Recap Day 4 & 5 at IPY 2012

Day 4 started with a video summarizing the Indigenous Knowledge Exchange. With performances by the ArtCirq, the Dakhka Khwaan Dancers and throat singers, photo exhibits, forums, award winners, exhibitors, guest panelists, keynote speakers, representatives on the executive committee, and even a strong presence in the conference “twittersphere” and a special degustation of northern delicacies, the indigenous people and their voices have been a top priority during this event. Most importantly, it was crucial to make the scientists understand the value of their traditional knowledge and the necessity to include it in their work.

After a short keynote policy address by Dr. Palle Christiansen, Minister of Education, Research and Nordic Cooperation in Greenland it was time for one of the most remarkable keynotes of the week, Dr. Sheila Jasanoff, Pforzheimer Professor of Science and Technology Studies and Director of the Program on Science, Technology and Society at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government in Cambridge, Massachusetts. As well as member of the Board of Directors of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and as President of the Society for Social Studies of Science. Humbly presenting herself as someone who simply teaches and writes about knowledge, she let  the audience know that she saw herself in group that could be summarized, using the words of H. L. Mencken, by “Those who can, do, and those who can’t, teach.” She talked in length about the failures of the Linear Model and its unfortunate results, “minilateralism not multilateralism seems to be the discord of the day” she says.

Yet in spite of this unproductive system, the science world is quick to claim and hold tight to its presumed benefits. Dr. Jasanoff goes on identifying presumed assumptions and presenting a different perspective and what that perspective should entail. She also talks about the politics of science and the complexity of knowledge making, leading unfortunately to many faulty courses of action. What is missing, Dr. Jasanoff points out, is the human factor – how people understand science and how culture shapes understanding. She goes as far as to ask the audience “Why should we believe scientists?” Is it because they are close to nature – a questionable statement. Is it because of science integrity, which is hard to prove. Or is it because of a strength of consensus, which they often don’t have. She even wonders if Rio+20 is actually an admission to failure, recognizing a global environmental exhaustion on the matter and the lack of international treaties and consensus. But she finishes hoping that the summit will present a chance to move away from business as usual and act on today’s challenges by building a bridge to the future. I strongly recommend that you listen to her speech and read each slide of her presentation on the webcast by clicking here.

In the afternoon, I attended a session given by Dr. Elizabeth White, director of BBC’s Frozen Planet series, titled “Behind the scenes: Broadcasters and Scientists Working Together” White spent an hour showing us scenes from the show and telling us how the filming team had only succeeded because of a strong partnership with field scientists. She also demonstrated how new filming technology and science knowledge had created never filmed before opportunities.

Next stop was the Martin Bergmann Medal Award ceremony, hosted by the Royal Canadian Geographical Society. Bergmann was director of the Natural Resources Canada’s Polar Continental Shelf Program and personal friend of Mr. Peter Harrison, President of IPY 2012. Sadly, in August 2011, Bergmann was part of the victims in a plane crash in Resolute Bay. Martin’s wife was to receive the first honorary medal. In what was an highly emotional event, Harrison spoke of his friend with honor, pride and nostalgia. “I want to celebrate an Arctic hero, I want to celebrate Marty” he said, “He embodied knowledge to action!” Several of his dear friends came to tell the audience a story that epitomized the good nature of this Arctic legend. In fact, everyone in the room had himself or herself, at one point or another, experienced the magic of Bergmann. Not only was he a master at connecting people, but he excelled at making things happened.

That evening, being the last one before the closing day, it was time for the conference’s big banquet featuring a performance by the prestigious Cirque du Soleil. Sold out and without one single seat left, the packed room dined together for the last time before being treated to an absolute fascinating show. The small troupe demonstrated physical feats that none of us thought even possible. Rolling and spinning in a giant metal ring, bouncing on a trampoline in ways that flouted gravity, and finally human sculptures that were, well scientifically defying the laws of physics! At the table with me was British educational hero Antony Jinman from ETE (Education Through Exploration)

Day 5, the final day, was time to close the conference in the same way it had started, with the educators. The last keynote speaker was Dr. Jose Xavier, a marine biologist with the Institute of Marine Research, University of Coimbra, Portugal and the British Antarctic Survey, U.K. In addition to his work on a number of science projects, he lead a highly successful educational program called LATITUDE60!, which reached thousands of students, educators, and politicians, helping to raise awareness of the polar regions. In 2011, he was awarded the prestigious Martha T. Muse Prize for Science and Policy in Antarctica. Before starting his speech, Xavier invited the public to watch on the big screen behind him a video honoring the incredible work of APECS’s (Association of Polar Early Career Scientists) founder Jenny Baeseman.

