is just so unstable that they can't go out there at all. And here now we're talking about do you shift from dependence on snow machines to an increased dependence on boats to get access to marine resources that they harvest.

05:04

HOST: Mm-hmm. So CAVIAR included 20 communities across the north, and it's difficult to just walk into a northern community and ask people to share knowledge with you. How did communities engage with your researchers?

GUEST: Oh indeed. In the CAVIAR programme the reason that the communities are involved is because we already had in every case a researcher or a research team that had experience in that community and had some legitimacy in that community. So we went through the usual protocols with research institutes and things, but the key thing is having the community accept the researchers as people who are interested and care there and are legitimate. And our research requires that we actually employ people in the community to act as colleagues. In fact we're among the first researchers who have local collaborators as co-authors on our papers. So having them employed and actively involved in the research itself in that way helps a great deal.

06:10

HOST: And what do you expect the long-term results of this research to be – or the long-term effects of having done this research?

GUEST: I would say there – I would answer that in two ways. The first is that in the communities themselves, because they were involved in this work they have an improved understanding and knowledge of the issues. The other legacy is in the research community. We now have a number of scholars who started out in this as young researchers – masters, PhDs or post-docs – who were actively engaged in the exercise right throughout the whole lot of it. And they are now fully fledged researchers in their own right, and some of them with serious commitment to continuing work in the Arctic, so I have no doubt that this work will continue.

HOST: Ok, thank you.

GUEST: You're very welcome.

07:01

HOST: That was Barry Smit. He's the Canada Research Chair in Global Environmental Change, a professor of geography at the University of Guelph, and the lead researcher for an international study of 20 communities across the circumpolar world. The CAVIAR project was partially funded by the Government of Canada. You can hear more podcasts or watch video from the International Polar Year Conference at aandc.gc.ca, or you can find this podcast at iTunes. Thanks for listening.

 

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