QE Scholar Tashi Lhamo Reflects on Learning about Climate Change in the Arctic

At UTSC, the alarming scale and impact of global climate change has prompted IDS students like Tashi Lhamo to understand and bear witness to the ways in which communities in both Canada and in the Global South are grappling with this growing crisis.

Majoring in the International Development Studies Bachelor of Science Co-op Program, Tashi learned about climate change in courses like climatology, ecology, and climate change impact assessment. In her 4th year of study, Tashi successfully applied to the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Scholarships (QES)* program, granting her the incredible opportunity to intern for 10 months in Northern Uganda in 2017-18. In Uganda, Tashi worked with Children of Hope Uganda, supporting their programming for affordable education through Income Generating Activities (IGAs). The programs notably helped households predominantly composed of subsistence farmers who are negatively impacted by climate change.

Upon her return to Canada, Tashi was keen to continue growing her understanding of global climate change. In particular, she wanted to gain insight into how traditional knowledge can be incorporated to inform and enhance climate science and adaptation strategies.  As a QE scholar, the Centre for Critical Development Studies (CCDS) nominated Tashi for the Students on Ice Program (SOI), which opened an opportunity for Tashi to participate in a life-changing educational expedition to the Arctic.  In her personal reflection below, Tashi describes how this experience offered her the opportunity to learn from and explore different understandings of climate change beyond the classroom and directly from figures like scientists, elders, and innovators.

Learning about the different life forms found in Itelleq Fjord, Kallalit Nunaat/Greenland (July 27, 2018)

Reflections from Tashi

Paddleboarding in Kangiqtualuk Uqquqti/Sam Ford Fjord (Qikiqtaaluk Region of Nunavut, Canada)

The Arctic is a place of intrigue for many; a seemingly distant place with its own unique ecosystem abound with icebergs, glaciers, and sea ice adorning the Polar Region. With only a rudimentary knowledge about the Arctic, I would have never imagined that one day I would reach a place so far, a place of dreams in so many ways for an immigrant like myself. Like many of my cohorts, I am a Canadian who had never previously travelled to the most northern parts of Canada.

Nominated by Universities Canada and CCDS, and supported by Community Foundations Canada (CFC), I was amongst 130 students from different countries who were given the opportunity to participate in the profound, humbling experience of visiting the Arctic and learning from nature, the land, and its people with the Student on Ice (SOI) program. Instead of a landscape devoid of life, I learned that the Arctic tundra and its waters teem with vibrant flora and fauna; alongside the Indigenous peoples who called the Arctic their home, practising their culture and traditions across generations in a land unbeknownst to many.

Today, the Arctic environment is a focal point of intervention due to the long-term changes occurring in its climate. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and NASA, there is decline in polar sea ice cover and thickness with retreating glaciers and shrinking Greenland ice sheets.  The changes in the Arctic sea ice cover has wider implications for both local and global climate due to its surface albedo (References 1-2). Amidst rising concerns in the Arctic, the SOI expedition empowers, engages, and equips students with a unique learning opportunity to broaden and deepen our understanding of the climate change issue in the Arctic, its impact on northern communities, and wildlife. An exceptional team of scientists, policy makers, innovators, artists, musicians, educators, Indigenous leaders, and activists facilitated a holistic approach to understanding the Arctic climate change issue.

The SOI expedition has been an incredible learning experience with informative and thought-provoking workshops interweaving four important themes: ocean literacy, truth and reconciliation, climate change, and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The learning combined multidisciplinary scientific knowledge of anthropogenic global climate change with intersectoral, intersectional issues of environmental justice and equity, especially concerning Indigenous peoples embedded within the ever-increasing need for sustainable economic development. Needless to say, I was blown away by the sessions offered onsite and aboard the MS Ocean Endeavour, including underwater acoustics, marine ecosystems, identifying minerals and Arctic geological makeup, interpreting sea ice charts, learning about Indigenous history and Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit (IQ) Inuit traditional knowledge informing climate science and adaptation strategies, and environmental monitoring and conservation efforts. Amidst the smorgasbord of learning sessions, the Isuma (Inuktitut word for “to think/ponder”) workshops such as the session for meditation and Greenlandic mask dance by Vivi Sorenson (Greenlandic dancer, actress and director) provided a great reprieve for self-reflection and introspection for self-development, helping us actualize our learning from the day.

Aside from the educational workshops, the Arctic landscape alone was overwhelming in the best possible way. I was filled with an inexplicable feeling of joy, exhilaration, and gratitude for being able to experience the Arctic for its beauty and resilience. This applies not only to the landscape but also to the Indigenous peoples of Canada and Greenland who welcomed and shared their story with us.

Visiting Mittimatalik community (Pond Inlet, Canada) with a picturesque walk along its coast.

