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Claiming the Arctic April 24, 2008

Posted by eyegillian in arctic, Canada, diversity, environment, explore, global warming, nature, world.
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Northwest Passage - Globe & Mail

Ah, for just one time I would take the Northwest Passage
To find the hand of Franklin reaching for the Beaufort Sea;
Tracing one warm line through a land so wild and savage
And make a Northwest Passage to the sea.
                                    “Northwest Passage”, by Stan Rogers

The dotted blue line of the new 200-mile limitCanada has one of the longest coastlines in the world. Although it borders on three oceans, until recently, it hasn’t paid much attention to the mostly frozen Arctic Ocean at its back door. That is now beginning to change.

Under the United Nations Law of the Sea convention, signed by Canada in 2003, coastal countries can extend their sovereignty beyond the usual 200-nautical mile limit recognized in international law if the seabed is an extension of the continental shelf.  Since Canada ratified the convention in 2003, it has until 2013 to submit scientific evidence to extend that limit.

That potentially gives Canada claim to an area the size of the Prairie provinces that could contain natural gas, oil and other resources. Canadian scientists are struggling against unpredictable ice conditions to map the ocean floor.

However, the resource-rich Lomonosov Ridge, which runs between Greenland and Russia, will be a bone of contention. Russia is claiming this undersea mountain range is part of Russian territory. In 2006, Canada and Denmark cooperated in a mapping project to try to show that the structure of the undersea Lomonosov Ridge is an extension of the North American continent.

The Arctic Ocean is now being mapped

Canadian attention is also focused strongly on the ownership of the Northwest Passage. This past summer, satellite images showed that the passage between Canada’s arctic islands was ice-free for the first time in recorded history. And there are predictions that the it may be open for much of the summer in as little as 15 years.

If these predictions come true, the Northwest Passage could become a busy shipping route. The Northwest Passage is 7,000 kilometres shorter than the current shipping route through the Panama Canal. That’s about two weeks saved in travelling time.

Under the UN Law of the Sea, all ships are guaranteed passage through international straits. Should the winding Northwest passage between the northern islands be considered an international strait, or part of Canadian waters? Perhaps the best solution is to open the passage and govern it, as Nunavut resident Paul Kaludjak suggests: “The best way to have our sovereignty accepted by the international community is not to restrict entry to territory, but to facilitate use of it in accord with Canadian regulations.”

Canadian rangers patrol the ArcticThe Arctic lands are the traditional home of the Inuit nations, and their livelihoods depend on the rich resources in the harsh northern habitat. The Canadian Rangers, who patrol and police the North, are predominantly Inuit. Whatever decisions are made about the Arctic will affect the environment and the livelihood of these northern peoples.

The goal of the UN Law of the Sea is to share the ocean resources fairly between coastal countries. We don’t need a cold war over the Arctic; there’s room for everyone to “play nice” as long as environmental studies and regulations are put in place first.

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Related LInks:
…Or Something (blog): “Geology, geopolitics, and the Law of the Sea
Nunatsiaq News: “Measuring Mountains Under the Sea”
Seed: “Deep Space: The last great land rush on the planet will be at the bottom of the ocean”
Geology.com: “Northwest Passage — Map of Arctic Sea Ice”
CBC: “Canada’s Arctic claim work challenged by ice, logistics”
National Post: “Canada’s Arctic mapping key to resource claims”
CBC In Depth: “Canada’s Arctic sovereignty: Drawing a line in the water”
“Sovereignty and Inuit in the Canadian Arctic”

Wired: “Today, Countries Battle for a Piece of the Arctic. Tomorrow? The Moon”
CBC In Depth: “The Northwest Passage: The Arctic Grail”

CBC multimedia: “Breaking the Ice: Canada and the Northwest Passage”


Rumours of spring March 22, 2008

Posted by eyegillian in Canada, change, environment, global warming, nature.
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Indian Creek

Originally uploaded by Seeing Is

Spring is returning to the frozen north. I met someone who knows someone who saw a robin the other day. This is how the rumour starts.

