Adapting to Climate Change in
Reindeer Herding:
The Nation-State as Problem and
Erik S. Reinert (Saami University College,
Kautokeino, Norway), Iulie Aslaksen (Statistics
Norway), Inger Marie G. Eira, Svein Mathiesen (both
Saami University College), Hugo Reinert, (University
of Cambridge) & Ellen Inga Turi (University of Oslo)
Paper presented to Living with climate change: are there limits to adaptation?
Tyndall Centre for Climate Change and Royal Geographical Society, London,
February 7-8, 2008.
Outline of presentation
• Ecological economics: New perspectives on value of nature,
taking into account uncertainty, precaution and sustainability
• Reindeer herding as sequential usufruct of ecological
• 1770s: Consolidation of nation-states blocked cross-border
operations of ethnic groups (Saami,Jews)
• Today’s mismatch between agricultural models and pastoral
practices in reindeer herding
• Adaptation to climate change: the state as problem and
potential solution.
Perspectives from ecological economics
• Nature is the basis for life: Economics within ecological
• Value of nature qualities may be incommensurable with
other values
• Sustainable development
• Value of nature and culture are intertwined
• Traditional ecological knowledge and resilience capacity
• Ethical perspectives
• Uncertainty and precautionary perspectives
Perspectives from different disciplines.
• German Geographer Carl Troll (1899-1975): Extreme
climatic zones of the earth produce a huge number of
ecological niches relatively close to each other
• American Anthropologist John Murra (1916-2006): This
large number of niches provides the very basis for human
habitation in these inhospitable areas. Sequential usufruct
(utilization) of ecological niches, as in migration between
summer and winter pastures, forms the basis of the
economic systems
• Migration between ecological niches provides flexibility and
resilience in response to climate variability. John Locke’s
(1632-1704) key role in reducing indigenous rights
Saami languages and nation-state borders
Historical perspective on reindeer herding
• Before nation-state borders were established in Northern
Scandinavia, reindeer herding migration patterns followed
ethnic/linguistic areas formed around a complete set of
ecological niches needed for herding.
• In 1751 borders were drawn between Norway, Sweden and
Finland. The supplementary legal document,
Lappecodicilen, ensured the right for reindeer herding
migration across borders.
• However, the 1770s represented a turning point in
European view of ”native” peoples: John Locke and the
view that indigenous people do not have property rights to
pasture land.
Reindeer herders’ migratory pattern in Finnmark, Norway
Historical perspectives on reindeer herding
• A qualitative change in the view of rights to land: From
traditional rights and the "noble savage" to colonialism and
the superiority of agriculture.
• In 1852 the border between Norway and Finland/Russia
was closed to reindeer herding, seriously affecting access to
niches and sustainability, breaking up the traditional siida
(extended family group). Result: mass migration of Saami to
Sweden and the US, and the Kautokeino Revolt.
Cyclical behaviour of temperatures in the Arctic, 20th century
Source: ACIA, 2005. Arctic Climate Impact Assessment. Cambridge University press, p. 3, Fig. 1.2.
Annual average near surface air temperature from stations on land relative to the average for 1961-1990,
for the region from 60° to 90° N (updated from Peterson and Vose, 1997).
Cyclical movement of number of reindeer in Sweden, 1900-2000
Source: Statistics Sweden.
Agricultural models vs. reindeer herding
In 1976 agricultural principles and a “planning paradigm” were
introduced in herding
Slaughtering and marketing - the most profitable activities in the value
chain - came under government regulation and non-Saami ownership
Inflexible target price mismatch to natural fluctuations in production:
short term maximization of annual meat production seriously increased
the vulnerability of the herds and of the whole economic system
Loss of diversity: of the ”beautiful herd” and the ”gentlemen of the
Severe mismatch between agricultural model and traditional knowledge
Questioned today when climate change requires traditional knowledge
and practices in order to improve adaptation
Adaptation to climate change
The basic insurance mechanisms employed by human cultures
under extreme variation in climate are DIVERSITY and FLEXIBILITY.
Saami herding will be able to cope and adapt if these elements are
• The need to restructure herds to decrease vulnerability to climate
change. Modify government incentives in Norway to improve herd
• The need to re-establish Fenno-Scandinavian reindeer herding across
nation-state boundaries, allowing the siida to regain its transnational
character, in a process involving Saami organizations.
• The need to limit the increasing permanent loss of ecological niches
available to herders, due to pastoral land being used for other purposes,
including new infrastructure.
• The need to improve the economic basis of the herders by giving them
back the ownership of the most profitable activities in the value-chain:
slaughtering and marketing. This will enable them to absorb the costs
associated with climatic change.

Reinert et al. Reindeer Herding