Climate Change and Herding:
Incontrovertible Warning Signs and Local Responses
19 Days ◦ 2 Instructors
This course will focus on research into climate change in mountain, steppe, and desert eco-zones of central Mongolia. It will allow participants to meet Mongolian herders and range scientists to learn first hand about how climate change is impacting traditional lifestyles and ecosystems in Mongolia. Participants will also visit sites of historic, cultural, and ecological significance such as Kharkhorin, the capital of the Mongol Empire, Khustai Nuruu, a conservation center for the native Przewalski’s horse.
In this course participants will engage in explorations and research into climate change in mountain, steppe, and desert eco-zones of central Mongolia, with a focus on herders’ observations and responses to climate stress. Through this module, students will have the opportunity to conduct interviews with herders and local environmental management professionals in three distinct rural sites, to compare meteorological measurements with herders’ local knowledge of a changing climate, and to explore potential adaptation to climate change in relation to social, economic, and political forces in rural Mongolia.
Participants will also visit sites of historic, cultural, and ecological significance such as Kharkhorin–the capital of the Mongol Empire, Erdene Zuu monastery, Khustai Nuruu–a conservation center for the native Przewalski’s horse.
This course focuses on documenting Mongolian herders’ observations of climate change and exploring the interconnections among climate change and other environmental and sociopolitical challenges that nomadic herders are facing. The course emphasizes the value of local knowledge for understanding and addressing climate change impacts. We will also draw from research in natural and social science disciplines such as climatology, geography, rangeland ecology, and anthropology to understand challenges in nomadic pastoralism.
This course visits steppe, mountain, and desert eco-zones within central Mongolia, traveling both off the beaten track to engage directly with herders in the countryside, and visiting sites of cultural, historical, and ecological significance. At an environmental monitoring station in rural Arkhangai Aimag, in the Altai Mountain range, we will learn how meteorological data is collected and examine changing patterns in the data. We will also interview herders about their observations of changing precipitation and temperatures and hear how these changes are impacting the local environment.
Herders throughout Mongolia are knowledgeable about climate change, both from the news and from clear transformations in weather patterns and rangeland ecology that they have witnessed over the past two or more decades. We will learn how herders are
being impacted by these changes and what they see as the best solutions—such as grassroots environmental management, educational programs, improved government services, or policy changes—that would support the herding livelihood amid changing conditions. We will meet with one group of herders that is planting and protecting diverse native plant species to restore degraded pastures.
Additional site visits will be to steppe and desert sites in Ovorkhangai and Dundgovi Aimags, where we will also interview herders and local environmental management professionals about the changes that they have observed and the challenges that they are experiencing. Along the way, we will visit historic sites such as Kharkhorin, the old capital of the Mongol Empire, and historical Buddhist monasteries. In Dundgovi, we will see the effects of coal mining and talk to herders about how mining compounds the
effects of climate change by stressing pasture and water resources. Coursework throughout our travels will involve a comparison of climate change and herders’ responses at the three sites in the respective mountain, steppe, and desert eco-zones that we visit. We will also contextualize the challenges brought on by climate change in relation to social, economic, and political forces, and discuss climate justice.
We will learn how herders themselves are adapting and organizing to build resilience against increasing stresses like drought, pasture degradation, and abnormal winter precipitation, but we will also consider the need for institutional support for safeguarding herding livelihoods and facilitating adaptation. Finally, participants will reflect on the interview methodology and the value of local ecological knowledge for understanding the effects of climate change.
Participants do not need to speak Mongolian; program leaders and staff will provide translation during interviews with herders and local experts. Lodging will be a combination of staying in ger camps and camping. Participants will have opportunities to engage in some aspects of herding culture, such as riding horses and/or camels and milking goats.