Jennifer Corriero, Executive Director of TakingITGlobal, recently joined us on Buggy One on the tundra near Churchill, Manitoba. She took part in our Tundra Connections Webcasts, Global Encounters Video Conferences, and live chats.
On my first night in Churchill, I sat and watched the polar bears outside my window, a rare chance to witness these remarkable creatures in the wild. Glimpsing their private world brought me a sense of connection to the Canadian Arctic that I had never felt before. This was coupled with a new sense of urgency about climate change and a question that echoed throughout my time in Churchill: What can one person do to make a difference?
Throughout the week, as the experts spoke about their research, this question remained a key theme. The truth is, we as individuals hold the power to come together and save the Arctic ecosystem by protecting sea ice.
Sea ice melt due to climate change is a threat to polar bears, indigenous peoples, and Arctic marine life: it also jeopardizes ecosystems in all parts of the world. So what is being done to save it? What needs to be done? And what am I going to do?
The Problem of Fossil Fuels
This week, Dr. Jennifer Kay helped explain how we know that the increased carbon dioxide in our atmosphere comes from the burning of fossil fuels. These emissions, are causing the climate to change and the sea ice to melt.
Polar bears and their diminishing habitat have become a symbol of climate change because the threat to sea ice connects to the health of all ecosystems across the earth.
The good news is that the decisions we make today around the use of fossil fuels and our energy policies/practices can restore a hopeful future for our planet. It is not too late!
The Paris Climate Summit
Our first webcast The Road from Churchill to Paris, focused on the links between Churchill and the upcoming COP21 climate summit in Paris. It is deeply encouraging that Canada’s new prime minister and cabinet members plan to attend, signaling Canada’s commitment to climate change action and protecting the Arctic.
TakingITGlobal and the Centre for Global Education, with partners including Polar Bears International and the Waterloo Global Science Initiative, have been organizing virtual town hall meetings with students in every region of the world to prepare a white paper to present in Paris. The project, called #decarbonize, builds on TakingITGlobal’s 15 years of experience with facilitating youth voices in decision-making.
The #decarbonize project will engage 10,000 students who are dedicating 25,000 hours of their time in a thoughtful global dialogue with experts and their peers.
During our second webcast, on climate justice, 19-year-old Youth Arctic Coalition Executive Director Gerrit Wesselink spoke passionately about how people living in the Arctic along with those in small island states are disproportionately impacted by the effects of climate change. These non-polluters are often the ones experiencing the most damaging effects . Gerrit illuminated how important it is for people living in big cities or industrialized areas to reduce carbon emissions and take responsibility for supporting non-polluters as they adapt to existing realities caused by climate change.
Panelist Jack Omelak, executive director of the Alaska Nanuuq Commission discussed the perspectives of indigenous peoples living in the North. These peoples have a uniquely important role as stewards of the land and their voices need to be heard within policy debates and decisions on climate change. They have the right to live off the land as they have for thousands of years, but their way of life is endangered by climate change.
The Power of Individual Action
The magnitude of the climate change problem can feel overwhelming, and we addressed this issue throughout our sessions. A recurring theme was that there are many ways for individuals--not just organizations--to take action. From personal choices about energy use to educating one’s community and connecting with others, positive change is happening.
We highlighted TakingITGlobal's Commit2Act mobile platform as a tool where people can track their individual actions in reducing their carbon footprint in the areas of food, waste, water, transportation and energy. Created by youth and easy to use, the platform is taking off as a mobile-based method for empowering personal action on the environment.
Being conscious of personal consumption is an important step, though it is not the only one. There is so much power in asking questions and offering suggestions. We can extend our influence by challenging friends and family while also taking a closer look at the carbon emissions produced in the places we live, learn, work and play.
For example, we talked about how students can speak with their school principals about reducing carbon emissions at their school. Young people can also reach out to a city councillor or mayor and contribute to plans within their city or town to reduce carbon emissions. They can contact leaders of country delegations who are attending the climate change negotiations in Paris. The more that people express concerns about climate change, the more that leaders of cities and states can respond with action plans.
Another way that TakingITGlobal is encouraging more youth to have a voice in these conversations is a Global Gallery art contest called Climate Change in My Backyard. We had a dedicated Tundra Connections session with this theme and showcased many of the submissions that have come in so far.
I am hopeful to know that with Canada's new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, our country will be represented in Paris by a leadership team that is showing a commitment to address climate change. I am also hopeful that the new government’s changing the title of “Environment Minister” to “Minister of Environment and Climate Change” also signals a new perspective.
This minister, the Honourable Catherine McKenna, states that she’s eager to work on Canada’s climate file: "This is a really important file to Canadians—both the environment but also tackling climate change. We need to be ambitious and I'm just ready to work really hard and get down to action."
These statements of optimism send signals of hope for our future. With that said, we cannot leave the responsibility of leadership to our elected officials alone. Change is up to each of us, in the decisions we make every day.
I will never forget my time in Churchill: it has given me a greater understanding of the Canadian Arctic and a deep admiration for those who work tirelessly to protect it. It was inspiring to be a part of Tundra Connections and to learn from Polar Bears International’s depth of knowledge: about climate change, tundra life and the ripple effect on the rest of the world. The Tundra Connections series built powerful partnerships as well, the types of partnerships that help us leverage our individual and organizational strengths to address climate change.
The answer to the question “Can one person really make a difference?" lies within our own minds and hearts. What we visualize, we actualize. Rather than focus on our doubt and fear, let's focus on the ideals that inspire us. We can make the greatest changes when we have the courage, imagination, and sense of interconnection to come together and create a more sustainable future, for the tundra and for us all.