Arctic Expedition Makes Climate Change Up Front and Personal

September 3rd, 2018 by Carolyn Fortuna 

A 2018 Arctic expedition that focused on ocean literacy, sustainable development goals, and truth & reconciliation has awakened youth from around the world to the necessity of climate change adaptation. Students on Ice, an organization that educates the world’s youth about the importance of the Polar Regions, brought 130 students and over 80 staff from 20 countries to western Greenland and the Canadian High Arctic during summer, 2018.

At a time when most youth were basking in the sun’s rays on beaches, these youth were visiting with a team of Indigenous and non-Indigenous scientists, artists, elders, and leaders. The cohort spent 2 weeks looking for polar bears, experiencing Inuit culture, and hiking the tundra. As they did so, they found the landscape, wildlife, and Inuit encounters to be quite awakening. The Students on Ice Arctic expedition is an example of how meaningful climate change context, nuance, and connections can disrupt individualistic skepticism and can make real an otherwise abstract global problem.

Photo courtesy the Chronicle Herald, Nova Scotia

In the Students on Ice core Arctic expedition, youth from around the world journeyed together on a life-changing adventure as they explored a broad spectrum of dialogue related to the regions they visited. Inquiry topics included:

  • arts and culture
  • history and politics
  • science and sustainable development
  • glaciology and climate change
  • economy
  • governance and geopolitics

On board the ship Ocean Endeavour on the Arctic expedition, students stopped in several communities in Greenland and Canada’s north. Throughout the 2 weeks, youth engaged in processes of discovery, fact-finding, analysis, synthesis, reflection, and idea development. These inquiry opportunities were a form of environmental education that focused on personally relevant and meaningful information and used active and engaging teaching methods. Students saw firsthand how the potential impacts of global climate change include serious ecological, economic, social, and health consequences.

Though many climate literacy efforts attempt to communicate climate change as a risk, several studies suggest that these strategies may be ineffective because worldview rather than scientific understanding drives climate change risk perceptions. Data indicates that even the most scientifically literate individualists may not be receptive to climate change activism. Instead, they seek out ideologically compatible ideas and interpret new information in ways that support their pre-existing views about climate change — an aberration rather than destructive pattern.

Arctic expedition

Photos courtesy of Students on Ice via YouTube

Why Youth Recognition of Climate Change is So Imperative

Overcoming challenges associated with climate change will require a public that is informed and concerned about the issue, so many climate change literacy efforts are now focusing on adolescents. Because worldviews are still forming in the teenage years, climate literacy efforts like this can overcome worldview-driven skepticism among adolescents due to an age-related window for influence.

Throughout the Arctic expedition, Students on Ice program leaders helped each participant to develop a strong sense of self and a personal paradigm of ability and opportunity. The journey framed climate change around humans, connecting youth to peers, elders, scientists, experts, artists, musicians, photographers, journalists, business, and opinion leaders. These conversations helped the youth to see anthropogenic climate change as real and tangible, foregrounding place, increasing awareness, and creating hands-on experiential learning. As youth came to feel solidarity with those impacted, they recognized social injustice and power disparities within climate change impacts.

Arctic expedition

The importance of contextualizing climate justice, implicating ourselves in the problem, and recognizing our own obligations in mitigation became apparent to the youth. Because youth today have grown up with more exposure to climate change in schools and the media than previous generations, they may be diverging from average adults and increasing their climate change awareness. Personal, contextual experience with real people whose lives are affected by climate change like Students on Ice also increase youth perceptions of the risks that climate change poses.

Arctic expedition

Students reflect about their interactions on the Arctic Expedition

Petshish Jack, 24, from Sheshatshiu, Labrador, is a recent Travel and Tourism graduate from Algonquin College. Looking back to his Students on Ice summer, 2018 experiences, he explained.

“It was definitely an eye opener to see the different cultures, homes, and languages. What I enjoyed the most was being able to see all the wildlife and landscapes. The mountains and fjords were amazing, and I was able to see animals such as polar bears, whales, and seals.”

Brady Reid, 23, who is working on his MA in Environmental Policy at Memorial University of Newfoundland, was with Students on Ice as part of his summer position with Parks Canada’s Northern Engagement team.

“My thesis is about what Indigenous knowledge looks like in environmental policy. A big part of the Students on Ice program is reconciliation and indigenous knowledge. I learned so much from the elders. It was a really cool to be able to take what I have been learning through my research and see it in the real world, in a place like the Arctic. Looking up at this glacier, it was just was so immense. I spent 10 or 15 minutes just looking at it, thinking about that amount of ice and thinking of it melting. Climate change became real when I saw how massive that ice was and to think of it receding.”

For Denver Edmonds, 17, a student at Amos Comenius Memorial School in Hopedale, Labrador, a personal connection to the effects of climate change came in a workshop aboard the ship.

“I think my favorite workshop was the one about climate change. I got to hear about how someone couldn’t go seal hunting because of the bad ice, and how it affected people going off on skidoos and boats. And things like having a late spring and early fall and stuff like that. It was just kind of interesting to hear about how the climate changed over the years.”

Dre Toney, an 18-year-old from Nova Scotia, talked about how the Arctic expedition opened up his understanding of climate change effects on landscapes and communities.

“Oh, my God. It’s nothing but beautiful — the view was just breathtaking. They have a totally different culture up there, and it’s great to experience that I’m not alone. Up there they do so many different things… I really like it, and it’s so good to learn about different things.”

Arctic expedition

Final Thoughts

Students on Ice participants this summer had hands-on scientific and cultural experiences as part of an Arctic expedition. These youth engaged in deliberative discussions, interacted with scientists, addressed misconceptions, and participated hands-on with communities and cultures which are directly affected by climate change.

Programs like Students on Ice, which started in 2000, have the power to connect youth to nature and foster within them an appreciation for the planet, themselves, and each other. It is imperative that such endeavors find the support they need to continue to offer personal growth and inspire and catalyze initiatives that contribute to global sustainability. After all, today’s youth are tomorrow’s decision-makers, and it is they whose existences will be unalterably affected by climate change.

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Tags: environmental policy, Greenland, indigenous knowledge, Students on Ice

About the Author

Carolyn Fortuna Carolyn Fortuna, Ph.D. is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. She’s won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavy Foundation. She’s molds scholarship into digital media literacy and learning to spread the word about sustainability issues. Please follow me on Twitter and Facebook and Google+

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