Bringing the Arctic to Paris

Bringing the Arctic to Paris

It is a startling image: an Inuit hunter pulls a Greenland dog-sled with standard-bred poodles along the Seine River in the heart of Paris, France.

This art project, L’arctique est Paris, combines interactive art, film, and presentation. It is one of many ArtCOP 21 efforts to “expand the conversation” and draw attention to climate in unique, emotive ways.

L’arctique est Paris was created by Americans, multimedia artist Mel Chin and writer and ethnographer Gretel Ehrlich. Last Sunday in Paris, the artists described the project event as “one of gathering of two worlds.”

“The Arctic is not just some place called Qaanaak in Greenland but in the homes of people of Egypt Township North Carolina,” Chin explained. This project is about how we can “use art as a catalytic structure to bring people into this realization. It is about using imagery to bring attention to words that must be heard.”

Gretel Ehrlich, author of the Harpers article Rotten Ice: Travelling by Dogsled in the Melting Arctic, explained how we desperately need imagination to remind us of the danger climate disruption is posing to all living beings and their cultural diversities.

“What happens in the Arctic happens to all of us because the Arctic drives the climate of the world,” Ehrlich said.

To bring the reality of the project into the minds of attendees, the artists organized Jens Danielsen and Mamarut Kristiansen, elite hunters from the northernmost town in Greenland, to come share their stories of adaptation. Danielsen is the mayor of Qaanaaq, and a delegate to the Inuit Circumpolar Conference.

Jens Danielsen and Mamarut Kristiansen, hunters from Greenland. Danielsen is also the mayor of Qaanaaq.

They were introduced by Nobel Laureate Dr. Berrien Moore, lead author of the 2001 IPCC report on climate change. He explained that even in a “best case” COP21 negotiation scenario we must recognize places like small island states and the Arctic are in trouble with the CO2 already in the atmosphere. The science is showing there is absolutely no doubt Greenland is melting, he explained.

Inuit people like Danielsen and Kristiansen are part of a continuous culture of 20,000 years. As they lose their traditional ways of life like hunting to unimaginably rapid sea-ice changes, the world is losing a part of its heritage. The two hunters described, alongside a translator, increases in storms and changing seasonal patterns that render the formerly predictable, unpredictable. Their traditional knowledge can no longer read the signs. Ancient ice trails are disappearing and the lack of snow cover on the ice is affecting their sled-dogs’ paws. As the hunting season is dramatically cut short, their wives make fewer hunting clothes. The cycle of cultural decline is continuous.

The hunters explained that they are adapting, as their people always have. More fish are present in areas where there weren’t previously, so they fish more. There are ways to adapt.

“Scientists they come and tell us what  is happening … but we are the ones who are seeing the changes and also living under the changes,” Danielsen said.

At La Gaîté lyrique venue in Paris, amidst fancy cafes and art exhibits, metropolitan city-dwellers had a sense of what this close-yet-far lived experience was like.

Image by Gretel Ehrlich for L’arctique est Paris.

Sámi Youth addresses large crowd at Global Landscapes Forum

Sámi Youth addresses large crowd at Global Landscapes Forum

Not only does climate change pose immediate environmental challenges to indigenous groups, the large scale climate mitigation and adaptation measures being proposed also have serious impacts.

The human rights and land tenure panel at the two day COP 21 Global Landscape Forum addressed how to ensure such projects proceed in a way that respects international and national indigenous rights to land and consultation.

One answer to this question came from young Sámi leader Per Jonas Partapuoli, a board member of the International Centre of Reindeer Husbandry. His family has been herding reindeer in the Laevas district since long-before Sweden was a country. “It is where I find my safety, love, identity and further where my future will be,” Partapuoli said.

Sámi leader Per Jonas Partapuoli, a board member of the International Centre of Reindeer Husbandry speaking at the COP 21 Global Landscape Forum.

His people’s Sámi territory is at risk of displacement from mining. Although Sweden has fairly good environmental standards, parts of this land will no longer be habitable and entire villages must be displaced. The displacement itself is onerous, expensive, and traumatizing. There are often no other areas to move for a culture that bases their geographic place on migratory patterns of reindeer, Partapuoli explained.

