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Sierra Daily

Apr 05, 2013

The New Arctic

Clipboard01We've all read about the shrinking sea ice, melting ice caps, and drowning polar bears. But this simple short film by Kenneth Dutton, Professor of Marine Sciences at the University of Texas at Austin (h/t Joe Romm--video below) made it real to me in a way that computer graphics never can. It made me think back to the amazing Inuit hunters I was lucky enough to hang out with years ago on a Canadian River Expeditions trip to the northernmost tip of Baffin Island, only a couple hundred miles from the North Pole. Even then they were complaining of newly treacherous ice conditions:   

Our last full day was the third in a row with unusually bright, warm weather. The sea ice was covered with puddles and melting rapidly, necessitating long detours. Simon [Qamanariq] took one sledful due east to see the cliffs of the Borden Peninsula, where hundreds of thousands of fulmars nested, while others elected to stay in camp. . . . On the way back, Simon was about to drive over a puddle on the ice when he realized at the very last moment that it was actually open water. He swung his snow machine violently, and his fully loaded qamatiik missed falling through the ice by inches. The most frightening thing, his passengers said, was the look on Simon's normally stoic face; when he came into the mess tent, hours after the incident, he was still visibly shaken.

Dutton's tale of the Inupiat family's fishing tragedy reminded me of the amazingly resourceful people I met on Baffin. It's inexpressibly sad to lose, in the space of a generation, a way of life finely honed over thousands of years. But what I learned from even a short time among them was that whatever our angry, changing world throws at them, they will find a way to survive in it. Unlike so many others in the sordid tale of climate change, they make you proud of being human.


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PAUL RAUBER is a senior editor at Sierra. He is the author, with Carl Pope, of the happily outdated Strategic Ignorance: Why the Bush Administration Is Recklessly Destroying a Century of Environmental Progress. Otherwise he is a cyclist, cook, and father of two. Follow him on Twitter @paulrauber

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