For the closing speech, Harrison summarized what had been accomplished over the last 5 days. While the conference in Olso was specifically focused on science, this year’s IPY 2012, which took 3 years to prepare, was to go beyond the science and move from knowledge to action. By involving the youth, the educators, the indigenous, and the politicians, the goal was to bridge all these parties with the science community. On another level, the green aspect of the conference was acclaimed as goals established prior to the event, were actually greatly surpassed.

What impact will have the conference? No one knows, time will tell. One thing is for sure, up to 4,000 people per day showed up and worked relentlessly at laying the foundations, and the framework on which to build a global partnership, an international momentum involving everyone and working together on a single mission – to preserve and protect the Poles, with their unique environment and their priceless biodiversity. Congratulations to the Steering Committee, the Program Committee, the Secretariat, the Volunteers, the Green Committee and everyone else  involved in the making of this incredible conference!

Day 3 at IPY 2012

Day 3 at the IPY 2012 started with a mini tornado called Dr. Louis Fortier. This morning’s keynote speaker was ArcticNet’s Scientific Director, Canada Research Chair on the Response of Arctic Marine Ecosystems to Climate Change and a Professor at Université Laval since 1989. His first words at the microphone were: “I will not waste any time cause I have a lot to say” and he then proceeded and unleashed his presentation. His speech was really interesting and was on the spot with several issues concerning the ecosystems of the North. His remarks on the differences between the Southerners and the Northerners and their relationship with nature was extremely accurate. But the pace at which he delivered his lines felt like a triple shot of espresso. To such a point that shortly after he started, someone from the desk of translation went up to him and told him to slow down because none of the translators where able to follow, and our Russians, French and Inuit fellow listeners where left in the dust. The request didn’t really stick and Fortier carried on his unstoppable march.

The Inuit knowledge was again part of the main theme in Louis’s speech: “The Inuit know very well their relationship with the environment and animal world, they are not above or separated from it, but right in the middle of it!” he said. The other point that he talked about and seemed to stick with everyone in the room was his analogy of ivory towers. Scientists from all fields, each live (symbolically) in their own respective ivory tower. Ivory Towers, looking up Wikipedia for the definition, if defined as the following:

“A term used to describe an entity of “reason, rationality and rigid structures that colonizes the world of lived experience. This imagined academic community creates an essence of exclusivity and superiority. It is a group that functions like an exclusive club whose membership is tightly controlled by what might be called a ‘dominant frame.’ In an academic sense, this leads to an “overwhelming and disproportionate dominance” of the United States and the Western world. The ivory tower can be dangerous in its inherent privatization of knowledge and intellect. Academics who are seeking “legitimacy for their narratives from the heart end up echoing the sanitized tone of the Master Narrative.” This becomes a cyclical process as intellects collectively defend the “imaginary ivory tower.”

Therefore much effort will be required from the science world to share their information and participate in the dialogue. Most importantly, what it means is that, traditional knowledge is a necessity to complete their study. Not only must they engage and communicate with the indigenous communities but they must also value their knowledge as important or even more important then theirs.

Beside his ricochet speech, Dr. Fortier was in for a surprise. Following his talk was the presentation of Weston Family Prize for Lifetime Achievement in Northern Research. The prize honors a northern researcher who has significantly increased the understanding of Canada’s northern environment. Awarded by the Churchill Northern Studies Centre, the prize is administered by the Association of Canadian Universities for Northern Studies. And this year’s recipient was Dr. Louis Fortier himself. Congratulations Dr. Fortier!!

My lunch was spent with Permanent Representative to the U.N and Ambassador of the Republic of Seychelles to the USA, Mr. Ronny Jumeau. We talked about the plight of many tropical islands, challenges that go beyond the common assumption of disappearing with the rise of sea levels. When I asked him why we didn’t hear more about these problems that are often related to the island’s local collapsing economy, he said that because people didn’t care for these kinds of problems, that it was not dramatic enough. But an island that disappears under the water will for sure attract the necessary attention.