Mining operations often take precedence with support from state powers. Because they are less powerful, indigenous peoples are often the ones who have to adapt. “I don’t know about coexisting; there is nothing to coexist on,” Partapuoli explained.

Mining is not the only example. Joan Carling, Secretary General, Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact explained how large-scale hydropower dams, though creating clean energy, can displace entire populations. Carbon capture programs put a monetary price on “carbon” resources such as trees, running up against the intrinsic common-good, long term values of sustenance, culture and identity held by indigenous peoples.

The consequences are often disastrous for indigenous people. Partapuoli described the the proliferance of mental illness, like anxiety and depression, from struggles for land and related challenges, to the extent that one in three young reindeer herders have contemplated suicide.

Importantly, not all is stark. Partapuoli shared the success of the Laponian nature reserve and parks area, also a UNESCO world heritage site, now managed through traditional knowledge of the Sámi people. Decisions are often made by consensus and boards are representative of the indigenous people that live on the land.

While mining also threatens this area, with negotiations with the Swedish government currently underway, the Sámi are much better equipped to stand for the rights of their children and grandchildren.

Tracking #COP21 on Twitter: What we’ve learned so far

We’re almost one week into the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21) in Paris and we’ve been keeping a close eye on Twitter all the way through. Here’s what we’ve been able to learn so far.

COP21 Dec6-01

#COP21 tweets peaked early

The greatest number of tweets using the hashtag #COP21 we’ve seen so far happened on November 30, the first day of the conference. We recorded ~550,000 tweets that day. The next day, use of the hashtag fell to ~323,000 and has continued to decline.

A very small proportion of those tweets mention the Arctic

Since COP21 began, over 1.8 million tweets have used the hashtag #COP21. Just over 4,000 of those mention the Arctic*. That’s less than a quarter of a percent.

*Note: We used the following keywords to search for mentions of the Arctic: Arctic, Arctique, Arktis, А́рктика, Arcticpoli SavetheArctic, ArcticParis, Polar, Yukon, YTpoli, NWT, NWTpoli, Nunavut, Nunavutpoli, Alaska, Greenland, Inuit, Saami.

COP21 Dec6-02-01-01

COP21 hasn’t increased Twitter chatter about the Arctic

The week before COP21 began, an average of ~6,700 tweets were posted about the Arctic per day. Since COP21 began, the average amount of Arctic tweets per day has fallen to around ~6,300. We recorded over 10,000 tweets about the Arctic on December 1, but the increase appears to have had more do to with the release of a study about black carbon in the Arctic sea and this collection of Arctic fox photos. Only 6% of Arctic tweets on December 1 were tagged #COP21.

Around ~4,000 of the ~38,000 Arctic tweets sent between November 30 and December 5  use the hashtag #COP21, about 11%.

COP21 Dec6-03-01

Tweets mentioning both #COP21 and the Arctic amount to ~700 per day

Since the conference began, an average of around 700 #COP21 tweets have been made each day that concern the Arctic. The fewest tweets, only ~550, occurred on the first day of the conference. The most, ~850, occurred on December 3.

So far, the Arctic is not one of the key issues being discussed in relation to COP21 on Twitter. But of course, there’s no telling what will happen between now and the last day of the conference.

Ice Watch at COP 21

Ice Watch at COP 21

Beyond the usual suspects of environmental groups, students, and social justice organizers, COP21 has drawn unexpected players including actors, musicians, and artists.

Amongst the estimated 40,000 participants sits a stunning display of twelve large blocks of Arctic ice arranged in a clock shape in front of Paris’ iconic Pantheon, just five kilometres from the Eiffel Tower. Artists Olafur Eliasson and Minik Rosing have created Ice Watch, drawing on the symbolism of a melting and breaking Arctic ice shelf as a symbolic rallying cry for climate change.

Ice Watch in front of the Pantheon, just five kilometres from the Eiffel Tower.

