Episode 10: Burning Platform Part II – The Arctic and Climate Change

October 29, 2019

The Arctic is at the forefront of climate change, experiencing rapid environmental shifts that are having very real and meaningful impacts on native populations and landscapes. Join us for part two of our interdisciplinary discussion about how Arctic populations and global economies are responding to these climate change threats and opportunities, as well as how laws and policies are keeping up (or not). (Photo credit: Jan Piribeck)

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Notes

 
Episode Notes

The Arctic is at the forefront of climate change, experiencing rapid environmental shifts that are having very real and meaningful impacts on native populations and landscapes. Join us for part two of our interdisciplinary discussion about how Arctic populations and global economies are responding to these climate change threats and opportunities, as well as how laws and policies are keeping up (or not).​

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 10

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. Welcome back for those of you joining us for the first time, we are here with our returning guests: Professor Charles Norchi, Director of the Center for Oceans and Coastal Law at the University of Maine School of Law; Dr. Paul Mayewski, glaciologist, climatologist, and Director of the Climate Change Institute at the University of Maine; and Dr. Firooza Pavri, Director of the University of Southern Maine’s Muskie School of Public Service and Professor of Geography.

Carrie: So our planet earth is warming very quickly. Can you talk about that, Paul?

Paul:

Certainly. Probably the most common perception is that the warming that we experience will end up by 2100 as being something on the order of let’s say two to three to four degrees centigrade, which is nontrivial. It’s a very big warming. By focusing on 2100, which is critically important because in order to mitigate that, in order to adapt to it, we do have to understand what’s in store for us and in the long-term. But in the process of talking about that far more than anything else, it’s probably not being as clear as it should be to many people that we are already at have been experiencing dramatic and very fast change. And the part of the planet that has experienced the fastest change is the Arctic. The changes there will have been if they happened… in our hometowns, it would be the equivalent of many of us basically losing our jobs, walking away from our homes, and suddenly being plunged into a completely new environment. So the Arctic is a very important place for us to look at. It’s a bellwether of what will happen potentially in the future. Not everywhere on the planet, but in many places on the planet.

Carrie: And we’re already seeing impacts, right? With the storms and fisheries changes –

Paul: Even if you don’t live in the Arctic, you’re impacted by the Arctic because it’s creating tremendous instability in the climate system. Extremes in temperature, extremes in precipitation extremes and in storms, increased frequency of storms. All these things are a direct consequence of the very unhealthy, uneven heating that we’re experiencing. Eventually that heating will impact the entire planet. But right now, already in the last few years, we’re seeing such dramatic changes that we have to wake up and understand that it’s not just about 2100. It’s not just about even 20 years from now, it’s already been happening and it’s happening faster and with a greater and greater intensity.

Carrie:

Charles and Firooza, how do we keep up with this in law and policy when it is moving so rapidly and that some people don’t even believe it’s happening, right? So how do you keep up with that?

Charles:

Well, from the law side, it’s a twin problem. It’s the problem of prescription and the problem of application. So on the prescriptive side in terms of at least international prescription, there are prescriptions that exist, the Paris Climate Change Accord for example, but then there’s a failure of application at this point. So the application of some of these instruments is lagging behind the problem often because the powers, a lot of states, simply don’t have the interest in applying the laws. That is one issue. And then there are problems for which there are no prescriptions yet. Think of ocean plastics or plastics in the Arctic. There is no specifically targeted treaty.

Carrie:

Could you specifically tell us what that means to you – the plastics?

Charles:

Well, the kind of plastic pollution that occurs everywhere in the ocean and now in the sea ice and so on. And there’s been talk for quite awhile to press for a treaty, an Arctic plastics or marine plastics treaty. So there is no prescription at the moment. So that’s one lag. We’re talking about the oceans – how do you conserve wildlife in the areas, sea life in the areas, beyond the national jurisdiction of coastal states. So that prescription has been non-existent for a while, but there’s one now moving its way through the United Nations, which will be a treaty on the conservation of areas beyond the national jurisdiction of coastal states in the oceans. And that would be applicable in the central Arctic ocean. So yes, the law lags behind the problems and the challenges, but in two different ways. As I said, there are prescriptions that exist, but they’re not applied. And then there are problems for which there was no prescription yet.

Carrie:

And that’s presuming there’s a consensus that there is a problem. Correct?

Charles:

And that gets back to understanding the science.

Paul:

But there is a consensus of the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change], which is made up of scientists. It’s made up of 145 countries. It provides a report every five years on the, what I would call the least common denominator understanding of the problem. It’s made up of scientists, policy makers, a variety of people from many different countries. And they have said unequivocally that the climate is warming and that it is to a very, very large degree, a consequence of human activity. It’s actually the minimum understanding of what’s going on. But it’s absolutely essential that this group did it because it brought together, as I said, so many people from so many different countries in so many disciplines. And for them to agree on that is very important. And that’s the baseline. That’s the framework from which we, from which we now depart onward towards better understanding.

Carrie:

But all countries aren’t engaging in the solutions in the prescriptions.