Next stop was the Action Forum – Creating the Conditions for Arctic Offshore Oil and Gas Development. As expected, it was a full house. Many people wanted to hear from Chevron and Shell about their position and strategies in regards to the Arctic. Present at the table were: Mr. Robert J Blaauw – Senior Advisor Global Arctic Theme, Shell International, Mr. Rod Maier – Vice President Frontier Development, Chevron Canada, Mr. Nils Andreas Masvie – Vice President, Det Norske Veritas, Mr. James Stotts – President, Inuit Circumpolar Council Alaska, and Dr. Peter Wadhams – Professor of Ocean Physics, Cambridge University.

When it comes to oil it is always a sensitive subject. Everybody is always so quick to demonize the oil companies but at the same time, everybody can’t stand when the oil at the gas pump goes up a few cents. Oil companies are stuck between the tree and the bark, having to answer to a constant growing demand while at the same time having to find resources for that demand from more remote and hard-to-reach places. Mr. Blaauw reaffirmed that Shell was committed to exploit the North in a safe and mindful way, involving the local communities. He stated that every company didn’t want to be another Exxon or BP and that it was in the benefit for all to do things the right way. Oil spills are possible and Shell is putting them as a top priority, investing to find safety and cleaning measures.

Mr. Stotts from the Inuit Circumpolar Council Alaska followed by saying that the Inuit of Alaska were stuck right in the middle a new oil rush, which was not always a good thing! His people are not necessarily against it but rather against unsustainable practices. It is not that they only want to be consulted about what will happen, but that they want to be partner in the development and have their say in the ways to exploit their land. After some back and forth, it seemed that there was some kind of agreement on the assessment of the situation, which could be  summarized in two words: PREVENTION and COOPERATION.

Early afternoon was split between the students from Geoff Green’s Students on Ice who took the stage on the first level and told the audience how their experience visiting the Arctic has changed their lives, meetings with Sandra and Isabelle from the Polar Foundation, and Scott Highleyman, director for the International Arctic Program at PEW Environment Group.

Then it was time for the main panel: “Ecosystems: Science and Stewardship”, moderated by Mr. Ian Dunn, Board Member of Corporate Services at the British Antarctic Survey. Guest panelists were Dr. Mike Gill, Chair, Circumpolar Biodiversity Monitoring Project, Mr. Paul Holthus, Executive Director, World Ocean Council, Mr. Mikael Thinghuus, CEO, Royal Greenland Group and Dr. Victoria Wadley, General Manager, Census of Antarctic Marine Life, Australian Antarctic Division.

The conclusion from the panel was that the private sector needs to be part of the solution, it needs to be involved and solicited. Also, scientists need to reach out to the people on the field. Fishermen are not evil, with the only purpose of emptying the oceans. The perception of scientists for the fishermen is that they don’t care about anything else but to prove their point, that they don’t care about the lives of people. People on the field have real knowledge and the scientific community must include them in their work. Right now, the people that should in theory be working together, are not.

Scientist must also be open to share their work and knowledge on new modern platforms. Dr. Victoria Wadley, General Manager from the Census of Antarctic Marine Life for the Australian Antarctic Division told us how a little pop up on Google Earth had generated 3 million views!

Finally, the United Kingdoms was hosting a cocktail reception to promote its work on the polar regions and all the opportunities for collaboration. Present at the event was Dr. Elizabeth White, Production Director for the Planet Frozen Series, who presented a few segments from the show, narrated by none others than Sir David Attenborough. Besides chatting with Dr. White about wolves and bisons fighting for survival, I caught up with the folks of the Scott Polar Institute in Cambridge, Dr. Jan Gunnar Winther of the Norwegian Polar Institute and Dr. Dick van der Kroef, Deputy Director of Earth and Life Sciences at Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research in Amsterdam.

See here for more photos.

IPY 2012 – Day Two

It was day two at the International Polar Year, and just like yesterday, it was filled with amazing discussions, great meetings and priceless new connections.

Now sitting with Moki Kokoris of the Arctic Institute, we were ready for another intense working day.

Peter Harrison, Chair of the IPY 2012, came on stage and started the day by presenting an amazing video about Polar Educators. On the giant screen, Geoff Green, from Students on Ice, along with many others from several educational and scientific institutions, including PEW, talked about the importance of reaching out to children, who’s lifestyle now is more and more secluded from nature, and presented hands-on teaching methods to excite the students about science and the poles.