I haven’t seen Spring personally, but I’ve been looking for signs of it. The quality of snow in the woods is soft and grainy. The evergreens smell like sap. The squirrels are building nests.

Yesterday afternoon the sun felt warm on my back. Ice is breaking up in the harbour, and the creeks are running full. There are bare patches, glimpses of last year’s grass hummucking up between the lace-crusted edges of hard snow.

There are starlings burbling in the city again, and sandals are appearing in the shoe stores.

I’ve seen reports of newborn lambs in England, goslings in Montana, and red-winged blackbirds in south-western Ontario. I’ve seen photos of crocuses in Indiana, Oregon, Virginia and Nova Scotia. California has already seen its first butterfly, and gophers are coming out of hibernation in Saskatchewan.

In the midst of these cheering reports — for those of us who have had a long-enough winter already, thank you very much — some folks are saying that spring is too early because of the effect of global warming.

And sneezes are coming earlier in Philadelphia. A recent Associated Press report says that, on March 9, when allergist Donald Dvorin set up his monitor, maple pollen was already heavy in the air. Less than two decades ago, that pollen couldn’t be measured until late April.

“For wind-pollinated plants, it’s probably the strongest signal we have yet of climate change,” said University of Massachusetts professor of aerobiology Christine Rogers. “It’s a huge health impact. Seventeen percent of the American population is allergic to pollen.”

Biologists may be worried, but I am loath to let fears over global warming dilute my joy in the coming of spring.

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Related Links:
Global warming ushers spring forward
Toronto Star: Signs of spring
NASA: Spring is Aurora season

On board for the Arctic March 17, 2008

Posted by eyegillian in arctic, Canada, environment, explore, global warming, nature, science, world.
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Amundsen in the Arctic

Concerns about climate change and interest in polar ecosystems go hand-in-hand in the Canadian Arctic, and this year, students, journalists and scientists around the world are participating in a global research program. The classroom is the Canadian Coast Guard Ship Amundsen, a scientific research icebreaker locked in the ice in the Beaufort Sea near Banks Island.

The CCGS Amundsen is hosting one of the largest IPY research projects being conducted in the Canadian Arctic during International Polar Year (2007-2008): the Circumpolar Flaw Lead (CFL) system study. The $40-million project is examining the circumpolar flaw lead system — areas of open water in the ice — which is expected to show how the Arctic might change as the global climate grows warmer.

What makes this project unique is that, not only does it involve more than 200 scientists from 15 different countries, but also high school students, teachers, and Inuit youth leaders from Canada, Norway, Sweden, Scotland, England, Germany, Spain, China, Russia, and Greenland. The students and teachers have the opportunity to board the icebreaker and participate in an experiential science education program aimed at introducing them to the scientific and indigenous knowledge related to climate change research in the Arctic.

I first heard about the Schools on Board program from a blog written by Emily Chung, the CBC.ca’s regional journalist for Ottawa. She is one of 15 journalists from around the world selected and sponsored by the World Federation of Science Journalists invited to spend seven days on the Amundsen. Her trip is finished, but another group will be joining the Amundsen from April 12 – 27, 2008. A final program, designed for Inuit and Indigenous students and educators, will run from July 15 – 27, 2008.

Schools on Board is an outreach program of Arctic marine science and research, based out of the Faculty of Environment at the University of Manitoba (Winnipeg, Canada). It was developed to bridge Arctic research with science education in high schools across Canada; to increase awareness of issues related to climate change in Canada, and to excite young Canadians about the challenges and career opportunities of Arctic research. The main thrust of the program is the Field Program “on board” the CCGS Amundsen.

