Educators and explorers Will Steger, John Stetson, Elizabeth Andre and Abby Fenton joined three Inuit hunters on a 1200-mile, four-month-long dogsled expedition across the Canadian Arctic’s Baffin Island from February thru May of 2007. The expedition traveled over traditional hunting paths, up frozen rivers, through steep-sided fjords, over glaciers and ice caps, and across the sea ice reaching some of the most remote Inuit villages of the world.
Having returned to Minnesota, we are now reflecting on the lessons learned and with that knowledge finding ways that we can make a difference and lead humanity to solve our climate challenge, for ourselves and especially for our northern neighbors. Below are some of our reflections from the expedition- you can also learn more about what we discovered at globalwarming101.com.
The Arctic, though beautiful beyond words, is an unforgiving host. Those who wish to live and thrive there must learn to adapt as a means of survival. We came to listen to the voice of the Inuit people. Of course, as in any culture, there are a million voices-each one with its own unique perspective on the world. Despite differing perspectives, however, we did hear common threads; We heard over and over again, in each community, a concern for global warming and the changing Arctic environment. We heard much evidence of this change, of new species migrating north, of warming oceans and melting sea ice, and of the impact this has on the delicately balanced Arctic ecosystem. For instance, Cumberland Sound, which we crossed early on our trip, broke up in January due to a super storm, the first time in 50 years; scientists remarked how little ice the Sound had this winter. Also, the Pangnirtung fishing industry has been reduced because the ice isn’t secure or large enough to accommodate as many fisherman as normal. In addition, the fisherman are fearful to fish simply because of the ice’s instability.
We also learned more about traditional Inuit culture, how intricately it has been woven into the land, and visa versa, over thousands of years. We learned more about contemporary Inuit culture, how it is a blend of the old ways and of the new. We quickly saw how the family is the center of life and the source from which people gain strength. For an outsider it is hard to tell where one Inuit family ends and another begins. In the small communities families join together to hunt, socialize, celebrate and support each other in the face of hardship.
As we traveled and spoke with hundreds of people in these remote communities, we saw how the Inuit culture is adapting to changes that are now occurring to the ocean and summer sea ice. As the summer sea ice thaws, the sun’s rays are no longer being absorbed by the ice and reflected back in the atmosphere, but are instead absorbed into the ocean and are increasing the surface temperature; this process affects freezes and break-ups in the Arctic-a very troubling change. These signs are visible in minute ways and challenge traditional knowledge-causing more accidents on the sea ice.
Most of all, we learned about the Inuit spirit of resiliency and adaptation. When we asked about Inuit cultural survival in the face of global warming, we heard the same reply time and time again: that the Inuit will continue to adapt as they always have. The question many Inuit asked us in return, can the rest of us adapt?
Can We Adapt?
There are technologies and strategies available to slow global warming. All we need is enough willpower as a collective community of humans to make some changes. Part of what makes Inuit communities so strong is the unavoidable knowledge that they must work together to survive in a harsh environment and, without roads out of their communities, the solutions to challenges must come from within. They realize that their survival depends on community and cooperation. They maintain their care and concern for community in spite of differences. This can be a model for the rest of us.
This vision of strong local communities working in harmony with local environments is a vision that could inspire us. A beautiful alternative to our current way of doing things. Collaboration could turn global warming from a depressing and overwhelming problem into an opportunity for us to take action together.
The focus on community and connecting people is integral to the work of the Will Steger Foundation, located in the Twin Cities. From expeditions to education, to the way in which we go about slowing global warming; we believe that this problem will be slowed by people and organizations taking collective action. We believe that dramatic change in personal and societal responsibility requires perseverance, courage, tenacity -the qualities of a polar explorer. We believe that by connecting people to people, place to place, spirit to spirit, we can mobilize and act to make a difference. This is what this issue of the Do It Green! publication is about. We encourage everyone to read and be inspired by the pages that follow.
Audio dispatch and reflections from the Baffin Island Expedition globalwarming101.com Will Steger, Expedition Leader and eyewitness to global warming.