Then, it was time for David Hayes, Deputy Secretary of the Interior in the Obama administration. The emphasis was quickly established, pointing that the Arctic was extremely important and that the USA were committed to being an important player. Hayes continued by reaffirming a theme that has been highly important and repeated at this conference: we must take into account the needs of the local indigenous communities and consider their knowledge – thousands of years of onsite information carried over generations – priceless. His next point was to stress how a cooperation must be reached between all the Arctic States, governments and involved communities, to develop Ecosystem Based Management templates. Finally, Hayes reiterated that science was great and that no one in this room needed to be convinced, but the challenge was to bridge science to the policy makers.

Today’s keynote speaker was Aqqualuk Lynge, President of the Inuit Circumpolar Council, former member of the Parliament of Greenland and one of the founders of the Greenlandic political party Inuit Ataqatigiit. Lynge reminded the audience that it was ok to be interested in the resources the Arctic had to offer, but that the North was primarily the place where they live and had lived for generations. Under an incredible slideshow of photos, Aqqaluke, a passionate Inuk, talked about how important it is to listen to his people. Although the Inuit Circumpolar Council and other indigenous organizations have been officially recognized and are present at the negotiation table, their voices are too often simply ignored. “You pretend to serve us but really, do you? You don’t know what WE know. You don’t believe in what WE believe” Lynge said, pointing to the obvious, of the need for the South to come and “fix” the North!

When Harrison came back to address the audience, it was to talk about the environmental aspect of the conference. “The ice cap is white, the ocean is blue, and the conference is green” he said. Through recycling, small publication format, carbon footprint sensitive actions and the paperless smartphone application, from GuideBook, that includes the program, maps, information on all sessions and so much more, the organization of the conference has done everything it could to lower its environmental impact.

Before heading to the Action Forum “Creating the conditions for safe shipping in polar waters”, I met with the Arctic Council Chair, Mr. Gustaf Lind and talked about how the Arctic scene had change over the last 5 years and what it will mean when the Chair moves to Canada. Although this conversation could have gone on for hours, he summarized it in one sentence: “One thing is for sure, much has happened already and much more will happen in a near future and the key to our adaptation will be “Cooperation”.

WWF’s Arctic Director Dr. Alex Shestakov was part of the morning panel at the Forum, along with Tschudi CEO Mr. Jon Edvard Sundess, Professor of Geography & arctic Policy at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Dr. Lawson W. Brigham, marine lawyer for Border Ladner Gervais Mr. Peter Pamel, Research Associate at the Arctic Institute of North America Dr. Emma Stewart and finally President & Co-Founder of Cruise North Expeditions Mr. Dugald G. Wells. I caught up with Shestakov after to talk about the challenges we face. Once again, the word cooperation was the key to address these challenges.

At lunch time, we were treated with a magnificent show – ArtCirq and the Dakhka Khwaan Dancers. The Dakhka is a traditional inland Tlingit dance group of Northern Canada that: “work to bring opportunity of cultural revitalization and social transformation within their communities by reclaiming their languages, traditional values through the traditional art form of song, drumming, dance, storytelling.” Marilyn Jensen, dance leader, enlightened me after with more stories and information about the dances they performed, costumed they wore and the history of their culture. It was simply fascinating! I will definitely be writing about that in the coming weeks!

ArtCirq was a hilarious performance! Started after a tragic event in 1998, Inuusiq (“Life” in Inuktitut) was created  to prevent suicide in small communities and help children in life. Their first mission was to produce, with the help of ISUMA productions, a television series about the youth’s life in the Canadian Arctic. The next project was the circus idea, intended to be an entertaining and fun alternative for the children. Today, Artcirq has evolved into a full community-based entertainment and multimedia company for northern and southern artists to bridge and meet in a meaningful and creative way.

The afternoon panel “Adaptation to Change” featured guests panelists Dr. Gustaf Lind – Chair of the Arctic Council, Mr. Jack Hebert – CEO of Cold Climate Housing Research Center, Mr. Duane Smith – President of the Inuit Circumpolar Council of Canada and finally Mr. Jon Edvard Sundress – CEO of Tschudi Shipping Company. Moderated by NY Times journalist and Senior Fellow at Pace University Mr. Andrew Revkin, each guest presented how their organizations had found success in adapting to unforeseen or foreseen challenges. “Adaptation for the Inuit is nothing new. We have lived for thousands of years, in harmony with one of the harshest  environments in the world” said Mr. Smith.

