Episode 9: Burning Platform – The Arctic and Climate Change

October 22, 2019

The long term impacts of climate change are frequently discussed, but it is equally important to understand how a changing climate is impacting Arctic economies, populations, laws, policies, and landscapes TODAY. Rapidly melting ice is generating new shipping lanes, mining opportunities, fisheries and more. We explore the importance of a collaborative, cross-disciplinary approach to understanding and solving problems, and how that can help us better predict the impacts of climate change on future generations. (Photo credit: Jan Piribeck)

Episode Notes

The long term impacts of climate change are frequently discussed, but it is equally important to understand how a changing climate is impacting Arctic economies, populations, laws, policies, and landscapes TODAY.  Rapidly melting ice is generating new shipping lanes, mining opportunities, fisheries and more. We explore the importance of a collaborative, cross-disciplinary approach to understanding and solving problems, and how that can help us better predict the impacts of climate change on future generations.

Dr. Paul Andrew Mayewski is an internationally acclaimed glaciologist, climate scientist and polar explorer who has forged a career through accomplishments at the cutting edge of science. He is Director/Professor of the Climate Change Institute at the University of Maine. His exploration and science credentials include: leader of more than 55 expeditions to the remotest polar and high altitude reaches of the planet; more than 450 scientific publications; major scientific discoveries such as: abrupt climate change in the atmosphere and documentation of human source pollution; numerous awards and hundreds of prominent appearances in the media such as: multiple CBS 60 Minutes shows, NOVA films, National Public Radio, and the 2014 Emmy Award winning “Years of Living Dangerously.”

Dr. Firooza Pavri is Director of the Muskie School of Public Service at the University of Southern Maine and Professor of Geography. She is originally from India and prior to joining USM, she lived in the Midwest and received her M.A. and Ph.D. degrees at the University of Toledo and Ohio State University respectively. Dr. Pavri teaches and conducts research in the area of environmental geography, with a focus on society-environment interactions, natural resource conservation & policy, sustainable development, and geospatial technologies, including remote sensing.

Charles H. Norchi is the Benjamin Thompson Professor of Law, and director of the Center for Oceans & Coastal Law and Graduate Law Programs and the University of Maine School of Law. He teaches International Law, Oceans Law and Policy, International Human Rights, and Maritime Law. His current research includes public international law; law of the sea; the intersections of law, science, and policy; the Arctic; and Afghanistan.

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Episode Guests

Dr. Paul Andrew Mayewski is an internationally acclaimed glaciologist, climate scientist and polar explorer who has forged a career through accomplishments at the cutting edge of science. He is Director/Professor of the Climate Change Institute at the University of Maine. His exploration and science credentials include: leader of more than 55 expeditions to the remotest polar and high altitude reaches of the planet; more than 450 scientific publications; major scientific discoveries such as: abrupt climate change in the atmosphere and documentation of human source pollution; numerous awards and hundreds of prominent appearances in the media such as: multiple CBS 60 Minutes shows, NOVA films, National Public Radio, and the 2014 Emmy Award winning “Years of Living Dangerously.”

Dr. Firooza Pavri is Director of the Muskie School of Public Service at the University of Southern Maine and Professor of Geography. She is originally from India and prior to joining USM, she lived in the Midwest and received her M.A. and Ph.D. degrees at the University of Toledo and Ohio State University respectively. Dr. Pavri teaches and conducts research in the area of environmental geography, with a focus on society-environment interactions, natural resource conservation & policy, sustainable development, and geospatial technologies, including remote sensing.

Charles H. Norchi is the Benjamin Thompson Professor of Law, and director of the Center for Oceans & Coastal Law and Graduate Law Programs and the University of Maine School of Law. He teaches International Law, Oceans Law and Policy, International Human Rights, and Maritime Law. His current research includes public international law; law of the sea; the intersections of law, science, and policy; the Arctic; and Afghanistan.

