Arctic Climate Training - Svalbard
Two months ago, I was selected as the Canadian delegate to attend a climate change training session with European youth on board an expedition vessel in the Norwegian Arctic archipelago of Svalbard. Training was led by a team from the United Nations Environment Programme’s polar research centre, GRID-Arendal and the event was organized by the British Council and Youth in Action. I set off from Toronto with my incredibly warm Canada Goose Expedition parka on an adventure that would become the most inspiring experience of my life.
On our first evening aboard the “Antarctic Dream,” embarking on our voyage into the Svalbard wilderness, our expedition leader Philipp told us about something called “polar fever.” He described it as a passion for the Arctic that grows within oneself upon experiencing the region, and he hoped that we would all catch it. After spending a week immersed in the unparalleled natural splendor of Svalbard, I can say that, without a doubt, I’ve caught a bad case of polar fever – and I’ve never been happier to feel so ill. Unfortunately, the Arctic region has also caught its own version of the polar fever - and humans are causing it. Unlike the polar fever that I’ve caught, the Arctic region has a temperature that is rising quickly – it is called climate change, and the Arctic needs some serious medical attention before it’s too late.
We’ve all heard a lot about climate change and much of the information disseminated to the public can seem confusing and even contradictory. There are many vested interests in maintaining discord within the public opinion about the legitimacy of climate change. However, there is scientific consensus that the current accelerated changes in climate are anthropogenic – in other words, caused by humans. For humans, who have an individual average lifespan of less than one hundred years, and who have collectively been in existence for one very minute fragment of the earth’s history, it can be very difficult to understand the vast concept of time in which the earth’s cycles exist.
On our last day in Svalbard, we hiked up a mountain and sat down on its flank, overlooking a glacier and the vast Arctic Ocean. Some of us were already drifting into a quiet meditative space, when our guide asked everybody to sit down, put down their cameras and take a few moments in silence to reflect upon our experiences over the past week. To try and understand a natural rate of climate change, I recommend taking some time to sit on a mountain and reflect. Reflect upon the millions of years that it has taken to form, and how it is changing constantly, but at a pace that we are unable to perceive.
The climate of the earth does fluctuate in long-term cycles that can last tens of thousands of years and longer. With these changes in climate come mass changes in the types of flora and fauna that flourish and cease to exist. In other words, the survival of species is, and has always been, largely dependent on climate. The human species is no exception – we have grown and thrived on the relatively moderate and stable climate since the last ice age, allowing us to develop agriculture, technologies and infrastructures that have created a productive and efficient global society. An unstable, warming climate will undoubtedly have a profoundly negative impact upon our individual lives and upon our species collectively.
The Arctic is a harsh environment for any species to live and thrive, and indeed, few species do thrive, making the food chain short and highly interdependent. Those few species that have managed to adapt and specialize to this climate are resilient but at the same time vulnerable - if one population destabilizes, it has an impact upon the entire ecosystem. The Earth is composed of systems that are all interconnected - when change occurs in one system, it impacts everything else. Many of the environmental changes that we are bearing witness to are scientifically linked to climate change. We had some profound interactions with wildlife in Svalbard that have touched my heart and brought me a new level of understanding about their plight. Polar bears are the face of climate change in the Arctic and they have an arduous struggle for survival ahead of them. Climate change is about wildlife and the natural environment, but it is also about you and me.
From extreme weather events, droughts and forest fires, to invasive species and declining native populations, freshwater and food security to human health, climate change impact us all. Although it is easy to forget living in an urban centre, we all rely upon the natural environment for survival. Climate change is undoubtedly the most significant issue our species has faced in modern times. A high level of international cooperation should be sought in order to strengthen protection for the already vulnerable Arctic region and to address global climate change in a cohesive manner. The Arctic is the canary in the climate mine, and it is already showing major impacts of climate change. We must heed the warning call and come together as a nation to address the issue of climate change and develop comprehensive mitigation and adaptation strategies. Adaptation will not be easy – indeed, it will require a major infrastructural shift to more sustainable technologies and lifestyles – but the consequences of ignoring climate change will be far more severe.
Back here in Toronto, my case of polar fever continues to grow – every day I become more motivated and inspired to share my experience with others and to engage them in dialogue about what climate change means for us all. For through understanding comes action, and through action comes transformation. Let’s address the Arctic polar fever and global climate change before it’s too late.Szeretlek Norka J Boldog Szulinapot!