200 Years. 200 Stories. Story 171: “Giving a Face to Climate Change ”

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Mongolian herder with some of her cows
Monkhjargal, a herder in Hentii Aimag, Mongolia, during the summer of 2011.

Giving a Face to Climate Change

For almost 20 years the Academy’s Senior Fellow Robert Peck has been exploring the steppes of Central Asia with a camera. Beginning in 1994 with a research trip to Lake Baikal in southern Siberia and Lake Hovsgol in north-central Mongolia, Peck has made seven trips to that part of the world to document the work of Academy scientists and to create a record of nomadic life.

Last summer he accompanied Clyde Goulden, director of the Academy’s Asia Center, on a thousand mile trip designed to gather information on the ways climate change is impacting Mongolia’s herding families. These families depend on the carrying capacity of the land to support their nomadic way of life. While Clyde and Tuya Goulden interviewed herding families, Peck recorded the families on film.

Locally colder weather in northern Mongolia, created by warming trends to the south, has had a significant impact on the ways in which these people manage their livestock. Severe winters and changing rain patterns have made grazing increasingly challenging for the sheep, goats, horses, and yaks that support these herding families, some of whom have been forced to give up their age-old way of life.

“My role is to give a human perspective to the statistics,” says Peck. His visual record, now spanning almost two decades of travel, documents increasing and decreasing herd sizes, the increasingly widespread use of solar power among herding families, and other changes in nomadic life. The pictures are valuable now—for use in lectures, exhibitions, and publications—but will become even more valuable in the years to come. “I feel fortunate to have been able to work with Mongolia’s people and to document a time in history that will never come again,” says Peck.

You can see some of Peck’s photographs of Mongolia in the Academy’s bicentennial exhibition that opens to the public on March 24, 2012.

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