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The information provided in this podcast by the University of Maine System, acting through the University of Maine Graduate and Professional Center, (the University) is for general educational and informational purposes only. The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the author(s) and speaker(s) and do not represent the official policy or position of the University. Assumptions made in the analysis are not reflective of the position of any entity other than the author(s) and speaker(s) – and, since the author(s), speaker(s) and listeners are critically-thinking human beings, these views are always subject to change, revision, and rethinking at any time. All information in the podcast is provided in good faith, however the University makes no representations or warranties of any kind, express or implied, regarding the accuracy, adequacy, validity, reliability, availability or completeness of any information in the podcast and will not be liable for any errors, omissions, or delays in the information in this podcast or any losses, injuries, or damages arising from its broadcast or use. It is the listener’s responsibility to verify their own facts. Your use of the podcast and your reliance on any information in the podcast is solely at your own risk. The podcast does not contain nor is it intended to contain any legal advice. Any legal information provided is only for general informational and educational purposes, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Accordingly, before taking any actions based upon such information, the University encourages you to consult with an appropriate legal professional or licensed attorney.

Transcript

​This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

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The Greater Good: Episode 9

Carrie:
Welcome to the Greater Good: a podcast devoted to exploring complex and emerging issues in law, business and policy. I’m your host Carrie Wilshusen, Associate Dean for Admissions at the University of Maine School of Law.

Carrie: 

The Arctic is at the forefront of climate change, experiencing rapid environmental changes that are having very real impacts on the native populations and landscapes. We speak with scholars from the University of Maine School of Law, the University of Maine, and the University of Southern Maine about a cross disciplinary approach to climate change. Our Arctic panel represents an exciting example of a successful collaboration across University of Maine System institutions. This interdisciplinary team will explore some of the challenges and opportunities that have arisen in the Arctic in the wake of climate change.

Dr. Paul Andrew Mayewski is an internationally acclaimed glaciologist climate scientist and polar Explorer. He is director/professor of the Climate Change Institute at the University of Maine. He has led more than 55 expeditions to the remotest polar and high altitude reaches of the planet and published more than 450 scientific articles. Dr Mayewski has been featured on CBS 60 minutes, Nova, National Public Radio and the Emmy award winning Years of Living Dangerously.

Firooza Pavri is director of the Muskie School of Public Service at the University of Southern Maine and professor of geography. Originally from India. Dr. Pavri teaches and conducts research in the areas of environmental geography with a focus on society, environment interactions, natural resource conservation and policy, sustainable development, and geospatial technologies.

Charles Norchi is the Benjamin Thompson professor of law at the University of Maine School of Law. He is the director of the Center for Oceans and Coastal Law and graduate law programs and teaches international law, oceans, law and policy, international human rights and maritime law.

Welcome. Thank you so much for joining us today. You’re each part of an interdisciplinary team considering the critical area of climate change in the Arctic. So I’d like to start with having each of you share your area of expertise and how and why the Arctic captured your imaginations. Let’s start with Paul.

Paul: 

Okay. My name is Paul Mayewski. I’m a glaciologist; I study the dynamics of glaciers. I’m a climate scientist. I am also a polar explorer having discovered parts of Antarctica. I got interested in the Arctic because it has a lot of ice. That was the beginning. It’s a remote place. And when I started working in the Arctic and the Antarctic and other places that it was so remote that people didn’t assume it was related to where we live now. Of course as years have gone by, it becomes very clear that there’s a lot going on there. These changes are critically important, not only to the people, mostly to the people who live in that area, but certainly to many of the rest of us. And our future is actually closely tied to what happens in the Arctic. So it’s a fantastic place to see. It’s a fantastic place to study and it has critical importance for the future.

Carrie: Thank you, Paul. Charles?

Charles: So my field is international law, primarily public, international law. And the Arctic has fascinated me for a long time because of the overlapping legal claims law and policy claims across the numerous governments and also the Arctic Ocean, which is there. So claims to access, claims that control, claims that indigenous populations make. And this goes all the way back to the age of Arctic exploration, North American Europe, 150 years ago, one of whom was Commodore Perry who was a Mainer. And so this originally spiked my interest in the Arctic. It is a fascinating place to work and as Paul said, it is a window to the future and what this planet faces imminently.

Carrie: 

Thank you Charles. Firooza?

