To assess the importance of the two frames in these settings, we draw on our ethnographic research as well as the recorded conversations to discuss three specific cases of collective activities, undertaken by the communities. The cases are ones that could plausibly be considered from the community frame (because of the scale of action) and from the climate change frame (because the focus of action is a sector impacted directly by glacier retreat.) The cases were selected to represent a significant level of engagement (lasting for at least 5 years and involving the participation of a significant number of local residents).
In the discussion of each, we open with a discussion of a specific impact of glacier retreat, trace the history of the impacted sector and the local response, and then draw on representative actions and comments to show the importance of the two frames. We find that the community frame is the dominant one in all three cases. In the discussion section, we suggest that these actions can be classified as adaptations, though they do not fit precisely with standard definitions of the term.
Washington State: community festivals
In the towns of Concrete and Glacier, glacier retreat has had negative consequences for tourism, since ice and snow have constituted the major attractions. The Mount Baker ski area, which dates back to the 1930s, brings large numbers of visitors. It has one of the longest ski seasons in the region, both because of the heavy snowfall it receives and because the glacier surfaces retain snow more effectively than rock or soil. Mount Baker supports summer skiing as well, drawing people who hike up on the glaciers or reach them by helicopter and snowmobile. Moreover, the glaciers are an attraction for summer visitors, whether they wish simply to view them or to hike up to or on them. Mount Baker contains the lowest elevation permanent ice in the contiguous USA, making it an important site for recreational ice climbers. Glacier retreat thus threatens the cryosphere tourism that has been central to the local economy for decades.
In this context, the steps that the towns have taken to create and expand festivals which draw tourists to other attractions, including historical heritage and wildlife, could be seen as responses to glacier retreat. These festivals have been presented by both frames, but the community frame is the more frequently mentioned.
The oldest of the festivals, Cascade Days in Concrete, dates back to 1934, when townspeople established it to promote highway construction over the crest of the Cascades. It has been held every year in August since then and expanded in recent years with support from a community nonprofit organization, the Imagine Concrete Foundation, established in 2011.
The North Cascades Vintage Fly-In, founded in 1983, attracts vintage plane owners and fanciers to the municipal airport in Concrete each July. It, too, has grown recently, when meetings with the Concrete City Council addressed the issues of revenue-sharing and noise that had created some local opposition. The Skagit Eagle Festival, first held in 1987, brings visitors to Concrete and other towns each January to view the large concentrations of bald eagles, attend events centered on wildlife, and engage in activities centered on local heritage, including hayrides and Native American storytelling. In addition, other festivals and events have been established more recently: since 2006, there has been a weekly Ghost Walk through the Concrete town center in October. Glacier has two events as well, established in both the last decade by the Mount Baker Chamber of Commerce: Glacier Days in August and a popular bicycle race in September from Glacier to the Mt. Baker Ski Area. All of these events are run by local volunteers, who coordinate with town authorities.
In the interviews, a few people raised climate issues when discussing snow- and ice-based recreation, though they did not use a climate change frame. One linked tourism to weather and to climate variability, saying, “Good snow accumulation brings a lot of tourists up here, which provides money to support local people who work at these places.” This statement reflects the fact that snow amounts vary significantly from year to year in this region, which is strongly affected by El Niño and La Niña events. Another resident mentioned long-term trends, rather than short-term fluctuations, but stressed their impact on intergenerational continuity, rather than talking about climate: “Skiing is such a huge part of my life. And I’m getting older, but for my kids, it’s a major part of their lives and I hope that they’ll be able to continue to ski. Maybe they won’t be able to for their whole life.”
In general, local residents emphasized the importance of supporting and expanding tourism. They couched this concern through a community frame, supporting livelihoods and intergenerational continuity, rather than through a climate change frame of adaptation and response to glacier retreat. One stated, “These kids who get out of high school, there’s not much for them to do except go out of town and find a job in [the nearby town of] Mount Vernon or Seattle. Some of them of course go to college, but probably the majority of them don’t. So there’s no real way to make a livelihood up here. We’re dependent on tourism.” They trace the link between festivals and tourism. “We rely quite heavily on tourism. People come up to go hiking, they come up to go hunting, people come up to go eagle watching in the winter.”