Ice Watch has been the talk of Paris, widely covered by the French and International press. The artists have taken the opportunity to inform the public, and explain their process.

Media have covered Ice Watch extensively..

Having hauled the 80 tonnes of ice via refrigerated sea freighting from Greenland, the carbon footprint is equivalent to 30 return flights from Paris to Greenland, they state.

As for the Greenland ice sheet, fear not: the pieces were already separated. According to the artists, Greenland loses the equivalent of 1,000 such blocks of ice per second throughout the year.

With the clearly stated goal of mobilizing public action and awareness, Ice Watch is one of a series of large scale artworks that have been commissioned for display in prominent public spaces in the lead up and during COP 21 by various non-profits.

Artists 4 Paris Climate 2015, co-organizer alongside Bloomberg Philanthropies for the Ice Watch project, is auctioning other works such as Canadian Edward Burtynsky’s photography series entitled Water for climate-related charity. Burtynsky’s photographs are placed inside the COP 21 Le Bourget conference centre in order to draw attention to human impacts on water systems.

Some of the twelve blocks transported from Greenland.

Ice Watch has drawn attention from COP 21 attendees and Parisians.








Getting indigenous voices heard at COP 21

Getting indigenous voices heard at COP 21

On Tuesday, the Indigenous Peoples’ Pavilion at COP 21 hosted its opening ceremony replete with dance, song and a vibrant fusion of traditional dress.

Much of the last remaining swaths of land “available” for economic and resource development rest on indigenous territories. Yet climate choking fossil-fuel based development continues to gobble up what is left, and at the Pavilion, indigenous leaders from around the world say they are unanimous in their refusal to resign their duty to protect their lands.

The Pavilion is situated in the Climate Generations Area, known as the Green Zone, directly adjacent to the official leader’s space, the UN Blue Zone. UNESCO, World Resources Institute, the World Wildlife Fund, Google platform climate-simulators, alternative agriculture demonstrations and art exhibits share the space alongside the Pavilion. It bustles with a cacophony of sound and heat; a vibrant answer to the stuffy formality of its state-led counterpart.

Egeesiak opens the Indigenous Pavilion.

In her opening ceremony speech for the Pavilion, Inuit Circumpolar Council Chair Okalik Egeesiak affirmed the role the Arctic plays in sustaining global climate systems. Science shows that it is the melting polar ice caps and permafrost that will set of irreversible feedback loops of rising sea levels, shifting ocean currents, and increasing greenhouse gas emissions.

But the leaders were not here to speak the language of science. They were gathered to speak the language of humanity.

The unifying impulse was children and grandchildren.

The world’s approximately 400 million indigenous peoples span seven regions and share one common struggle: the overwhelming suppression of their basic rights.

According to Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the status-quo economic development has at once contributed to climate change and deprived indigenous peoples of their rights to land, traditional knowledge, and culture.

“Indigenous knowledge is an alternative to climate change,” reads one of the posters held up by an indigenous person that traveled to Paris for COP 21.

Climate change is increasingly discussed within a framework of human rights. The immediate and future impacts of climate change cut across all levels of human existence: cultural, spiritual, social, economic, and basic health.  It’s why climate change amounts to “environmental genocide” for those peoples dependent on the land for their survival.

Even the one degree of warming the earth already experiencing is dramatically altering the Arctic environment. The Inuit are witnessing and experiencing global impacts that many of us can only imagine. But, they’re not alone. Personal observations from islanders, agrarians, and fishers connected through thousands of years of traditional knowledge confirm their territories are changing dramatically.

Standing outside of the Pavilion, I spoke with Egeesiak who represents Inuit in Alaska, Canada, Greenland, and Russia. We discussed the success of the Indigenous Peoples’ Pavilion, acknowledging the unprecedented unification of all seven regions. The funding largely came from Norway and is managed by the United Nations Development Program.

She said the hard work occurs both in the hallways and in the pavilion space to raise collective and Arctic regional concerns, and to advocate for Indigenous voices to be heard.