Firooza:

I’m an environmental geographer and I’m really interested in issues of conservation and natural resource use. And my research also employs a lot of geospatial technologies like satellite imaging and remote sensing in order to look at the landscape and examine changes on the landscape. So I’ve always been fascinated by how landscapes change and what are the processes that govern these changes, whether there are naturally occurring changes or whether they’re anthropogenic and human induced. And I’ve worked in wetlands and freshwater systems principally over the last 10 years, but about three years ago I had the opportunity to visit Iceland. And to me that was a real eye opener. I had never really been in the Arctic. That was my first experience in the Arctic and it was an incredible landscape, just so different from everything I was used to. And what I saw there about three years ago, we were sort of the firsthand obvious changes of, of how the climate system is impacting that landscape. That’s what triggered my interest in the Arctic. And I’ve been working in Iceland over the last three years and principally using satellite data to map how one particular ice cap is changing and really what that change means to the, the landscape itself, to that periglacial landscape. So that’s where I started. And the opportunity in Greenland was sort of one step forward to take this work and perhaps see how applicable it might be in [Greenland] as well.

Carrie: 

Thank you. Paul, we understand that the climate is changing. Can you talk specifically about how climate change and global warming is impacting the Arctic?

Paul: 

The Arctic is being impacted very differently than the rest of the planet. It’s quite obvious that the entire planet is warming to some degree, but it’s not evenly. If you look for the part of the planet that is warming the fastest and the most, it turns out to be the Arctic. And it’s in particular the Eastern Arctic, the Russian Arctic, and between about 2010 and 2014 or 15, the temperature increased. This is not just summer temperature, but year-round temperature increased about eight to nine degrees Fahrenheit. This is immense. To put it in perspective, the speed of that change, the magnitude of that change is similar to the change that happened between the last vestiges of the ice age when a place like this was covered by a thousand meters of ice and the beginning of modern climate and that was 11 and a half thousand years ago. The Arctic is particularly susceptible to warming. So for every degree centigrade warming that the Arctic air is warmed, the Arctic ocean is warmed. You actually get a return of much more than that because as you reduce the ice, the ice is white and it reflects radiation. So you exposed, for example, ocean. Ocean is dark, it absorbs radiation, heating up the ocean and the ocean has a lot of heat in it. So you get this extra push out out of the Arctic. And that’s had a very dramatic effect obviously on the Arctic. What happened in that time period I just mentioned is an abrupt climate change. We discovered about 30 years ago that these can happen in the natural system. It was a great shock to the climate science community that in fact the climate could change so quickly and go from one state to another. And with this just happening in the Arctic, it’s a game changer, absolutely for the people who live in the Arctic and it’s a game changer as it turns out for the rest of us in the Northern hemisphere too.

Carrie: 

Are these just climate trends or is this human impact?

Paul: 

Oh, there’s no doubt at all that this is largely, and when I say largely, I don’t mean just 50%. I mean significantly more than that, a consequence of human activity. Changes in the levels of greenhouse gases like CO2 have been occurring throughout Earth’s history. We have experienced, however, in the last few decades, a hundred times faster rise in CO2 than anything in the last million years. We know this as a fact because we have records from our ice cores that go back this far and show us how fast CO2 changes. We’ve not only impacted CO2, we’ve also impacted methane, increased that dramatically. We have destroyed in the region of the Antarctic and parts of the Arctic the ozone layer. This is about 15 to 25 kilometers up in the atmosphere. This is what protects us from incoming UV radiation. And of course, we’ve also thrown sulfur into the air, which has in most cases a cooling effect. So we’ve been fiddling around with a climate system, the physical climate system for many decades. Now that the greenhouse gas levels have risen high enough that ozone has been depleted sufficiently we’re seeing dramatic changes as a consequence. The easiest things to change in the earth system is sea ice because it doesn’t have a memory – every year it comes back if it’s cold enough. And if it’s not cold enough, it doesn’t come back. Or if it’s very warm in the summer, it decreases quite rapidly. And then that helps basically imprint on the atmosphere. In this particular case, it’s a pattern that’s imprinted on the jet stream, and the jet stream or winds carry moisture, heat, and pollutants. So we’re seeing tremendous changes as a consequence of Arctic warming. In addition, of course, we’re seeing warming trends throughout much of other parts of the planet. But the Arctic is definitely the place where this has been the greatest thus far. And I should also add that the Arctic has another big round of climate change that it’s about to become involved in. And in this particular case, because of the loss of sea ice, because of the warming of the permafrost frozen ground in the Arctic, a tremendous amount of methane is about to be released. How fast, we don’t know yet. But methane is very important. It’s about 30 to 50 times more effective in trapping heat than CO2. And once that begins to really become a player, we will see without a doubt at least another big abrupt change in the climate system, which will be propagated over other parts of the planet. So every single part of the planet is responding to greenhouse gas warming, ozone depletion, and a variety of other things in its own way. The place where the changes are the greatest is without a doubt, the Arctic.