Next stop was a workshop given by the Royal Norwegian Canadian Embassy. The two countries have a long history of working together (Canadian’s top scientific icebreaker bears the name of Norwegian legendary explorer Amundsen), and this event was a strong message from Norway to extend its commitment and support to further develop and strengthen this partnership. My main reason to attend was to chat with Jan-Gunnar Winther, director of the Norwegian Polar Institute.

Events like the International Polar Year Conference, are so crucial for developing the necessary relationships to bridge the communities, the scientists, the corporations, the educators & the politicians.

If you are present at the conference, make sure not to miss the photo exhibit on the cultural Inuit history. The presence of the Inuit is strongly emphasized at the IPY 2012, and for a reason. It is their home, their land, and their right. 

More photos from today here and live Tweets here

IPY 2012 logistic

It is important to mention that the organization of the International Polar Year 2012 has done a tremendous job with the set up of the conference. I also need to say that the internet wifi, provided to all 3,000 attendees, for free, is really fast and working extremely well! Congratulations for a well done job!

Interview Platform

Translation devices in 4 languages

Press conference set up

Skype booth for online interviews

Internet Cafe available to the public

Live board with information on all sessions

Smart phone application provided by Guidebook

IPY 2012 – beginning

Yesterday was the registration and the opening cocktail for the International Polar Year 2012 Conference. After picking up the badge and meeting people, it was time to head over to one of the main rooms and break the ice with all the other attendees – more than 3,000 of them, from 47 countries. While we were munching over nice food and drinking Canadian beers, Martin Fortier, executive director of ArcticNet, welcomed everyone before introducing a duo of Inuit performing throat singning. Looking up on Wikipedia, this cultural treasure is described as:

“Two women face each other usually in a standing position and holding each other’s arms. Sometimes they will do some kind of dance movements while singing (e.g., balancing from right to left). One singer leads by setting a short rhythmic pattern, which she repeats leaving brief silent intervals between each repetition. The other singer fills in the gap with another rhythmic pattern. The sounds used include voiced sounds as well as unvoiced ones, both through inhalation or exhalation. The first to run out of breath or be unable to maintain the pace of the other singer will start to laugh or simply stop and will thus lose the game. It generally lasts between one and three minutes. The winner is the singer who beats the largest number of people. At one time, the lips of the two women almost touched, so that one singer used the mouth cavity of the other as a resonator, but this is less common in present day. Often, the singing is accompanied by a shuffling in rhythm from one foot to the other. The sounds may be actual words or nonsense syllables or created during exhalation.”

The performance was incredible and apparently, in the Inuit culture, it is often used often as a lullaby for children. These events at the beginning of any conferences are always a great place for people to loosen up and set the groundwork for a successful week of productive work and priceless new connections.

The arrival at the Palais des Congres this morning was marked by heavy security, following a weekend of intense manifestations. Once inside though, the feeling was much aligned to one of community and camaraderie and it was obvious that everyone was in the mood to make the best of this unique and special conference.

After much preparations, the main conference room was ready for the big show. Professor Peter Harrison, Chair of the IPY 2012 and Director of the School of Policy Studies at Queen’s University came one stage and declared the conference opened. His introduction was followed by the Honorable John Duncan, Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development at the Government of Canada. Jean Charest, Quebec’s Prime Minister, came on talking about Quebec’s Plan Nord. Ms. Mary Simon, President of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami focused on showing the importance of the indigenous people and pointed to the fact that over 100 Inuit were present this week. More people took the stage,  Ms. Kyla Kakfwi Scott, Jane Glassco Arctic Fellow, Dr. Yuan-Tseh Lee, President, International Council for Science and Mr. David Grimes, President, World Meteorological Organization. At the end, we were treated with more throat singing and great native dance.

The ceremony was followed by the opening Keynote speaker Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland, former Norwegian Prime Minister and sustainability guru!

