The SamiThe only indigenous people remaining in EuropeMore than 100 words can be used to describe snow. From seaŋáš, a fluffy, grainy and light-moving snow, is a good choice. tjaevi, flakes that stick together, are hard to dig, their names are based on their texture, depth, density and the harsh Arctic winter conditions.
But the Sami of Sápmi, who are traditionally fishers, trappers, and reindeer herders, do not yet have a word for what they are seeing more often on the ground.
“This new snow has no name,” said Lars-Anders Kuhmunen, a reindeer herder from Kiruna, Sweden’s northernmost town, near the Norwegian border. “I don’t know what it is. It’s like early tjaevi, which usually occurs in March. The winters are now warmer and there is more rain, making it icy. The snow on top is very bad snow and the reindeer can’t dig for their food.”
According to a report by a, the Arctic is warming faster than the rest. Paper published in Science Last week. Sápmi, an area that stretches over parts of four countries—Sweden, Finland, Norway and Russia—and is hemmed by three seas, recorded its The hottest temperature in more than 100 yearsJuly saw temperatures of 33.6 C (92.5 F), in the midst of a summer heatwave.
Kuhmunen and other Reindeer Herders spend their days and nights tending to the herds scattered across large tundras. They are at the forefront for the climate crisis. They say that their semi-domestic reindeer, which has adapted well to the harsh conditions in the polar region are being pushed to their limits by the climate changes. The animals use their shovel-like hooves for digging for lichen, which is their main winter food supply. However, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find food.
Warmer than average temperatures can lead to snow that was semipermanent through winter turning to rain. This in turn freezes on ground, trapping lichen underneath the ice so animals cannot reach it. Thick snowfall, which is also more common, makes it difficult for animals to smell the lichen.
These freeze-thaw, rain-on snow events happen naturally in the ArcticThey are occurring more often and on a greater scale. There have been Mass starvation of reindeerIn Russia in 2013-14 and Norway in 2018-19, herders had to travel farther in recent years in order to find grazing grounds.
Kuhmunen (43), a father of three children, said that the changing weather and shrinking grasslands have made his job harder. Speaking from the forest, six miles (10km) north of Kiruna, where he is following his herd, he said: “It’s hard to keep the herd together, so I have to work harder. They spread out more because they can’t find food. Now, there are only four to five hours of daylight. When the polar darkness comes it will be harder.”
He adds: “Reindeer are losing their habitat, because of logging and mines. My father’s generation used to go on skis to the reindeer. Because of the greater distances, we use snowmobiles. I worry about it every day.”
Human expansion has already put a halt to reindeer herding. Forestry and mining activities are now moving into traditional grazing ground. One study in Norway found that in the last century, undisturbed reindeer habitat had shrunk by 70%, including grazing lands flooded for hydroelectric dams.
The climate challenges faced by the Sami—and the impact on their rights and livelihood—have been researched and documented by the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF), one of four charities in the Guardian and Observer’s 2021 Climate justice appealAs part of an international campaign to lobby politicians for climate action
The Sami portraits, films, and stories were featured in exhibitions at the European Parliament, the National Theatre of London, and the Venice Biennale. These exhibitions reached hundreds of thousand of viewers and prompted deep-seated discussions about climate policy.
Aslat Simma, 42, a herder and former chief of the Lainiovuoma tribe, said: “This is December. The temperature should be below zero all the time. A normal winter has temperatures of -20 to -25 C. Now the temperature can be zero or positive.”
He said that the lichen is less nutritious for deer due to the increased rainfall in autumn. “We are living with nature and we are dependent on the weather and the reindeer for all we do. The reindeer use all their energy digging for grazing land. They are living at the edge, where animals can adapt. When the changes in climate come so fast, they can’t adapt. They have already adapted so much.”
Henrik Blind, a member of a herding family from the town of Jokkmokk, said: “When you live so close to a creature, you see the world through their eyes. It is hard to live in these conditions. Everything is upside down.
“Our livelihoods depend on a planet that is not on fire. We are an Arctic people, and our culture is written entirely in snow. Climate change means that snow will become less and less.
“We must realize we can’t overconsume our planet. This is urgent. We need to listen to all the indigenous people in the world who know how to live in harmony with the planet.”