Charles: 

May I follow up on what Paul just said, which is this message reaching the ear of critical decision makers, policy makers? Now, in our own state, we’re fortunate to have a governor who addressed the UN Climate Summit this past week. She committed the State of Maine to be carbon-free by 2045. So we see policy makers at the state level around the United States getting the message and trying to implement steps. I think we see that a little less so at the federal level. And that’s been a problem, policymakers around the planet. If you take a look at the decision makers at high levels of government in almost all the Arctic countries, they certainly have the message I think. And we’ll see if Paul agrees with me whether they understand the science. That’s another question. And as educators, that’s what we are working on at this level.

Carrie: 

Which is the perfect segue into the next question, which is you wrote an article with Paul back in 2017, a Law Review article talking about the multi-system approach to law and policy. Can you talk about that a little bit?

Charles: 

Sure. We titled that article, “The Arctic: Science, Law and Policy” with the intention that all three fields are important, but the law and the policy really depends on the science. And we felt that it was important that students who study across these three disciplines understand the other disciplines. Isaiah Berlin published in the 1950s a very famous essay that we referred to at the beginning of the article called “The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution”. It was a famous lecture given at Cambridge university in 1953 and what Berlin was worried about was that there were two cultures, the scientists and the humanist/social scientists that didn’t communicate with each other. And when they did, they came in at cross purposes. And we felt that at the period when we were looking at that article, we felt that we were in terms of government and federal government in somewhat of a post-fact situation where policymakers were not paying attention to the facts. And we thought that it would be useful to come up with approaches and advanced interdisciplinary approaches that would require students and professionals to learn each other’s languages, to learn each other’s methods to the extent possible.

Paul: 

Obviously scientists hope that what they end up revealing gets translated to the public. And that eventually gets translated into policy. So this was a perfect situation in which, as scientists, we could learn about issues related to law and policy and vice versa. Ideally, both are based on fact. If one were in a criminal court, you wouldn’t want to have somebody just tacitly make an assumption about whether or not you were guilty. You would want to see the facts come out. It’s important for what would appear to be disparate disciplines to be collaborating so that we can make these jumps and we feel that this is an important new start. There aren’t that many groups in the world to my knowledge that are trying to combine law, policy, and science and one should add to that business. Every single thing that we do in our lives, we live in a world which is not just multidisciplinary. It’s an interdisciplinary. And remember that all of these disciplines are sort of terms and silos created by humans. It’s not the way the world works. We really need to understand each other.

Carrie:

So [this] opens up a lot of wonderful opportunities Firooza, how does interdisciplinary, how does this kind of team approach impact your work?

Firooza:

So I was trained as a geographer and in the discipline of geography we have both the sort of physical side represented as well as the social side. And so I’ve always been trained in that kind of interdisciplinary approach. You know, you took courses where you learned about the Earth’s physical system and then you took other courses where you learned about how humans function and how societies function. So I’ve always approached my research from that perspective. I think what Paul and Charles have already mentioned on this is critical. These are complex issues that we’re facing in the world today. And one discipline is not going to have all of the answers. We’re going to have to sort of break those boundaries and look across disciplines to gain some of these answers.

Paul: 

If I could add something. If you want it to find a topic that would engage as many different people, attitudes, ways of life, professions, et cetera, it would, one of them would certainly be climate change.

Carrie: 

What I was going to ask that we next turn it specifically to this, to the Arctic and climate change.

Paul: 

Climate change, at least in my opinion and I think shared by many people, is the biggest security issue of our century, number one. It’s an issue that impacts everybody.