Working alongside the Global Indigenous Steering Committee, the Canadian Chair of the ICC’s goal is clear: to ensure the language of indigenous rights be included in the COP 21 UNFCCC text that is under negotiation.

This seems like a straight-forward request, yet history shows otherwise. The first UN conference of indigenous peoples occurred in 1977, while the adoption of the UN declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was signed in 2007. It took thirty years, and still four nations refused to sign it.

Dene Chief Bill Erasmus led a drum song to close the event.

As Andrea Carmen, International Indian Treaty Council leader from the Yaqui Nation explained, though the UN declarations and treaty rights within national borders are significant and critical achievements, they continue to be violated.

The high energy event wrapped up with a drum song led by Dene Chief Bill Erasmus. Holding hands, leaders and citizens from all over the world sang a traditional song in honour of indigenous guardians of the planet.

Closing words revolved around relationships, to land and to each other. “If we don’t take care of mother nature, mother nature will not take care of us,” Kandi Mossett, Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara of North Dakota said.

Sharing the words of Áillohaš, a Finnish-Saami writer, Egeesiak concluded:

“Take a stone in your hand and close your fist around it until it starts to beat, live, speak and move“

This is the wisdom of respect the Indigenous Pavilion seeks to impart.Indigenous handcrafts showcased at the Indigenous pavilion.

The first days of COP 21 in Paris

The first days of COP 21 in Paris

Thousands of delegates, citizens, scientists and activists have descended onto a city and country in a state of stifled turbulence for UNFCCC’s COP 21, the largest climate conference yet.

Tens of thousands of conference attendees flew into Paris on Saturday in advance of the conference start on Monday.  Sunday was billed as day zero and a day of civil action for climate allies and non-governmental groups. Early Sunday morning, thousands of empty shoes were placed around the Place de la Republique to march in the place of those who could not march for climate.

Place de la Republique.

A few hours later, thousands of people gathered hands to form a chaine-humaine, a peaceful action marking a fair compromise in response to the ban on marches. Both peaceful actions were sanctioned by the police force in Paris, and the energy was family-friendly, positive, and fun. There were songs and costumes. It was a gesture of respect between two conflicting realities: the understandable cancellation of organized marches due to insecurity, and a recognition that the voices of people must be heard.

As was widely covered, a very small group of extremists left the agreed-upon zone of the sidewalk and created a violent stand-off with police. These actions were unrelated and not sanctioned, as was made clear by Alternatiba, the Coalition Climat 21 and Avaaz organizers of the peaceful direct action.

With civil-action and protest central to the French identity, the question of how these non-state actors will proceed with their planned manifestations is of general concern.

As Jennifer Allan, a researcher on social movements and climate change at UBC explained, no restriction of crowds can dispel the feelings of frustration and unrest that come from over 20 years of climate inaction.

Civil-society groups, a broad range of environment, human rights, and other non-profit organizations, is a counter-weight to pressure both transparency and accountability during the closed-door UN negotiations. A stronger presence and access through observer status of civil-society was a main reason COP 21 has been described as a celebrated break from the past.  COP15 in Copenhagen, the last conference with high expectations that resulted in very little, locked many voices out of the negotiating room.

Memorial site tag reads: “Paris we love you.”

But these are not ordinary times in France. The nation is oscillating from its former self, one highly critical of U.S. reactivity post 9-11, to grappling with own complex fears around how to cope with home-grown terrorism. There are 120,000 extra police, gendarmes, and military across France in preparation for regional elections next week, in the middle of COP21. Mandatory military service has re-entered the political debate, and there is talk of extending the state of emergency.

Police on patrol at Le Bourget, the UN site in Paris.









Lauren Kaljur, a graduate student at the UBC School of Journalism and Research Assistant for Arctic Journalism is in Paris for COP 21.

All eyes on Paris

All eyes on Paris

Today marks day one of the UNFCCC’s COP 21 in Paris.

Our Twitter feed is starting to fill up with retweets from circumpolar new outlets and organizations. Outside of Twitter, we’re monitoring regional, Canadian and international media to see where and how Arctic concerns, communities, science, and policies factor into reporting on and about COP 21.

