Tuesday 8 November 2016

Blog Post 1 - Perspective

I’m sitting in the airport waiting for my flight to Dawson City to leave. If any of you readers have taken a morning flight to the Gold Rush frontier, you know that the weather is unpredictable on the best of days, so I’ve been awake since 5am only to sit in the airport for a few hours. My sleepy stint in these hard-backed chairs has given me some time to reflect on my summer thus far, which has largely consisted of travelling all over the Yukon to do field work for an environmental consulting company. I have been incredibly fortunate to travel up to the Arctic Circle, to Keno, to the end of the North Canol Road, and to Dawson City. All these trips remind me how different the North is compared to regions such as Victoria and Vancouver, where I have spent my previous four winters while at university. It strikes me that the environmental and social issues in these areas, only 3000 kilometers apart, are so different. For example, the differences in transportation challenges are especially apparent. As many of you may know, a large percent of greenhouse gas emissions come from the transportation sector. The distances between and even within communities in the Yukon are immense; even the city limits of Whitehorse stretch over 40 kilometers. This whole “spreadout-ness” presents a barrier for efficient public transportation, which in many other jurisdictions, including Victoria, is a key strategy in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Tombstone Mountains on the Dempster Highway, Yukon Territory

I also noticed these region-dependent differences last summer while I was on a sustainability field school to Northern Europe with my university. Although Iceland and the Netherlands are only about 2000 kilometers apart, here again I found the pressing issues to be vastly different. Communities in Iceland are also spread out over the country, making it difficult to cut emissions from single-occupancy vehicle travel. In addition, Iceland struggles to produce enough food for all its residents year-round, as their climate is similar to ours in growing season length. As a result, Iceland imports much of its produce from Europe, at great cost and increased greenhouse gas emissions. The story in Amsterdam is quite the opposite. Bikes whiz past in all directions and there are too many buses to count. The public transit system here is a dream. Moreover, the climate in the Netherlands allows most food production to occur close to the bellies it will fill. Instead, the conversation in Amsterdam focuses on sea level rise and how to avoid being literally swept away by the waves.

Bike parking lot at the central train station in Amsterdam (Photo: N. Moffat)

I guess I’m trying to communicate how overwhelmed I feel by the sheer enormity of the issue of climate change. While I have taken many classes focusing on climate change and have had general exposure to the concept, preparing to attend COP22 has made me think of climate change as a much more tangible issue. The world is an incredibly diverse place, and not just ecologically speaking. The wide variety of geography has led to the evolution of hundreds and thousands of cultures with a distinct way of life. Today, these cultures are represented by countries, 195 of which are negotiating parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Wrapping my head around the fact that all these countries are going to sit down together and agree on anything at all is a little difficult. I know I have a hard enough time trying to get my family to agree on which restaurant to go to for supper, so the idea of all these countries working together negotiating emissions targets and finding ways to increase adaptive capacity is mind-boggling. At the moment all of this is still a lot to take in, but I am incredibly excited to learn so much more about the vast scale of impacts different areas are experiencing, and drawing parallels to issues here in North.

Stay tuned for the next blog post, where I will discuss some of the areas of climate change that I am most interested in.

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