However, the tourists were also mentioned as a kind of nuisance tolerated by locals, even though they interfere with daily life: “We always joke about the eagle watchers. They stop in the middle of the road and look at the eagles. They see this small [two-lane] Highway 20 and they don’t think of it as being a major highway.”
Other people mentioned Cascade Days, not in terms of income and livelihoods, but as part of community social life. Some note that it provides an occasion for former residents to return to visit. One said, “We have a reunion here in the yard for Cascade Days. I usually get about eight of our classmates to come home.” Another mentioned a local musician who plays in a country music band which performs around the state and comes for Cascade Days. Others see the festival as an expression of community spirit. The organizer of the book sale that supports Cascade Days described the sale as follows: “Every day we have opportunities to be part of a miracle. I realize how corny that sounds to many people, but I truly believe that. The planning, organization, and execution of Cascade Days is a prime example. Such community activities simply would cease to exist without the numerous volunteers who step forward. I am amazed by the number of people willing to give their time.”
In sum, residents of both Concrete and Glacier are actively involved in community organizations and activities. The festivals are one element of these efforts. The residents do not discuss the winter or summer festivals through a climate change frame, as responses to cryosphere processes like glacier retreat, but rather through a community frame, as ways to support livelihoods, maintain awareness of the past, retain young people, and draw out-migrants back.
Italian Alps: wood chip plants
Glacier retreat has had negative consequences for energy production in Stilfs, which has long relied on local hydropower plants for electricity. The flow in the rivers is lower, reducing the plants’ generation capacity. It has also become more unreliable, since it has been interrupted more frequently by debris flows, also associated with glacial processes. The debris flows increase the sediment load to a level which could damage the hydroelectric facilities, requiring temporary closures or reduced production as the water flows through settling basins. Moreover, demand for electricity, particularly in the tourism sector, has been increasing, due in part to climate change; resorts have smaller areas of glaciers which can be used for skiing, and the snow season is becoming shorter. As a result, the resorts use snow machines, which require a great deal of electricity to operate.
One of the steps that the local electricity provider has taken to address this deficiency of hydropower capacity is the installation of biomass generation using wood chips. Residents have discussed these facilities using both the climate change and community frames, but the community frame is presented more often.
In this context, the Stilfs Electricity Cooperative (Elektrizitätswerk Stilfs Genossenschaft) is the key organization at the local level. The earliest hydropower plants in the area were very small ones, set up by hotels to serve their guests. A cooperative, established by a local priest in 1921, just 2 years after the region passed from Austria to Italy, expanded production significantly and provided service to local residents. The Italian government under Mussolini sought to expand electricity production in the region, to export electricity to other regions, and to promote local industrialization as a means of attracting Italian-speaking migrants to this German-speaking region. The cooperative maintained its autonomy, though the national government built other power plants in the region and expanded the grid which linked them. Postwar governments also sought to increase energy production through the creation in 1962 of the Italian National Electricity Agency, which acquired regional power utilities throughout the country. It required the Stilfs cooperative to join the national grid, and for a time acquired ownership of the power lines in Stilfs itself. The cooperative itself expanded in the 1970s and 1980s, adding several hydropower plants throughout the community, but regulations on the construction of more plants became more restrictive in the 1990s, as the National Electricity Agency tightened requirements and the national park placed stricter guidelines on land use management.
