Lapland and reindeer in the face of climate change


Lapland, a land associated with winter magic and home of the legendary Santa Claus, is now a place where climate change is casting a shadow over the future of one of the region’s most iconic symbols – the reindeer. With rising temperatures and changing ecosystems, the traditional way of life of the Saami people and the survival of the reindeer are coming into question. This holiday season, when the thoughts of many of us turn to Lapland, it is worth considering the impact that climate change is having on this geographically distant but close to our hearts region.

Lapland is warming up – reindeer endangered

The Finnish part of Sápmi (Lapland) has experienced a 2.3°C increase in average temperature since the post-industrial period. Changes have been particularly intense in recent years. Scientists predict that if warming continues at this rate, the climate in Sápmi will resemble that of southern Finland by the end of the century. Such a change could have disastrous consequences for local ecosystems, including reindeer husbandry, which is not only a source of livelihood for the Saami people, but also a key part of their culture and traditions.

Climate change is affecting the amount and structure of snow in Lapland, which is crucial to the survival of reindeer. These majestic animals, associated with winter landscapes and holiday stories, depend on stable snow conditions. Reduced predictability of precipitation, its variable amount and structure make it difficult for reindeer to access its natural food – lichens. These changes not only threaten the health and welfare of reindeer, but also affect the safety and way of life of ranchers.

Sami Climate Council – will climate change be stopped?

In response to these challenges, the Finnish government established the Sami Climate Council earlier this year. This independent expert body, composed of scientists and holders of traditional Sami knowledge, is tasked with incorporating Sami perspectives and knowledge into climate policy processes. The Council’s chairman, Klemetti Näkkäläjärvi, stresses the importance of cooperation between the scientific community and holders of traditional knowledge in developing climate change adaptation strategies.

In their face, traditional Saami livelihoods, including reindeer husbandry, are under threat. Many communities have had to modify patterns of previous work, introducing modern technologies or providing additional food for their herds. Unfortunately, as the Saami’s unique ways of subsistence disappear, their language and culture are also under threat.

Climate change negatively affects mental health of Laplanders

Although Lapland is usually associated with a simple and orderly life, as it turns out, climate change has negatively affected the mental health and well-being of its inhabitants.

Research and conversations with the peoples of Lapland show that their culture and daily life have already had to adapt to ongoing changes, including in the distribution and abundance of plant species and new weather conditions. Climate change in Sápmi has also increased the risk of food insecurity and diseases associated with modified diets, for example.

Importantly, climate change, combined with other adverse factors, has led to an increase in stress, anxiety, worry and depression. It is stress that is becoming an increasingly common problem for reindeer herders and their families.

Lapland – will it be possible to save the reindeer?

This holiday season, when reindeer are a symbol of joy and magic, it is worth considering their future in Lapland. Will Santa have enough reindeer to drive his sleigh if we don’t take care of their habitat? This question, while it may seem funny on the surface, has a real basis in the face of climate change. The climate in the Arctic regions is warming much faster than anywhere else in the world. By which Sami culture, which is closely linked to Arctic nature, is particularly vulnerable to the effects of ongoing warming.

Climate change mitigation and adaptation is not only an environmental issue, but also a matter of protecting culture and traditions. For indigenous peoples like the Saami, climate change is not only an ecological problem, but also a threat to their way of life and cultural heritage. During this festive time, when Lapland draws our attention more often than during the rest of the year, it is worth remembering that protecting this remote region and its people is important not only for them, but for all of us. The only panacea for the progressive situation is to find effective ways to limit global warming and mitigate the severe effects of climate change.

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