So far, most of the mainstream media reporting has only focused on the Arctic as an example of, or a backdrop to global climate change. But, it’s only day one! We’ll keep analyzing media over the next 10 days, and post brief summaries here.

Lauren Kaljur is now on the ground in Paris, and will also be periodically blogging and tweeting from here, and reporting for Open Canada.

The Path to Yellowknife: How a forest fire and a bunch of data informed my reporting


Watching Fire ZF-014 from the sky gave me a different perspective on journalism.

From the safety of a helicopter, Fire ZF-014 looked unimpressive, a monotonous black stain, interrupted only by lakes and the occasional sighting of smoke plumes.

But as the helicopter made its way deeper into the affected area, I began to get a grasp of the fire’s size. The black, smoldering stain, which at mid-August was estimated to be 32,000 hectares, stretched as far as the eye could see.

And then, as the magnitude of the calamity dawned on me, a big, fat question fell on my lap like a giant sack of potatoes. It was a selfish question, but I couldn’t shake it off.

How did I, a student journalist from Argentina, end up in this helicopter, covering one of the biggest blazes of this year’s fire season in the Northwest Territories?

The answer, in its simplest form, is quite concise:

In August of 2015, in-between my first and my second years at UBC’s graduate school of journalism, I was taken on as an intern at EDGE YK, an online news website and free community magazine based out of Yellowknife.

But since things aren’t ever that simple, I can say that the process of getting to Yellowknife had actually started two years earlier, when I lost my job, my house, and all my belongings to another forest fire, many kilometres away, in the heart of Argentina’s Córdoba province.

That event forced me to shift career paths, and—less than a year later—I was on a flight to Vancouver, intent on starting a new life as a journalist.

I joined UBC’s School of Journalism as a graduate student. There, I soon found my way to the Arctic Journalism project, an academic research undertaking devoted to studying how journalists are covering the Arctic in the times of Twitter, climate change, and resource extraction.

There was something alluring about the North, its immensity, its remote communities, its front-line status in the times of climate change.

I set my sights on Yellowknife, and with the guidance of my researching supervisors, I spent months prior pouring over articles, collecting data on how journalists in the Canadian North were writing about Arctic issues. And as that data repository grew and grew, I began to wonder how my findings would inform my personal journalistic practices during my internship.

Would I be writing for a global audience or a local audience? Who should be represented in my articles? What specific issues should I explore? How should I share my articles on social media?

As I flew a couple hundred metres over a raging forest fire in the middle of the vast boreal wilderness, I was trying to process all of these questions, while also trying to decide how I would tell this particular story for the particular news organization I was working for.

In the end, the endless heaps of data I collected over the summer undoubtedly shaped the news stories and feature pieces I wrote during my three weeks in Yellowknife.

It was that information, as well as my conversations with Northern journalists, that gave me the confidence needed to make the most out of my internship, and to feel somewhat safe as I was flying over Fire ZF-014. At least I wasn’t just parachuting in.

Peter Mothe is a graduate student at UBC’s School of Journalism and a Research Assistant on the Arctic Journalism project. You can follow him on Twitter at @petermothe.

Heading to #COP21, Follow us here and on Twitter

Our research team will be monitoring media and tweeting live from Paris!

Lauren Kaljur, a member of our research team is heading to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of the Parties (better known as #COP21) in Paris later this week.

Lauren will be doing journalism for Open Canada, and blogging here about her experiences reporting in and on the most highly anticipated climate change conference yet. Many government and NGO representatives will be in Paris, including Canada’s Prime Minister Trudeau.  Have a look at some of the pre-reporting Lauren has done for Open Canada.

Our research goal is to monitor coverage related to the Arctic in the English-language reporting that comes out of COP21. Myself, Alexander Kim and Peter Mothe will be tracking coverage on Twitter and online from the UBC campus in Vancouver, Canada.

Through the past 8 months, our research team has been doing a content analysis of journalism at the International, National (Canada), and Regional levels.  We will be discussing some of our findings on here once our large data set has been checked more thoroughly for errors.