Biomass plants, used elsewhere in the region, seemed like a positive alternative to increase generation capacity. The first was opened in 2002; others were added in the following years. They burn wood chips, produced locally from lumber mills, from furniture and craft shops and from orchard prunings and small woodlots. Moreover, the biomass plants incorporate systems which pump hot water from the turbines to homes for domestic heating. Firewood, the traditional fuel for home heating, had been partly displaced by heating oil in the decades after World War II; the end of reliance on oil heating was a second reason to promote biomass energy. In addition, subsidies under European Union guidelines for biomass made the electricity less expensive, somewhat offsetting the high initial investment in the plants.
The regional government discussed these plants soon after they first opened, drawing on a mix of climate change and community frames. Its report listed adjectives linked with the former (renewable, carbon-neutral) and with the latter (indigenous (einheimisch), locally available). It also connected biomass with the community frame, indicating that kitchen, farm, and home stoves are “very popular in South Tyrol and associated with centuries of tradition” and adding “The advantages of these [biomass] systems are above all the independence of external energy (electric energy) and in the pleasant warmth in the heated rooms” (AfE 2005: 27).
Though residents occasionally describe wood chips as a renewable energy source, an element of the climate change frame, they draw much more often on the community frame. One stressed the importance of relying on local resources, and of using them efficiently. He stated, “In the winter, we don’t have water to make electricity, so we have to use wood chips: they are used twice [for electricity and heating].” He added that if local supplies of wood chips are insufficient, they can be purchased from Austria, with “support and subsidies” from the EU, emphasizing the local economy rather than environmental benefits of shifting from oil for heating. Others note that the pipes which bring hot water to houses can also carry fiber-optic cables to local homes, promoting an additional benefit at low cost, serving both to promote local tourism and to modernize the community, addressing a concern particularly of younger residents.
Locals speak with pride about the long history of the cooperative. One stated, “The cooperative outlasted world wars, fascism and nationalization [through the Italian National Energy Authority].” Others look to the future, indicating that the cooperative brings local independence, setting prices with the members of the cooperative in mind; one even stated that the cooperative, using biomass, would create “lives with futures for young families, and in this way it will stop them from thinking of out-migration.”
The chair of the cooperative explained his reason for preferring the biomass generation to purchasing from other firms over the national grid in simple terms. “The money stays here,” he said.
Peruvian Andes: new water delivery technologies
Glacier retreat has had negative consequences for the availability of water in Copa, whose residents have long depended on the Río Allancay, which descends from the Copa glacier, to provide water for irrigation and domestic use. The river’s flow used to be abundant, but it has decreased in recent years, as the glacier has receded. Moreover, demand for water has grown. Warmer temperatures and more irregular rainfall have increased the importance of irrigation during both the dry and rainy seasons. Marcará, the town in the valley below Copa, is growing in population, and its residents consume more water as they build larger houses and use more domestic appliances.
In this context of reduced supply and increased demand, the residents of Copa have undertaken steps which address this deficiency of water by shifting to water infrastructure with lower losses through infiltration. They have used concrete to line the earthen canals which convey water from the river, and they have constructed systems to pipe water from the river directly to homes for domestic use. These new technologies have been discussed more frequently through the community frame than through the climate change frame.
Irrigation has long been established in the region, where it allows residents to cultivate a second crop in the dry season, unlike residents in other areas who rely on rainfall alone and raise only one crop a year. Irrigation was an important component of agriculture in Copa during the period of haciendas (private estates), which ended with the Peruvian agrarian reform of 1969.
A major earthquake in 1970 severely damaged the canals. By 1976, Copa was officially recognized as a peasant community, the collective owner of the former hacienda lands. In one of their first acts, its members restored a major canal which diverted water from a high spot on the Río Allancay, carrying sacks of cement, provided by government aid for earthquake reconstruction, up from the valley to line the canal. It provided water to a network of earthen canals. Some additional canals were lined in the following decades, though many remain unlined to the present.
A project to provide one of the seven sectors of the community with domestic water (agua potable) began in 2005. This sector was a major one, containing two chapels and a schoolhouse. The financing came through the district government of Marcará, which administers Copa; it was paid for by royalties from mining companies in the region. Community leaders presented this project to the district government. At the same time, the district government approved a new domestic water project for Marcará itself. Both of these projects draw water from the Río Allancay above the major diversion for irrigation.
