Cultural values of glaciers

Christine Jurt, Julie Brugger, Katherine W. Dunbar, Kerry Milch, Ben Orlove

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

16 Scopus citations


The previous chapters have illustrated the many ways glaciers are linked to society. As important components of hydrological systems, they provide water for irrigation, energy production, and consumption. They are associated with natural hazards, particularly floods and debris flow. Because glaciers interact with natural resources that underpin economic activities, the consequences of glacier retreat can be valued in economic terms. But many people – those who live near glaciers and those who live farther away – express a deep appreciation and concern for glaciers beyond issues of water and hazards. In this chapter we examine cultural values of glaciers that derive from culturally specific standards, rather than from universal market-based monetary systems. An examination of cultural values can lead to a deeper understanding of climate change responses and risks and the limits of adaptation – a discussion that is gaining traction in climate change debates [1], particularly concerning the concepts of loss and damage [2,3] – and is crucial for future responses to climate change as well as to glacier retreat in particular. 6.2 Three cases in the Alps, the Andes, and the North Cascades For a consideration of cultural values, we draw material from case studies of communities located in regions with glaciated mountain ranges: Stilfs in the Italian Alps, Siete Imperios in the Cordillera Blanca in Peru, and Concrete and Glacier in the North Cascades, United States. We include two cases where local populations consider glacier retreat to be a serious threat to their ways of life and another case where local populations do not see glacier retreat as having a major impact. The comparison of the three cases – each the subject of several years’ worth of ethnographic work – shows the ways in which context shapes the cultural values of glaciers. This research relies on a number of complementary methods. As anthropologists, we conducted extensive field work, residing in or near the communities for months, interacting regularly with residents in their daily lives. We conducted interviews and organized focus groups. We also collected unpublished historical documents written by local people and archival material from local meetings, governments, and community organizations. Taken together, these methods allowed us to get a full view of the lives of the inhabitants and the meaning of glaciers for their lives and their places.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe High-Mountain Cryosphere
Subtitle of host publicationEnvironmental Changes and Human Risks
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages17
ISBN (Electronic)9781107588653
ISBN (Print)9781107065840
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)


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