I then hooked up with Milbry Polk – Wings Quest Founder and Moki Kokoris – contributor writer for the Arctic Institute, liaison for the UN and founder for of the educational program 90-North. The morning was followed with a meeting with Aqqaluk Lynge, Chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Council and a lunch with Canadian hero Geoff Green, founder of Students on Ice. The afternoon started with a panel moderated by David Grimes and featuring Dr. Jane Lubchenco – Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere Administration, Dr. Karin Lochte – Director Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research, Dr. Huigen Yang – Director Polar Research Institute of China & H.E. Ronny Jumeau – Ambassador to the United Nations & United States. Followed by a meeting with Mike Gill, Chair of the Circumpolar Biodiversity Monitoring Program at Environment Canada, Tom Barry Executive Secretary of the Conservation of Arctic Flora & Fauna (CAFF) and Dr. Evgeny Syroechkovskiy, CAFF Chair. By the time 5pm rang my clock, it was time to head over to the Arctic Council booth for a quick chat with Linnea Nordstrom, the Information Officer. Just about ready to leave, I had to stop just a bit more to watch a great display of Inuit fashion and craft with seal skin amazing outerwear.

Judging from the first day at IPY 2012, I can assure you that the conference will be a huge success. Stay tuned for more updates. Don’t forget to check the live Twitter updates with the hashtag #IPY2012, and don’t miss the conference’s live webcast

More tomorrow!!

Registration this way!

Time to mingle!

Throat Singing

Getting ready for a long day!

Just waiting for the 3,000 attendees!

Center stage



Peter Harrison

Jean Charest

Mary Simon

More throat singing!

More dancing!

Gro Harlem Brundtland

Translation available in Russian, English, French & Inuktitut!

Action forum

Panel discussion

CCGS Amundsen

Tomorrow the International Polar Year 2012 conference is starting in Montreal, but today, the CCGS Amundsen icebreaker, docked at the King Edward Quay in the Old Port, was opened to the media.

The icebreaker was built in 1979 and commissioned as the CCGS Sir John Franklin. In 2003, she was refitted for scientific purposes and named in honour of Arctic Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, who, in 1903, led the first expedition to successfully traverse Canada’s Northwest Passage.

CCGS Amundsen was in the news at the beginning of the year when it was announced that she had suffered engine failure, loosing 2  out of her 6 engines, consequently leading to ArcticNet’s 2012 summer expedition’s cancelation. Talking to Martin Fortier, ArcticNet’s executive director, on the deck of the icebreaker, he assured me that in fact, the unfortunate event had turned out to be more of a blessing in disguise than anything else. Allowing the crew to catch up on much needed work and make the point on all the data so far collected. Now that the funds have been secured to repair and upgrade, they are looking to be back on the field in 2013, stronger than ever!

For our official tour, led by the captain and Fortier, we were first shown some of the onboard science labs (the ship has more than 15 of them), where studies on plankton, water analysis, and much more are conducted. After visiting the bridge, with state of the art mapping system and incredible GPS stationary system, which allows the ship to stay stationary, to the meter, independently of the wind and current, we were taken to one of the icebreaker’s most unique features – an inside access to the water, that open directly underneath the vessel, perfect to launch the ROV and Rosette even in the coldest freezing and icy conditions. Independently if Amundsen is surrounded, or even stuck in 2-meter thick ice, the crew always has access to the water. Last winter, on their last assignment, they discovered they were not the only ones enjoying this neat “James Bond” exit – a group of ring seals started to use this mini indoor pool as their personal sauna, spending hours basking in the warmth of the boat, while the crew tended to more “professional” activities!

Starting Sunday 9am and until Wednesday 19h30, CCGS Amundsen will be open to the public. Go mingle with the crew and Fortier’s team and let them share with you what it is like to live and work the Canadian Arctic!

If you want to keep a souvenir, find your way to the nearest bank machine, or bank, and withdraw a 50 dollar canadian note, and there, on the front is the icebreaker itself in its full glory!

