For residents of Sackville, experiences with climate change may be hard to understand as we live in a temperate zone with direct proximity to the ocean. Our day-to-day weather is predictable and consistent, which cannot be said about Indigenous northern communities.
Dr. Joshua Kurek, professor of geoscience at Mount Allison, visited Savoonga, an Indigenous community on St Lawrence Island, Alaska. During his visit, he observed the community’s struggle with the changing climate. This was most apparent in the changes to the structural integrity of their homes and buildings due to warming temperatures thawing the permafrost. Historically, the permafrost remained frozen year-round, providing an excellent foundation upon which buildings were built. Kurek noticed the damage to the buildings caused by the shifting earth. This physical change led him to predict pending cultural and social changes caused by the regional impacts of climate change.
Historically, the Yupik people of Savoonga had hunted whales and other marine life for sustenance and economic prosperity. Recently, the ecosystem, which has supported the community for millennia, has been under great stress from the changing water temperatures, alongside other factors. The change in water temperature has caused a change in animal migration and populations, introducing new species and reducing others.
“The way that they go about their lives is much different than we do,” Kurek said. “Their learned culture and the resources that they use and value are being diminished. They are losing cultural services at the same time as the environment is changing.”
The Yupik have two choices: adapt to their ever-changing environment, or continue their traditional way of life, regardless of the impacts of climate change.
Although the entire planet is warming, certain regions will undergo changes at different rates than others. In other words, the impact that we feel in Sackville will vary greatly from the northern regions of North America. Kurek said, “I doubt that we will see any linear patterns when it comes to the climate system. You’ll see variability, but you’ll often see very rapid shifts.”
As we understand the potentially devastating impact of climate change on ecosystems and cultures, we must now look at what societal changes we can influence to diminish its impact. It is our responsibility as Canadian citizens to elect policymakers who are willing to make difficult decisions regarding the environment in the face of economic and social implications.
When asked if he felt that reversing climate change were possible, Kurek replied, “Realistically, we have passed a very important threshold: If we expect to really get a handle on these things, it’s requiring us to do more and more in less and less time. Actions need to be real, they need to be bold and we don’t have a lot of time to waste. I would argue that we are getting very near to the point of no return. But we must remain optimistic.”
As residents of Sackville, we must think globally and act locally to our fullest extent to reduce the harmful effects of climate change.