Carrie: 

With the ice melt, with the climate change, we have challenges and opportunities that are emerging. Charles, do you want to speak about some of the challenges that there are with respect to legal issues and things with climate change?

Charles: 

Well, with the ice melt, obviously there are new shipping routes. That’s a problem and it’s an opportunity if you are shipping, if you’re doing destinational shipping and to the Arctic, if you want to ship from where we’re sitting over the Arctic to Asia, that’s an opportunity. But that will create environmental hazards as well. So that’s a problem.

Carrie:

How is that being approached? Right now?

Charles:

From the legal side, there is a new set of laws called The Polar Code, which is applicable to any polar class vessels that will be sailing in polar waters. That means Northern and Southern polar waters. The UN Convention on the Law of The Sea is increasingly applicable in the Arctic because as Paul mentioned, we have a new ocean emerging. I mean it was always an ocean, but it was ice covered area.

Carrie: 

And the Law of The Sea, is what can you explain that for listeners?

Charles: 

So the Law of the Sea, there’s that field or area or the instruments of international law, multilateral treaty and some bilateral treaties that apply to the oceans and that would have a regulatory effects on the kinds of activities that might occur in the Arctic Ocean. And then there are claims to Arctic resources, the resources under the continental shelf, hydrocarbons, potentially the resources in the middle of the ocean when that becomes accessible. Deep sea bed mining. These are all opportunities, but there are tremendous environmental challenges. And then for the people who live there, for the largely Inuit populations that live from Greenland to Canada, Alaska, and then other indigenous populations around the Arctic and nonindigenous populations, they have very clear ideas as to what they want done with these resources. Some want them conserved and some want them exploited. So these kinds of issues, again, it’s the same dance between access and control over the resources over the ocean, over the Arctic land territory. And that’s playing itself out in the international law as we speak.

Carrie: 

Okay. Firooza what opportunities and challenges do you see from your perspective?

Firooza:

Well, in particular with the visit to Greenland, I think one of the things that we had an opportunity to talk with a lot of local people and we talked with local sheep farmers and other local folks about some of the challenges that they were facing. I think what we’re going to see increasingly in the future is land rights claims and and basically tussles over development rights, et cetera. We’re already seeing that in South Greenland with mining going in internationally or within the given country. Both I think internationally and within. So we have international companies that go into that are going into Greenland to explore for mining resources and are already engaged in mining. And at the same time you have local claims, sheep, farmers, traditional sheep farmers that have been there for generations that live right next to these mining sites and the impact that mining is going to have on their livelihoods is going to be quite acute. So I think you’re going to see a lot of those sorts of land claim rights come up in the near future as more of Greenland melts and as land is exposed, you’re going to see more mining. Some of the other challenges I think they’re going to see that Charles alluded to was also from a development pressures, things like tourism as well. We witnessed while we were there, the tourism is very much in its fledgling state right now in Greenland, but that’s probably set to change as more cruise ships go in, as perhaps flights become much more frequent and common from other places in Europe and perhaps the United States as well. So you’re going to see all of these challenges coming up in the next decade and two decades and how Greenland responds to them will be very, very interesting to see. I think there’ll be lessons to learn from from Greenland and perhaps Maine as well. I think just the similarities that we see between Maine’s development trajectory and where Greenland is right now, especially our focus on natural resource development, et cetera. I think there’ll be lessons that we can share with Greenland as well. So it will be both ways.

Carrie: 

Thank you, Paul?

Paul:

I think many of the challenges have already been describing [go] back to the place that we went to in South Greenland this last June. It was recently designated a World Heritage Site, which would be phenomenal for ecotourism, certainly for protection of you talk about what that brings with it being designated as a World Heritage Site. I’ll defer to Charles for that.

Charles: 

So a World Heritage Site is a designation under UNESCO. So UNESCO, the UN organization that sits in Paris, shepherds the world heritage treaties, so a world heritage treaty. When a country becomes a member of the treaty, they designate a site that receives enhanced protection and there are World Heritage Site designations all over the world. Ours [is] in Greenland and we’ve visited the site and we worked specifically on the site in an area called Kujataa in South Greenland. There’s another world heritage site in Greenland that’s further to the North in Ilulissat. But the Kujataa site was very interesting for us because it is World Heritage-protected, but people live there. There is farming as Firooza mentioned, sheep farming. There’s fishing, there’s sealing, there are settlements in the villages. And there are these additional pressures with potentially uranium [mining], et cetera in that area. And now I’ll leave it there.

