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Building adaptive capacity in a changing Arctic by use of technology

Jennifer I Schmidt, Institute of Social and Economic Research, University of Alaska Anchorage
Vera H Hausner, Arctic Sustainability Lab, UIT - the Arctic University of Norway, Tromsø, Norway
Christopher Monz, Department of Environment and Society, Utah State University, Logan


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Rapid Arctic warming, manifested as thawing permafrost, loss of coastal sea ice, sea level rise, and climate-related extreme events, is particularly challenging for Indigenous people relying on wild food to sustain their livelihood and culture. The adoption of new technologies could provide specific capabilities to confront vulnerabilities associated with fishing and hunting activities, but it could also accentuate existing vulnerabilities of the communities and undermine the generic (i.e., non-specific) adaptive capacities to respond to rapid environmental and socioeconomic changes. We investigated the role of technology for building capacity to respond to challenges posed by climate change in three remote communities in northwest Arctic Alaska. We refer to technology as tools used to change how people engage or relate to landscape or society. We interviewed 35 Inuit subsistence users and used Q-sort methodologies to examine their attitudes toward technology and climate change adaptation. Communication technologies and new ways of transport have allowed harvesters to travel faster and further, and 89% of the interviewees underscored the role of technology for enhancing the specific capacity to cope with extreme weather (77%), foggy conditions (60%), and environmental changes (89%). Despite of the role technology plays in enhancing the capacity to respond to climate threats, just over half viewed technology as generally favorable for the community (54%), although most admitted there are downsides (60%), including higher financial costs (34%), increased vulnerability (23%), and time spent on maintenance (9%). Our results underscore the need to focus on generic capacity when developing climate adaptation policies for Arctic Alaska to attend to both climatic and non-climatic stressors affecting the vulnerability of Indigenous communities.

Key words

adaptive capacity; Alaska; climate change; resilience; social-ecological systems; subsistence; technology

Copyright © 2021 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087