Programming “onboard” includes presentations, group projects, lab activities, fieldwork, and lectures with graduate students and scientists. Students are introduced to subjects such as: oceanography, physical geography, biology, chemistry, meteorology, zoology, geology, and climatology.

The educational program also introduces participants to “two ways of knowing” – the traditional and scientific approaches to understanding the complexities and interconnectedness of the Arctic environment. Each trip includes at least one northern community visit to introduce participants to northern culture and knowledge.

This program is a wonderful example of international cooperation between Canada and our northern neighbours. Let’s hope this trend continues as the Arctic region ecosystem faces increased warming as part of climate change, and the circumpolar countries face increased pressure for access to traffic and resource extraction.

Schools on board logo

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Related Links:
Schools on Board
Arctic Climate Change: CFL study

CBC: “Aboard the Amundsen”

CCGS Amundsen

CBC: “The Big Melt”

Responding to the fearmongerers March 3, 2008

Posted by eyegillian in change, communication, environment, global warming, language, nature, world.
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scary stuff

I don’t know about you, but I’m not very comfortable with risk, and genuine opportunities for a better life (whatever that means) don’t come around everyday. So it’s hard to resist marketing campaigns that prey on my fears; after all, I might miss a special offer, or leave my loved ones vulnerable to unspecified dangers, or be held personally responsible for the End Of The World As We Know It.

Fear is the most powerful tool in the marketer’s arsenal, more powerful than fact, peer pressure or desire. Fear feeds paranoia, xenophobia, hypochondria, and a growing sense of vulnerability. Fear is now the invisible but crushingly huge elephant in the room, and western society has become claustrophic.

Fear causes people to do irrational things, from stepping over cracks in the sidewalk to committing hate crimes. And fear is one of the prime instruments being used to motivate people around environmental issues. Earnest campaigners not only call up the spectre of a new ice age and global disaster (although I haven’t heard a lot about the threat of nuclear meltdown lately), but they also prey on our insecurities, our need to be socially acceptable and conform by doing, wearing, buying, and eating the “right” things.

I’m not arguing against the models being used to predict future affects of climate change and I agree that acting to improve the health of the planet (and our health as well) is a benefit no matter which side of the issue you stand on. It’s just that nothing makes me so suspicious as words like “catastrophe” and “crisis”, and I think that the mayday rhetoric currently being used around the issue of global warming, in particular, is reaching a point of doing more harm than good.

Nedra Weinreich, in her blog on fear-based social marketing, offers some advice to social marketers about balancing a scary message with a clear call for specific action, and talks about how fear-based appeals can bring about behaviour change: “When people are confronted with messages that arouse fear in them, they will take one of two courses of action to dispel those unpleasant feelings — either taking preventive action to deal with the threat or controlling the fear through denial or avoidance of the issue.”

It could be argued that fear is the only way to rouse our comfortable western society from apathy. After all, look at the shamefully low participation in voting, or the apparent lack of interest we have in other people and countries — with the exception of natural disasters. Perhaps “disaster” is the only word that can still be heard over the din of information that daily bombards us.

In the case of health or safety-related issues, the pain may be worth the gain. Fear of causing death or injury might stop someone from drinking and driving, or fear of having a heart attack might stop someone from eating too much rich food. Nedra refers to a recent study which “showed that patients with high cholesterol are more likely to be motivated to stay on their medication after seeing an actual scan of their own arteries showing blockage from plaque.”

The environment is both health and safety, it is both personal and political. There are many good reasons to support environmental causes and to become more aware of our “footprint” on the earth. But the language of catastrophe has been undermined with overuse. It’s time to drop the overheated hype and focus on the positive benefits of caring for our earth.

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Related Links:
Savage Chickens
Helium Debate: “Is the Modern World Filled with More Fear Than Times Past?”
New York Times: “A Call to Cool the Hype”
BBC: “Chaotic World of Climate Truth”
“Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt”
Spare Change: “When science becomes dogma
Spare Change: “Making fear-based campaigns work