Paul: 

Okay. Thank you for the definition. That is why we need the interdisciplinary. So we chose South Greenland because in fact it is a place that’s changing fast. It’s the most southerly region of Greenland, and therefore any warming is going to have a tremendous impact. It allows us to look at glaciers, landscapes that have just been uncovered by glaciers, landscapes that have existed for quite a while. An amazing culture that has evolved there for well over a thousand years. Originally with the Nordic people going there. And then in the last three or 400 years with the Intuit coming back in, Intuit and Nordic combination coming back in and having sheep farms. So the idea of a World Heritage Site in this area, it is very, very positive because it means that they would be protected. It means that there would be a tremendous amount of attention, which can be bad. If you have too many tourists right now, as Firooza said, the fledgling ecotourism business it’s very well handled. As it is and in other parts of the world, Galapagos, Antarctica, but right smack in the middle of this is a proposed site for open pit uranium mining and it’s within several kilometers of the farms. And there is of course discussion about whether or not this open pit uranium mining is going to have any impact on the farmers being able to continue their work. And the simple answer is absolutely yes. As an example of what we could do here, one of the things that we’re very interested in doing is creating a baseline for what the water quality is. Like what are the chemicals in the water right now? Some are coming directly out of the glaciers. But if you have a baseline, and this mine actually goes in, then there’s a possibility for these people to demonstrate that in fact where they live, many tens of kilometers away. In fact, even hundreds and thousands of kilometers away is [possible because] uranium travels a long way in the air. There’s an impact. So there’s a classic example of an opportunity and a challenge right in South Greenland. Those sorts of opportunities exist throughout Greenland. They exist throughout the Arctic as the Arctic opens up to transport, to fishing, and to tourism. That’s a great opportunity, but the challenges are of course, how do you protect those people? How do you divide up the the fishing grounds in the Antarctic where I’ve spent a great deal of my career. We have an Antarctic treaty. It’s an international treaty signed by, I think, close to 35 countries, and it prevents any economic exploitation of the Antarctic. It’s too late for the Arctic because it’s completely rimmed by countries that have already been utilizing some of the resources in the Arctic. And with the opening up of the Arctic ocean, it’s a game changer. National Geographic this month came out with a fantastic issue on the Arctic. And interestingly enough, it focuses largely on the impacts in terms of security and quality of life. I shouldn’t even say quality of life. The way of life of these people, is changing dramatically and the ecosystem is being impacted dramatically. So it would almost appear as if the warming of the Arctic certainly from a general view is not a great opportunity. It might be an economic opportunity, but there are going to be many things to change. So how do you turn this tremendous challenge, which is the warming of the Arctic, which is impacting all of the Arctic, impacting Northern hemisphere climate? How do you turn that into an opportunity? Opportunity might not be the best choice of words, although I do use it myself, because it sounds like this is a good thing, but how do you deal with this and try to get the best possible sustainable solution and even new opportunities. One is that the Arctic, because it is warming. There will be fisheries that open up that didn’t exist before. The process of course, there’ll be a lot of compromise. There will be opportunities for business to move in and do things that they haven’t been able to do. Uh, there will be space for people to occupy. As the world gets more and more crowded, we only have to look at our own East Coast to realize that things are getting more crowded. So it’s a double edged sword. It’s a reality, however, that the Arctic is warming. It’s highly unlikely that that trend will change. Any opportunities that do exist have to be based on some understanding of what the future holds because this place is changing so fast. So you need to know what will happen in the short term, meaning a few years to a couple of decades, and then of course, what will happen over the long-term.

Carrie: 

Join us next time as we continue our discussion on climate change.

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The information provided in this podcast by the University of Maine System acting through the University of Maine Graduate and Professional Center is for general educational and informational purposes only. The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the authors and speakers and do not represent the official policy or position of the university.