Deflecting – Preservation and Exploitation

“As long as there are commercial opportunities in the Arctic, local communities, governments, and companies will take advantage of them.” Andreas Østhagen, Research Associate – Norway/EU Arctic Policy

In the conservation world, there are two main ideologies on how to achieve your goal. The first one consist of applying a direct counter force towards an element you wish to stop. The other approach is greatly different. Accepting that the element has too much momentum and its force is too great, it chooses to rather deflect or guide the force towards a different end point. In other words, either you protest against corporations, or you work with them. Although this bureau accepts that there might be some benefits in trying to change the system by protesting, it believes that the forces at play within our society, within our industrialized world are way to big to simply counter attack. Rather, it considers cooperation to be the way to achieve long lasting conservation. The goal is to create win-win situations and, as Østhagen concluded in his article for the Arctic Institute, to establish a balance between preservation and exploitation. One unorthodox way to explain this “cooperation” or “deflecting” concept, is to look at martial art aikido. Aikido is often translated as “the way of unifying (with) life energy” or as “the way of harmonious spirit.” It is performed by blending with the motion of the attacker and redirecting the force of the attack rather than opposing it head-on. This requires very little physical strength.

Some argue that this method is a sell out. But we think otherwise and campaign for it.

One of the most famous conservationists who believed in this strategy was José Márcio Ayres. He believed that nature would stand no chance of survival unless community-based models of natural resource management were applied. In fact he created the Economic Alternatives Program with an aim to change the way in which natural resources are being exploited, to make them generate long-term socioeconomic and environmental benefits.

Per instance, the clearing of forest for lumber, once carried out illegally and on a large scale by forestry companies from outside Mamirauá, is now handled by 20 communities living in the reserve who take into account the sustainability of the tree species — a first for the várzea. This kind of sustainable development has made it possible to increase the income from forest management by 100 to 150 per cent — a huge benefit for the community, as it is the only major work that can be done during the high-water season.

The Antarctic Ocean Alliance is also recommending solutions based on this belief. Its proposal does want a ban on fishing in the wider Ross Sea region, nor a limit on toothfish catches. But rather it proposes excluding fishing from the most ecologically important areas.

This is the strategy we want to see for the Arctic. Here are two solutions we believe could yield tremendous conservation benefits, using the momentum of exploitation to the conservation advantage.

  1. Give Give
    For every exploitation zone given, an area of the same size is declared off limit and protected. The more exploitation, the more protection. Conservationists and biologists would determine what areas are best to protect in relation to the exploitation zones.
  2. Insurance Fund
    Unfortunately, accidents do happen. Even when we don’t want to. That is why we buy insurance. Nobody buys a car knowing that he/she will get into an accident. But we all get an insurance in case one day… According to Wikipedia, insurance is: “a form of risk management primarily used to hedge against the risk of a contingent, uncertain loss. Insurance is defined as the equitable transfer of the risk of a loss, from one entity to another, in exchange for payment.” In 1989, there was the Exxon Valdez oil spill. In 2010, there was the BP oil spill. Every year, in Russia, 5 million tons of oil is spilled into the environment (6x what the BP spill was). It is only fair to say, that one day, there will be another major disaster. The question is not How, but When. We propose then that all oil/gas/mining companies involved in the exploitation of the Arctic region finance an insurance fund that will go for an eventual environmental tragedy. Part of that fund would be used to manage the protected areas mentioned in point 1 above. The more resources are extracted, the more the fund grows. This concept is also used between Tourism and Conservation. The more tourists you have the more you have to finance the conservation.

Those solutions are not problems free. They do though acknowledge the complexity of our society and work with the parties involved into a constructive relationship rather than a pissing contest, (Shell wins injunction against Greenpeace Arctic drilling protestors) where short term benefits might indeed be achieved, at the price of much needed long term benefits.

The Lack of Imagination

“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see. “ Henry David Thoreau

It was a beautiful winter day in the Alps. The sun was high, the mountains looked gigantic, the temperature was just right, and deep snow was everywhere. The parents were going to the village and I decided to stay behind with the kids. I figured I could take them out and go for a walk with the dog. We could also find a place and build a castle or dig a snow cave. The last thing I was worried about was to find something to do out there!

When I was a kid, winters were spent outside. The minute I would come back from school, I would slip into my big suit, put my hat, gloves and scarf on and hurry back to my tunnel. Our front yard would get so much snow, that with the cold, we would be able to dig our way into the heart of this tiny cold mountain and make ourselves a cave. My god did I spent so many hours in there! On weekends, we would venture into the woods to play hide and seek. Often, after tracking some animal prints for hours, re-enacting our own version of the Wild Kingdoms, we would reluctantly go back to the house, only to wait for the next morning and go out again. Of course we had television and computers, but playing games that originated from our fascinating imagination was always much more interesting. Whether alone or with others, there was never a shortage of ideas. And those snowball fights were epic!

