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.

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