A principal goal of the project was to help Copa Grande gain recognition as a municipality, raising it above the category of caserío (hamlet). As such, it would receive part of its budget directly, rather than applying for each expenditure to Marcará, and would have greater claim on government services. To achieve this status, it needed to document a population of 1000 adults, including other sectors of the community, and also to demonstrate a certain level of urban development, for which domestic water was key (Bobfiglio 2014). It also laid out streets on a grid and mapped house lots, facilitating the provision of piped water.
This status of municipality was granted in 2008. In 2009, a second, cement-lined diversion canal was built from the Río Allancay to serve the lower sectors of the community. Improvements of irrigation continued as well, with cement lining of some secondary canals. These were supported by the National Water Authority, also created in 2009 in conjunction with a new national Water Resources Law. These changes increased the collection of irrigation fees, which, though nominal in amount, were a significant change for Copa, long accustomed to thinking of itself as the owner of its water. The water authority also supported the lining of additional canals, with a significant project in 2015.
The establishment of the municipality has brought changes, particularly to the central sector, where improvements to education and electrification are concentrated. As a municipality, Copa has been able to solicit road improvement projects, which benefit all the sectors.
For the residents of Copa, water remains of great importance, since the large majority of the population has close ties to agriculture. Though they recognize the importance of glaciers, they view water issues largely through a community frame. Many of them articulate a belief that the final disappearance of the glaciers will mean a complete absence of water, sometimes even suggesting that rains will end. One resident asked, “What water will we live with when the glacier is gone?” Another simply stated, “We will die without water.” However, they do not suggest that this dramatic change will occur in the near future.
Some people, especially those served by new canals, speak positively of canals. A woman from one of the lower sectors stated at a focus group, “[In the past] we barely had any water. Ever since the Allancay canal was opened, we’ve had plenty of water. The canal is like our own river.”
Many more comment on the scarcity of water. One man stated in an interview, “There is less water overall now, no more than a fifth comes now. It is not like earlier times, when more came. Now they have taken water with different canals and it does not reach us like it used to.” Another noted that the canals removed all the water in the Río Allancay; in 2015, for the first time, it did not discharge any water at its confluence with the Río Vicos below it.
The concerns about water take different forms. Some complain of the decline of the springs in the community, which used to supply domestic water to all the sectors, and served to water livestock as well. One man stated, “The springs have dried up because of the potable water [in the central sector]. There is almost no water coming out of the ground now.” Another man indicated that the water that he currently has is sufficient. He indicated that he can afford the fees that he has been paying since 2009, but he thinks that the state might increase them substantially. “I think that they will, I’m not sure but I believe that sooner or later they will.”
Another reported a strong disagreement between his sector, a neighboring one, and a community adjacent to Copa. “We used to be together with them, but now the other sector wants to take away all the water. We can’t live like that, with water just for them. What would we eat? There has to be sharing. But they went to the Ministry of Water and bribed them.” The other sector arranged for technicians to come, presumably from the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation, who spoke in favor of the other sector. Though the other community seems to have stayed on the sidelines, the two sectors had an angry confrontation afterwards, which ended with an arrangement close to previous sharing of the water. “We are all right for the time being. I don’t know what it will be like in the future, but now we are sharing and we’ve left it like that.”
Though these comments about water raise many specific issues, they all refer to other social actors—other sectors in the community, neighboring communities, the town of Marcará, and the state—as the source of water scarcity. The domestic water project supported the granting of municipal status to Copa. This status, in turn, has brought new benefits to the community but also created a gap between the municipal center of Copa Grande and outlying sectors. The domestic water project, one of the more visible inequalities, is also blamed for decreased water supplies. As these issues indicate, water availability is considered largely through the community frame.