Climate change is impacting the circumpolar north at a rate of two to three times quicker than the rest of the world. (Boone, 2010, 2) While these changes may seem irrelevant or invisible to most, they are highly evident for people that live in the circumpolar north and rely on the environment for hunting, fishing, and other subsistence practices for survival. The environments and wildlife populations are visibly being affected which in turn affects the communities that rely on them. Increasing temperatures, floods and wildfires, precipitation variations, permafrost thaw, shifts in animal migration patterns, the spread of diseases, along with a long list of other impacts threaten the existence of the majority of the unique species of flora and fauna and communities in the circumpolar north. (Fischlin et. Al, 2007) Resource exploitation and development have played a major role in the devastation of circumpolar environments. (Boone, 2010, 2) But also, the impacts of climate change as a global affair requires a global effort to reduce carbon emissions, shift practices towards cleaner, greener energy solutions in the short-term while communities in the circumpolar north wait for global partners to comprehend the urgency.
In a recent CBC article from November 2021, the drastic effects of climate change on the community of Old Crow in the Yukon Territory, highlights the vulnerability of northern communities, flora and fauna and the necessity for adaptation at extreme measures. Food security has become an issue both for animals and people in Old Crow as a result of temperature increases and resultantly less snow or rain in exchange of snow. (Arsenault & Sheldon, 2021) Climate change for Old Crow means that lifestyles are being altered in a way that becomes unsustainable without change and adaptation. For example, the Porcupine caribou herd, which the community relies on for hunting and food security, is not following its typical migration patterns and the population is depleting. (Arsenault & Sheldon, 2021) The caribou rely on the lichen on the ground which becomes inaccessible when trapped under ice because of freezing rain, a growing concern over the past years due to temperature increases. (Arsenault & Sheldon, 2021) Willow shrubs also seem to be affecting the caribou populations. Due to warmer, wetter weather, willows seem to be growing taller and thicker than in the past. (Arsenault & Sheldon, 2021) Scientists are exploring if this may be an additional contributor to shifting migration patterns since thicker willow shrubs block off access to berry patches and trails. (Arsenault & Sheldon, 2021)
The vulnerabilities of communities, flora and fauna are further evident in research being conducted in other regions across the circumpolar north. A study released today by University of Manitoba researcher, Michelle McCrystall, suggests that in the next 80 years by 2100 rainfall will overtake snow in the Arctic presenting “severe consequences for the region’s environment, its people, and its animals”. (Tranter, 2021) The study says rainfall in place of snow would cause “catastrophic starvation events” for caribou, reindeer and muskox due to the inability of foraging on ice-covered ground. (Tranter, 2021) The intimate connection between wildlife and people in the north would also impact northern communities greatly as they depend on these animals for subsistence. McCrystall highlights that previous projections suggested rainfall would occur in the Arctic because of climate change, however not at the rate it is currently being observed. (Tranter, 2021) The intensified rates of rain in the Arctic mean that “mitigating measures, including the Paris agreement’s target of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius are even more critical”. (Tranter, 2021) The article emphasizes that McCrystall wants the study “to serve as a further wake-up call for world leaders to meet global climate targets” and “as a further example of why we need these global climate policies”. (Tranter, 2021)
The connection between humans and the environment in the north is strong, deeply-rooted and vulnerable to climate change impacts. Beyond local food sources, the fly-in community of Old Crow relies on a single grocery store that flies in goods and produce which can be purchased at high price due to the shipping costs. (Arsenault & Sheldon, 2021) Most of the energy and food supply in the community is sourced by external providers including diesel as the main energy source. (Arsenault & Sheldon, 2021) Diesel is flown in “several times a year to power the communities generator which produces emissions equivalent to 500 transatlantic flights annually”. (Arsenault & Sheldon, 2021) This is a harsh reality for most northern communities, yet colonization, development and climate change have led northerners to rely on outside sources.
Recognizing that climate change is impacting the local flora and fauna so drastically, some northern communities are taking measures to set the tone globally for others to act and follow suit. After declaring a climate emergency, the small community of 250 in Old Crow installed a solar farm that will save 189,000 litres of diesel fuel over the course of a year. (Arsenault & Sheldon, 2021) They are also considering the feasibility of wind power during the winter when solar is unavailable and willow shrubs as a source of fuel. (Arsenault & Sheldon, 2021) While impacts on human health and the connection to the environment are in the beginning stages of revealing the breadth and depth of climate change impacts, the vulnerability of northern flora, fauna and communities is already highly evident at the current stage. Nonetheless, geopolitics are currently focused on the circumpolar north as a new frontier for exploitation of resources and capital gain. Consideration of the impacts of climate change as a global phenomenon should be taken more seriously and acted upon as the circumpolar north is an alarming example of climate change and the vulnerability of entire ecosystems.
Arsenault, Adrienne, and Mia Sheldon. “In Taking Action on Climate, This Arctic Community Wants to Be a Beacon to the World | CBC News.” CBCnews, CBC/Radio Canada, 8 Nov. 2021, https://www.cbc.ca/news/old-crow-yukon-climate-change-1.6238750.
Boone, Richard D. “Chapter 7: Climate Change.” BSC 100 Introduction to the Circumpolar World, University of the Arctic, 2010, pp. 1–32.
Fischlin, A., G.F. Midgley, J.T. Price, R. Leemans, B. Gopal, C. Turley, M.D.A. Rounsevell, O.P. Dube, J. Tarazona, A.A. Velichko, 2007: Ecosystems, their properties, goods, and services. Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, M.L. Parry, O.F. Canziani, J.P. Palutikof, P.J. van der Linden and C.E. Hanson, Eds., Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, 211-272.
Tranter, Emma. “Study Suggests Arctic to See More Rain than Snow Earlier than Expected.” Port Alberni Valley News, The Canadian Press, 1 Dec. 2021, https://www.albernivalleynews.com/news/study-suggests-arctic-to-see-more-rain-than-snow-earlier-than-expected/.