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September 29, 2006

Air-Conditioning The Arctic Environment

This is the kind of global warming story that really hits you in a visceral way. Chicago Trib:

They never used to need air conditioners up in the Arctic.

But earlier this year, officials in the Canadian Inuit territory of Nunavik authorized the installation of air conditioners in official buildings for the first time. Artificial cooling was necessary, they decided, because summertime temperatures in some southern Arctic villages have climbed into the 80s in recent years.

Inuit families in the region never used to need to shop in grocery stores, either. But the Arctic seas that always stayed frozen well into the summer have started breaking open much earlier, cutting off hunters from the seasonal caribou herds on which their families depend for sustenance.

And experienced Inuit hunters, as comfortable reading ice conditions as professional golfers are reading greens, had seldom fallen through the ice and drowned. But this year in Alaska, more than a dozen vanished into the sea.

"These are men used to running their trap lines, people who know the area well, yet they are literally falling through, they are just gone," said Patricia Cochran, executive director of the Alaska Native Science Commission in Anchorage and chairwoman of the Inuit Circumpolar Council. "The ice conditions are just so drastically different from all of their hunting lifetimes."

It took a while, but global warming, the relentless greenhouse gas phenomenon that most scientists believe has altered climates across much of the rest of the world, appears to have finally breached the northern polar redoubt. And the effects on aboriginal societies trying to hold fast to traditional ways have been jarring.

The people of this far northern Canadian hamlet of 250 used to hunt eider ducks every summer, using the meat and eggs for food and the soft feathers for clothing. But this past summer was the third in a row that the Inuit couldn't reach the nesting grounds because the ice around them was too thin.

The seals have changed, as well.

"Now when we are trying to take the fur off the seals, it's very hard to do," said David Kalluk, 65, a village elder and veteran hunter. "It's like it's burned onto them. Maybe this is because the sea is warmer."

Wayne Davidson, the resident meteorologist in Resolute Bay for 20 years, says monthly temperatures throughout the year are 5 to 11 degrees higher than recent historical averages. For example, Davidson said, the average daily temperature last March was minus 13.4 degrees Fahrenheit, compared with an average of minus 24.2 degrees from 1947 to 1991.

"Science for us in the Arctic is experience," Davidson said. "Resolute used to be a horrible place to live as far as weather is concerned, absolutely brutal. Now it's much milder." [...]

"The basic question of global warming is no longer a subject of dispute in the scientific literature," said Naomi Oreskes, a professor of the history of science at the University of California, San Diego, who reviewed 928 scientific papers about climate change published between 1993 and 2003 and found none challenging evidence of human contributions to global warming.

"The discussion has moved on to how quickly will things change in the future, the rate of ice melting and differing climate models," Oreskes said. "There's almost nobody left anymore who doesn't accept that global warming is real."

It certainly feels real enough to the people of Resolute Bay. From their perch on the edge of the Barrow Strait, they watched this summer as the waters of their rocky bay melted and filled with drifting icebergs — a view as depressing as it was picturesque, because in years past the water remained frozen solid enough to traverse aboard sleds and snowmobiles to their traditional hunting grounds.

"The heat of the sun is different now," said Kalluk, the village elder, trying to make sense of the changes. "I think there is global warming, because snow that has never melted before is starting to melt now." [Emphasis added]

Large-scale satellite studies, etc., are absolutely essential, but nothing hits home like these stories of real people experiencing horrifyingly rapid and profound changes in environments they've lived in for generations. Global warming is here, it's real, and it's accelerating. Welcome to the future, when you need A/C to live in the Arctic.

Posted by Jonathan at September 29, 2006 04:17 PM  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb


If global warming wasn't a threat to humankind, it wouldn't be an issue. People are already beginning to die from the effects of global warming. This trend won't stop.

Keep an eye Greenland next summer. Glacial earthquakes have been dramatically on the rise for the last four years, each year with more quakes than the previous year. July and August are the months to tune in - the months with highest number of quakes. Fortunately the whole of Greenland has a population of about 56,000, minimizing the risk to human life.

Posted by: Jeff at September 29, 2006 09:52 PM

I am reading about global warming with my mind. I am responding to global warming with my heart.

My mind and heart are connected, are crying out for some kind of coordination to function together, to do something that nourishes me.

All I can do is continue to work to organize to reduce my community's contribution to global warming. At the same time I continue to want to move my heart away from this work - I want to withdraw inside and nurse myself and visit myself as an animal, and follow Mary Oliver's dictum: "You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves".

Wild Geese
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue are,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting -
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

"Meanwhile the world goes on...." (?!)

"announcing your place in the family of things." (!)

Posted by: Mary at September 29, 2006 10:30 PM

What a beautiful poem of hope and encouragement Mary. The world will go on, but it appears likely that humankinds place in the family of things will be new and unfamiliar (possibly harsh and exciting). I especially like the line "the world offers itself to your imagination" because, although out of context, it applies to both the static climate of our past and the dynamic climate that our future holds.

Posted by: Jeff at September 30, 2006 12:34 PM

and also that the creative class will imagine and lead the way to live.

Posted by: at September 30, 2006 01:50 PM

or already have begun to done so.

Posted by: Jeff at September 30, 2006 07:18 PM

This is interesting, the first full-length anthropological documentary. It's about the life of an Inuit in 1920 and shows, among many other things, Nanook, an Eskimo, making his way across floating ice as he heads out to hunt. Included is the making of an igloo, complete with an 'ice' window.

For the weak at heart, there are numerous hunting scenes, the killing of fish with Nanook's teeth, and the capture of a white fox from its snow den. I was only able to watch the first half so I don’t know how it ends.

It's a shame to see this way of life fall victim to global warming. Be sure to notice (and remember) all the snow.

Nanook of the North


(replace [dot] with actual periods)

Posted by: Jeff at October 1, 2006 10:42 PM