Visiting the historic archaeological site at Qiajivik / Coutts Inlet (Baffin Island, Canada) and discussing action- oriented Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) ashore.

On our way to Ilulissat (Greenland), the dense ice barriers led SOI students to opt for a wonderful opportunity to view awe inspiring icebergs of different shapes and sizes.

Here are some of the key learnings that I wish to share from my experience:

  • Ocean literacy beyond class-room curriculum is critical in light of climate change and includes informing responsible decision making amongst public and private actors with regards to the oceans and its resources. Ocean health is inextricably linked to our wellbeing and our socio-economic development in the long run. From individual acts of sustainable consumption to developing a culture of corporate social responsibility for industries in line with ocean conservation efforts, we all have a role to play.
  • Understanding and responding to the impacts of climate change on the Canadian Arctic and Indigenous communities is wholly inadequate without addressing the colonial legacy of residential schools and the systemic changes needed to improve the lives of Indigenous peoples under the Truth & Reconciliation efforts. The same Indigenous elders and youths who welcomed me graciously and kindly into their circle throughout the expedition carried a heavy burden of the legacy and shared their inexplicably painful histories of intergenerational trauma with courage and resilience.  
  • Climate change adaptation in the Arctic is contingent on meaningful partnership with Indigenous peoples as climate change will amplify existing vulnerabilities on the ground (Reference 3) Indigenous elders and youths explained that Truth and Reconciliation for them means “forming and maintaining respectful relationships with the Indigenous community”. They also expressed the need for meaningful consultation and partnership, taking into consideration the procedural inequities at the negotiation table and respecting the culture, tradition and indigenous livelihoods dependent on these lands. Moving forward, economic and industrial development on indigenous land must recognize and uphold Indigenous rights, and abide by strict environmental standards and regulations incorporating effective Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA).
  • The perceived dichotomy between environmental and economic interests, IQ/ Inuit traditional knowledge and western/scientific knowledge is changing slowly. There is a growing area of collaboration between these domains to better understand the impacts of climate change and to help develop effective adaptation strategies in the Arctic region and elsewhere.
  • The Canadian Government’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development aiming to implement the UN 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is a monumental framework of action for sustainable and equitable development with a “leave no one behind” approach (Reference 4). Goal 13: Climate Action is especially critical for addressing and mitigating climate change. The ambitious undertaking, however, needs firm commitment and critical self-evaluation of its progresses and limitations as recent reports indicated that the government is unprepared to meet its SDGs targets (Reference 5).
  • Lastly, climate change in the Arctic and global climate change is interlinked. We cannot ignore the fact that global action on climate change, from mitigation to developing comprehensive adaptation strategies, is a matter of urgency. Addressing climate change and its impacts therefore needs to be prioritized within our communities, industries, institutions, and governments to collectively fight climate change.

It has been more than two months since the expedition and I am still unpacking all that I experienced and learned. Because of this trip, I hope to visit the incredible national parks across Canada in the near future. I plan to study emergency and disaster management in graduate school in the hopes of continuing my learning and involvement from this trip. The SOI 2018 Arctic expedition, I feel, marks the beginning of a lifelong learning experience for me. Although the experience left every one of us “cracked wide open” (from a song written onboard with the Twin Flames and SOI participants), we are indeed all the better because of it

Hiking and learning about the shrinking Greenland Ice Cap in Kangerlussuaq, Kalaallit Nunaat/Greenland

I would like to express my deepest gratitude to SOI and QES for making this trip possible. Thank you to Katie, IDS Program Co-ordinator at UTSC and the IDS faculty for this incredible opportunity.

*The Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Scholarships (QES) is managed through a unique partnership of Universities Canada, the Rideau Hall Foundation (RHF), Community Foundations of Canada (CFC) and Canadian Universities. This program is made possible with financial support from the Government of Canada, provincial governments, and the private sector.

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References

  1. NOAA. (n.d.). Arctic Report Card: Update for 2017. Retrieved from https://arctic.noaa.gov/Report-Card/Report-Card-2017
  2. Viñas, Maria - José. (2018). Arctic wintertime sea ice extent is among lowest on record. Retrieved from https://climate.nasa.gov/news/2700/arctic-wintertime-sea-ice-extent-is-among-lowest-on-record
  3. AMAP. (2018). Adaptation Actions for a Changing Arctic: Perspectives from the Baffin Bay/Davis Strait Region. Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP), Oslo, Norway. xvi + 354pp.
  4. Government of Canada. (2017). The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Retrieved from http://international.gc.ca/world-monde/issues_development-enjeux_developpement/priorities-priorites/agenda-programme.aspx?lang=eng
  5. Sanchez, Julia., Vaughn, Scott. (2018). Time for Canada to Act on the Sustainable Development Goals. Alliance 2030. Retrieved from https://alliance2030.ca/time-canada-act-sustainable-development-goals/