What I experienced that weekend, though, was sad and tragic. There I was that morning, in the lobby, my jacket on, ready to smell the fresh mountain air. The kids were nowhere to be found. In fact one was at the computer, and the two others watched television. Nobody wanted to go out. Despite the bright sun blasting through the windows, each of them was staring hypnotically into their respective screens. I managed to pull away the one at the computer. The others, too entrenched and blasé gave no sign of even considering the outdoors.

Not even 30 minutes into our walk up the snowpath that I started having this feeling that the child was bored to death. While the dog was having the time of his life, barking at a small block of ice, picking it up and throwing it in the air, the child seemed lost. I took the lead and initiated the laborious task of building a hole. He was happy for no more than 20 minutes before finding himself bored again. Now not even an hour into our winter adventure that he told me that he wanted to go back. The minute that his boots were off and his jacket was on the floor, he went straight back to that computer and stayed there for hours.

What shocked me the most was not their short span of attention but their total lack of creating imaginary worlds. Children today don’t know what to do if it is not given to them. They don’t have the patience nor the ability to dig their way out of boredom. Living in an era of “Helicopter Parenting” everything is done for them. Their after-school schedules are so tightly organized that they don’t have anything to think about. So they move between school, structured activities, television and computer. And since imagination finds its energy when one is alone with his or her thoughts, children unfortunately have seldom time to develop it. As if this was not bad enough, “being alone” today in our culture, is something every one is trying to avoid, at any cost.

In her talk at Ted, “Connected but alone?”, Sherry Turkle talks about how we have come to see being alone as almost a disease or something that needs to be solved. So we solve it by inventing tools that give us the illusion of always being connected and therefore, never alone – social media sites, online video games, and of course the most obvious one, the smart phone. Solitude is such a taboo word that our incapacity of dealing with it pushes us to connect with anything simply to fill that void. When I was younger, these moments when I alone with my thoughts and dreams, when I was left to use my imagination, these were my favorites times. I have spent my entire life making sure never to loose them and to protect them. For me they are my most precious possession. They are my freedom.

Doing some research on the web, I found on Zen Habits… Breathe a post titled The No. 1 Habit of Highly Creative People. Interestingly enough, being alone is one of the most important aspect of creativity. Here are some quotes from the article:

Doing nothing has a way of synthesizing what is really important in my life and in my work and inspires me beyond measure. When I come back to work I am better equipped to weed out the non-essential stuff and focus on the things I most want to express creatively.” Ali Edwards

“When I am, as it were, completely myself, entirely alone, and of good cheer–say, traveling in a carriage or walking after a good meal or during the night when I cannot sleep–it is on such occasions that my ideas flow best and most abundantly.” Mozart

“On the other hand, although I have a regular work schedule, I take time to go for long walks on the beach so that I can listen to what is going on inside my head. If my work isn’t going well, I lie down in the middle of a workday and gaze at the ceiling while I listen and visualize what goes on in my imagination.” Einstein

“You need not leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. You need not even listen, simply wait, just learn to become quiet, and still, and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked. It has no choice; it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.” Kafka

“The mind is sharper and keener in seclusion and uninterrupted solitude. Originality thrives in seclusion free of outside influences beating upon us to cripple the creative mind. Be alone—that is the secret of invention: be alone, that is when ideas are born.” Tesla

“Without great solitude no serious work is possible.” Picasso

There is also Richard Louv, author of the Last Child in the Woods, who often talks about the connection between nature and imagination. He argues that sensationalist media coverage and paranoid parents have literally “scared children straight out of the woods and fields,” while promoting a litigious culture of fear that favors “safe” regimented sports over imaginative play. Louv states that this Nature Deficit Disorder has a negative effect on everything from the attention span, stress, creativity, cognitive development, and children’s sense of wonder and connection to the earth.

We are robbing our children from the magic of childhood, turning them into young adults. And the consequences could not be more tragic. For a child, imagination is crucial for dealing with the realities of life. It is a safe world where one can process hard emotions. What else is Dr.Seuss if not a giant repertoire of crazy stories about the hardships of life. Kids need to develop their own “crazy” world. They need to find time where there is only thing left to do, which is to explore their imaginary potential. Let them believe in fairies and the impossible, because at the end of the day, this is where dreams are born.

“I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free. “ Michelangelo