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Using proverbs to study local perceptions of climate change: a case study in Sierra Nevada (Spain)


Local communities’ dependence on the environment for their livelihood has guided the development of indicators of local weather and climate variability. These indicators are encoded in different forms of oral knowledge. We explore whether people recognize and perceive as accurate one type of such forms of oral knowledge, climate-related proverbs. We conducted research in the Alta Alpujarra Occidental, Sierra Nevada, Spain. We collected locally recognized proverbs and classified them according to whether they referred to the climatic, the physical, or the biological system. We then conducted questionnaires (n = 97) to assess informant’s ability to recognize a selection of 30 locally relevant proverbs and their perception of the accuracy of the proverb. Climate-related proverbs are abundant and relatively well recognized even though informants consider that many proverbs are not accurate nowadays. Although proverbs’ perceived accuracy varied across informant’s age, level of schooling, and area of residence, overall proverb’s lack of reported accuracy goes in line with climate change trends documented by scientists working in the area. While our findings are limited to a handful of proverbs, they suggest that the identification of mismatches and discrepancies between people’s reports of proverb (lack of) accuracy and scientific assessments could be used to guide future research on climate change impacts.

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We thank researchers from the Observatorio del cambio global de Sierra Nevada and all the people who kindly collaborated with us during fieldwork.


Research leading to this work has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under grant agreement no. 771056-LICCI-ERC-2017-COG and from the Spanish government through a grant of the Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness (CSO2014-59704-P). García-del-Amo and Reyes-García received financial support from the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness, through the “María de Maeztu” Programme for Units of Excellence in R&D (MdM-2015-0552).

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Correspondence to María Garteizgogeascoa or Victoria Reyes-García.

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Data collection received the approval of the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (CEEAH-3367). We collected the free, prior, and informed consent of all participants before starting the survey (Supplementary Material 1).

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Communicated by Chinwe Ifejika Speranza

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Garteizgogeascoa, M., García-del-Amo, D. & Reyes-García, V. Using proverbs to study local perceptions of climate change: a case study in Sierra Nevada (Spain). Reg Environ Change 20, 59 (2020).

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  • Andalucía (Spain)
  • Climate change impacts
  • Ethnoclimatology
  • Indigenous and local knowledge
  • Proverbs