Climate change threatens the survival and migration practices of monarch butterflies. Drastic shifts in weather patterns and the fragmentation and degradation of habitat adversely affect environmental cues facilitating migration and hibernation of monarch butterflies. Restoring the monarch butterflies’ habitats, destroyed by climate change and deforestation practices, would increase the butterflies’ chances of survival.

Monarch butterflies are among the endangered species assessed by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). Once numbered at over one billion in the 1990s, monarch butterflies declined to approximately two hundred million individuals in 2015-2016.

Milkweed is the food supply for monarch butterflies. Monarch butterflies need milkweed to grow and develop. Caterpillars only feed on milkweed. As milkweed adapts to climate change, they can also threaten to poison the butterflies. When milkweed plants sense warming temperatures, they increase their production of cardenolide, a poison, as a defensive mechanism against predators.

Monarch butterflies can freeze to death in temperatures below freezing. As the weather gets colder in parts of Canada and the United States, monarch butterflies fly thousands of miles south to Mexico, starting in October, to winter among the Oyamel Fir Tree forests. Typically, monarch butterflies make their return trip North in early April; however, habitat loss threatens monarch survival.

Practices of rewilding rural and city landscapes, including growing more milkweed, support monarch butterflies’ survival, and the nectar-rich milkweed give the butterflies added energy before their long flight South each year.


By Leela Viswanathan


(Image Credit: M. Dean, Unsplash)

Revitalizing all aspects of Indigenous oral cultures, including Indigenous languages, is necessary to enhance climate adaptation and to mitigate the loss of centuries of traditional Indigenous knowledge. Indigenous oral traditions are reflected in practices that transmit, receive, and protect Indigenous ideas, ways of knowing, art, and cultural materials, like songs and creation stories, from one generation to the next. Indigenous languages, as crucial contributors to Indigenous oral traditions, are constantly at risk of disappearing, due to ongoing colonization and climate-forced migration.

For example, South Pacific Islander oral traditions can “describe events that occurred as much as 400-700 years ago, less than one-third of the time that most western Pacific island groups have been occupied.” In turn, the Vanuatu government’s support for Indigenous language education in elementary schools could be viewed as an approach to both Indigenous language revitalization and climate change adaptation. Furthermore, to defend against language loss and to acknowledge modern environmental phenomena, Greenland’s government is legislating new words, such as ‘climate change’ (i.e., silap pissusiata allanngornera) among others, through Oqaasileriffik, their Language Secretariat, and is replacing dominant Danish place names for those in Greenlandic.

More than half of the 7,000 languages spoken in the world today will be lost within this century due to the ongoing effects of both colonization and climate change. Revitalizing Indigenous oral traditions and integrating Indigenous languages into local climate adaptation strategies are necessary to ensure the cultural and climate resilience of Indigenous peoples worldwide.

By Leela Viswanathan

(Photo credit: Filip Gielda, Unsplash)

Threatened by the effects of climate change, such as coastal erosion and rising sea levels, Indigenous people are being forced to relocate their communities and risk loss of their culture. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that by 2050, there will be 20 million people displaced due to climate change.

Migration is often presented as a last resort climate change adaptation strategy for Indigenous peoples, and while the loss of culture, due to forced relocation, is evidenced, it is also difficult to quantify in ways that policymakers can appreciate. For example, when the US government was unable to protect several Alaskan Native American communities to remain in place and to adapt to thawing permafrost and reduced marine life, these communities were forced to relocate. In turn, the Climate Justice Resilience Fund and their international allies attempted to shed light upon losses to culture brought by forced migration, and advocated to the signatories of the Paris Agreement to develop rules to prevent such losses. 

Rising sea levels caused by global warming are threatening to displace more Indigenous people living on island nations, such as Tuvalu, located in the South Pacific Ocean, just 4 or 5 meters above sea level.  Similarly, the Lennox Island Mi’Kmaq First Nation located in Prince Edward Island, Canada, is adapting to rising sea levels and potential land loss. Their efforts are being supported by research with the Mi’kmaq Confederacy of Prince Edward Island and data drawn from the University of PEI’s CLIVE tool to track the loss of land fallen into the sea and to adapt to the rapid rate of soil erosion. As another source of information on climate change planning, the PEI Climate Change Action Plan 2018-2023 helps communities to assess how to plan for the erosion of coastal lands; however, it does not address climate change-related Indigenous migration due to land loss and related cultural impacts.

Canada’s federal government does not have a plan in place to address climate-forced displacement of Indigenous peoples. Considering the lack of state-based government policy on displacement, even with financial investment in climate change adaptation, there is a need for world-wide coordination with Indigenous communities to learn how these communities envision their own futures under climate change threats. In Australia, researchers have reported on the diverse dimensions of climate change-induced migration, noting that any attempts at a one-size fits all adaptation policy for Indigenous communities should be replaced by efforts to develop “place-based adaptive strategies” with Indigenous communities.

Grassroots coalitions across not-for-profit, religious organizations, human rights organizations, and Indigenous communities have convened discussions to put forward Indigenous-led solutions to climate change adaptation. They also consider how to mitigate the violation of human rights related to climate-forced migration. In turn, it is vital to learn from the experiences of Indigenous peoples to humanize the impact of climate change effects and to consider how communities are simultaneously addressing the environmental impacts of climate change and the pressures of climate-forced relocation.  

By Leela Viswanathan

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