Indigenous experiences with climate change have become increasingly visible through media stories of rising sea levels, heavy storms, and coastal erosion due to climate change in places as different as Tuvula in the South Pacific and Shishmaref in the Alaskan Arctic. Despite these bursts of attention, indigenous concerns and experiences have not been well or diversely represented in media coverage, nor have they been consistently studied in media scholarship—nor until recently, have indigenous people or knowledge been mentioned in major climate agreements and scientific assessments. There is, however, a growing body of interdisciplinary scholarship that draws on indigenous knowledge, experiences, and activism related to climate change. Indigenous peoples comprise 5% of the world’s population and live in over 90 countries around the world. Because indigenous communities are often located outside major urban centers, indigenous peoples are likely to suffer disproportionately from the impacts of climate change. Many indigenous people live in close connection with the ecosystems in their region, and collectively held Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) is passed down through multiple generations, providing in-depth, systematic, meaningful, and historically informed views of climate change and potential pathways for resilience and adaptation. Indigenous people have often been portrayed in media coverage as victims with little attention paid to TEK, communal resilience, human rights and climate justice frameworks, or the historical contexts that may amplify climate change impacts. While indigenous people have diverse circumstances and histories, many are likely to have suffered enormous upheaval in recent centuries due to colonialism, resource development, economic shifts, loss of human rights, and lack of self-determination. Climate change often intensifies existing vulnerabilities and risks. These deeply intertwined social and environmental crises create distinct challenges for considering how and what climate change means for diverse indigenous peoples, how to address it at all levels of governance, and how media can and should be accountable to and represent indigenous publics.
Throughout history human societies have been shaped and sculpted by the weather conditions that they faced. More than just the physical parameters imposed by the weather itself, how individuals, communities, and whole societies have imagined and understood the weather has influenced many facets of human activity, from agriculture to literary culture. Whether through direct lived experiences, oral traditions and stories, or empirical scientific data these different ways of understanding meteorological conditions have served a multitude of functions in society, from the pragmatic to the moral. While developments made in the scientific understanding of the atmosphere over the last 300 years have been demonstrably beneficial to most communities, their rapid onset and spread across different societies often came at the expense of older ways of knowing. Therefore, the late 20th century turn to emphasizing the importance of and interrogating and incorporating of traditional ecological knowledge within meteorological frameworks and discourses was essential. This scholarly research, underway across a number of disciplines across the humanities and beyond, not only aides the top-down integration and reach of mitigation and adaptation plans in response to the threat posed by anthropogenic climate change; it also enables the bottom-up flow of forgotten or overlooked knowledge, which helps to refine and improve our scientific understanding of global environmental systems.
The emergence of meteorology in Vietnam did not begin in 1898–1899, with the French installation of a central meteorological observatory in Phù Liễn, near Hải Phòng, and a network of meteorological stations across Indochina. Prior to the colonial time, the ethnic Vietnamese, as well as other ethnic groups such as the Cham, Muong, and Tay-Thai, developed their own knowledge of meteorological phenomena that functioned within their farming practices and cultural frameworks. While further research concerning traditional meteorological knowledge of minority groups in Vietnam is needed, substantial evidence allows a preliminary survey on the practices of the ethnic Vietnamese. Between 1000 and the 1850s, the Vietnamese expanded outwards from their original homeland in the lowlands of north and north-central Vietnam. They adopted the written language, thought systems, and technologies of imperial China, which predisposed them to an enduring Chinese-style meteorological ideology. The Vietnamese viewed weather extremes and other natural anomalies not merely as natural processes. Because meteorological phenomena were “Heaven-sent” warnings of cosmological disasters, Vietnamese dynastic rulers, as well as local farmers and rice producers, interpreted these signs as a demand for moral change. Redressing the authorities’ governance, according to their view, helped rehabilitate the equilibrium of the cosmos. Hence, the records of weather events in Vietnamese historical documents do not simply describe the conditions of past weather, but more importantly, the situations in which the cosmos was no longer in balance. One need not assume that premodern meteorology lacked material grounds. In Vietnam, meteorological knowledge and practices were strongly associated with wet rice cultivation. Vietnamese authorities maintained official agencies to produce yearly calendars that traced proper timing for rice crops, while the populace accumulated experience-based knowledge about seasonal rainfall. Intellectuals, too, expanded their interests to include meteorological knowledge because the subject enriched their philosophy of nature, as in the case of Confucian thinker Lê Quý Đôn (1726–1784), or their medical practices, as in the case of physician Lê Hữu Trác (1720–1791). The advances of Southeast Asian paleoclimate reconstruction since the beginning of the 21st century have added new ideas and methodologies to the study of premodern meteorology in Vietnam. A stronger partnership between climate scientists and historians will therefore facilitate more sophisticated investigations into the knowledge and practices that the Vietnamese developed to respond to weather and climate dynamics.