Words and Photo – Gurdeep Pandher
Climate change is a serious problem with widespread implications and consequences for everyone living on this planet. Although it is commonly characterized as a sharp increase in global temperatures (hence the less scientific name global warming), climate change can also bring an influx of natural disasters such as droughts and hurricanes. However, in addition to the havoc it wreaks on nature, the resulting chain of events have a definite impact of human lives, especially that of those who live in fragile biomes such as the Canadian Arctic, where even a minute discrepancy in temperature can become an ecological catastrophe over a long period of time. In this previously icy environment, climate change has already begun to take its toll.
Frighteningly, the Artic is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the world. In Yukon, the average annual temperature has increased by 2°C over the past fifty years, and its winters have warmed by 4°C in the same time period. Although this may not seem like a lot, it is a drastic change for the biome, and has already resulted in the melting of permafrost, glaciers, and difficulty in forming ice for people and animals to hunt on. The tree line has expanded northwards, and while this provides shelter for a greater variety of animals who can no longer survive in the warming southern regions, it also transforms the ecosystem for species that prefer the tundra and allows invasive species such as the pine beetle to survive through winter.
Additionally, traditional hunting practices are not just for food; they are intrinsic components of the cultural identity of native people in the northern regions. In Nunavut, ice takes as much as four weeks longer to freeze, significantly decreasing the time available for hunting considering the ice is no longer as stable. For some communities, hunting and gathering are their primary methods of obtaining food, considering the climate is still too harsh for farming (and the ground is frozen in most areas, anyways) and shipments of groceries are costly and almost always delayed by storms or the lack of roads. Therefore, there are economic repercussions as well for people in the north.
The most significant loss that may be suffered in addition to the endangerment of native species is the loss of archaeological heritage due to the changing landscape. Indigenous historical artifacts that were preserved in archaeological dig sites in the Northwest Territories are threatened as permafrost melts and the possibility of occurrence for landslides and soil erosion increases. As well, coastal and island communities across the arctic regions are at risk of being flooded or even completely submerged as melting glaciers will increase sea levels by as much as one meter by the end of the century.
Overall, climate change impacts Northern Canada negatively to a greater extent than almost anywhere else in the country. With both environmental and social consequences, it is crucial to halt and reverse this primarily anthropogenic phenomenon. The Canadian government must invest more in renewable technology in order to generate clean energy and reduce carbon emissions, but it is up to people to manage their own levels of consumption so as to not place too much reliance on future developments. In order to combat climate change, it is crucial to make a difference today, and every day.