This past April, I led a four-person team that traveled more than 170 miles across the Canadian Arctic, from Arctic Bay to Pond Inlet. We used snowshoes and skis, braving temperatures that often reached -20 degrees Fahrenheit. Along the way we faced a few challenges, but nothing compared to the ones that are currently facing the Inuit people of the Arctic due to climate change.
In the 12 years that have passed since I was last in Pond Inlet, a lot has changed for the people of the north. We need to start listening to their stories.
The Changing Earth
This expedition was part of a larger adventure learning initiative I created called The Changing Earth. It was the first in a series of eight expeditions: four to the Arctic and four to the tropics. Our mission is to engage students, teachers, and the general public by exploring wilderness areas while documenting stories of how individuals and communities are finding strength and purpose in an increasingly fragile, interconnected, and stressed world.
These real-world stories are shared online in a site that also offers free classroom lessons and teaching tools tied to issues of sustainability, the environment, and culture. We hope through this educational initiative to help create an environmentally literate and socially engaged generation of learners able to blend traditional and 21st century scientific and cultural knowledge to generate innovative solutions to help tackle problems related to climate change.
We have two main missions. One is spreading the knowledge and stories of indigenous populations and remote communities to draw attention to the challenges they are facing. The second is to inspire people back home to take action in their own communities to come up with positive solutions to local environmental and social challenges. By allowing everyone to follow our expedition – providing free learning and teaching tools and encouraging dialogue through the #choose2care social media hashtag – we’re helping to connect concerned citizens and give them tools to communicate their own work.
The Hard Journey
A journey across the harsh Arctic landscape is not easy, no matter how many times you do it. My primary focus is always on the safety of my team, and I’m happy to report that we returned safely with no major incidents or injuries.
The routine of each day in the Arctic is strenuous: getting up early to pack up, spending hours melting snow for drinking water, then traversing the landscape, each team member pulling a sled that’s more than 200 pounds. During a 24-hour period, it’s not unusual to experience temperatures ranging from 20 to -20 degrees Fahrenheit, so there’s also the constant ritual of putting on and taking off gear to manage your body temperature. Though our physical exertion is great, we want to avoid sweating, as sweating can then lead to hypothermia in the cold Arctic air.
It’s not only surviving on the land that occupies our day, we also keep busy shooting video, taking photos, and interviewing people. At night, we work editing video, telling our stories, and setting up the satellite communications that allow us to post our work online from even the most remote locations, so the general public can experience it in real-time with us.
Despite the often-exhausting daily grind, we were fortunate to have an incredible expedition. I always say there are two things I don’t want to face in the Arctic: high winds and polar bears. Thankfully, we managed to avoid both.
Climate Change and Food Insecurity in the Arctic
It had been 12 years since my last expedition to Pond Inlet, and I was struck by how climate change was affecting the lives of the Inuit in the Canadian Arctic. The most important part of this project is giving a voice to people who desperately want to be heard.
The Arctic is changing. I’m only there for a short time, but when I sit down with the elders and they share their stories, they speak about how the breakup of the sea ice is occurring earlier, and the freeze is later every year. They see not only the changes in the weather, but also the changes in things like the migration patterns of the caribou.
These changes to the environment, paired with living in a remote location that experiences high unemployment and poverty, have created a problem of food insecurity among the people of the Arctic. Because so many of the Inuit were moved into settled communities by the Canadian government and had to give up traditional practices, they now depend a great deal on outside food sources. Since this food must be flown in by plane, prices are exorbitant. In stores, four potatoes are $12. A gallon of milk can cost $10 or more.
Because of high prices – and outright food shortages – there are people in the Arctic who are literally starving. Many rely on traditional hunting in order to supplement their meager food supply, something the elders hope can be passed on to the younger generation. However, as animal migration patterns and animal livelihoods change due to a warming planet, the future of hunting as a reliable source of food becomes less certain.
Listen, Learn, Take Action
We travel to the Arctic to document what’s happening in these communities, how things are changing as a result of the changing climate, and how people are adapting to those changes. If we want to truly understand what’s happening to our planet, it’s crucial that we listen to what the indigenous populations in these areas are telling us. As one elder said to me, “It seems like no one is listening to us in the south.”
That needs to change, because the Arctic is “the canary in the coal mine” of climate change and the people of the Arctic are experiencing it firsthand every day.
I’m pleased that this project was not only successful in capturing a narrative filled with a tapestry of voices from the Arctic, but we had a big following in K-12 schools as well as with the general public. During and after the expedition, I was interviewed by the Wall Street Journal, National Public Radio, Big 10 Network, CBC in Canada, and the Weather Channel, among others.
This media coverage is important not only because we want to give people knowledge about what’s going on in the Arctic but also to inspire young people and let them know they too can accomplish big things and be a part of the solution to climate change.
That was the idea behind the #choose2care hashtag. We want people to choose to care about their own communities and the changes that they might be facing. If enough of us focus on creating positive change and solutions in our own communities, we can make a huge impact on the planet.
To learn more about how to get started, please check out the materials on the Changing Earth site.[sc name=”aaron-doering”]
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