Paul:

All countries have at one time or another engaged or most countries, the vast majority of countries have, have engaged in…. Let me put another way. Every country has engaged in this framework, a scientific document, with suggestions to policymakers. Has every single country signed on to things like the Paris Climate Accord? Most of them did. Obviously, some of them have stepped back. But the backlash is that a country like ours, which from the highest level administration has stepped back, is now seeing many states, including places like Maine, California, and many others beginning to go to these conferences and representing their states. Grassroots activities are popping up all over the country. Maine’s a classic example. People in our [University of Maine Climate Change] Institute are constantly going around and speaking to groups. And many of these groups are more and more organized than they have ever been before. And they’re doing grassroots things. They’re helping insulate people’s houses. They’re talking about renewable energy for perhaps the town government or they’re talking about plans for sustainability. If the population increases, plans for sustainability as the conditions on our roads change in the winter, and they will most likely change from being very snowy to a little bit icier and then on and on.

Carrie:

And so our hope is in educating and speaking?

Paul:

Absolutely. And the current generation is clearly very outspoken. It’s phenomenal to see them becoming so active. And actually, let me ask, let me a comment on one other thing. When we think about climate change, people tend to think primarily about temperature, which of course is very important, about storms, about precipitation, drought, et cetera. Uh, but there’s another giant component in here. The fact that the climate is warming is changing the distribution of vector-born diseases. We know for a fact ticks are coming into Maine. We’ve moved from New Hampshire, which was over grown with ticks. Now all of a sudden this a big deal in Maine. And along with arming comes heat stroke, vector born diseases, a variety of other things, but also hand in hand with greenhouse gases come a lot of toxic substances, cadmium which is directly related to autism in infants, arsenic in the air, small particulates which impact respiratory, and lead, which impacts actually the occurrence of cardiac disease and also potentially Alzheimer’s. These are all things that are a consequence of human emission that go hand in hand with with greenhouse gases.

Carrie:

Along with human migration, right?

Paul:

Human migration, population increase, all of these things. So even for people who don’t think that greenhouse gases are very important, nobody wants to live in an environment in which we have poor air quality. Parts of the world are getting a little bit cleaner. The Clean Air Act was very important, of course, is being attacked now. All you have to do is a visit a place like Beijing, or for that matter Los Angeles, although it’s better than it used to be, to know what it’s like to live in an area that has poor air quality. And I was surprised to find out in reading about the Green New Deal that the New Deal, the original New Deal that President Roosevelt enacted, talked about people having clean air and clean water. And we’re still talking about it. And yet it’s critically important in Maine and all over the world.

Carrie:

So let’s talk about Greenland for a minute. You said you chose Greenland as an interdisciplinary team. Why?

Paul:

We chose to go to Greenland because many of us have worked in Greenland for years doing physical sciences, biological sciences, and chemical sciences. So we have a lot of experience in Greenland. Greenland is the largest mass of ice in the Northern hemisphere. And one of the things that we’ve done, in the Climate Change Institute is to study the retreat of these glaciers [and] their impact on sea level. Greenland as it melts changes ocean currents that actually make their way all the way into the Gulf of Maine. So this direct connection between Greenland melting and what happens in the Gulf of Maine. Plus, as I mentioned a little bit earlier, it’s a place where you can see people, glaciers, landscapes, ecosystems, and ocean. So you get a remarkable sampling of all of these. Plus it’s a place that’s changing so fast that it’s critically important that people start to take it seriously.

Carrie:

And though all the different Arctic regions have have unique things about them, is it a good laboratory for an understanding of what the issues?

Paul:

I think it is a really important case study. Our approach when we thought about going to South Greenland was that it would be exactly that, a case study. And when we went to Greenland with this group, that was stage one. Stage two, of course, is actually doing something there. Then stage three, four, five, et cetera, is applying what we do and then looking at how we can take this one very dramatic, example and apply it to other parts of the Arctic.

Charles:

So why is Greenland an interesting place for lawyers to be and why is it a good workshop for lawyers? There are multiple reasons. Greenland, as most of our listeners probably know, is part of the Danish realm. However, Greenland has self-governance and they have a competence over much of what goes on in their land territory. But their international relations are controlled by Denmark because they’re a part of Denmark. So for lawyers, that raises the interesting question about the relationship between the government of Denmark in Copenhagen and what is an emerging potentially independent country because then, because Greenland does have a department of independence within its home rule government in the capital of Nuuk – they are working on drafting the constitution. So this relationship at some stage, maybe not for a long time, will change. And that’s interesting for lawyers who understand it to look at and that has an impact right down to the local level, to the village level. Another reason that Greenland is a great place for lawyers to work (once they understand the science, that’s key), if the lawyers make an attempt to understand the science, a lot of the legal instruments, the transnational, international, legal instruments that are applicable in Greenland must take account of the science. And as Paul noted, Antartica has a treaty. It is a treaty regime, one treaty. We’re now beyond that in the Antarctic. We saw that at one point that there might be an Arctic treaty, but that ship has sailed. So that is not going to happen. So what we have are multiple treaties, some bilateral, you’ve got the multilateral treaty on the law of the sea, and there’s also the Arctic Council, which is an intergovernmental organization. All of these mechanisms, instruments, et cetera bear on what is occurring in Greenland. And so it is a fascinating place for lawyers to work, including the rights of the indigenous people, human rights, land rights as Firooza mentioned. And so that to me, combined with the science and the policy and all of these disciplines that we were able to interact with our colleagues, made a Greenland an excellent workshop.

Carrie:

So we are calling this podcast The Greater Good. And the idea behind that is our goal is to share the work that’s being done on behalf of our communities to problem solve around emerging issues. Can you talk about how you see your work with respect to the Arctic in that context? Let’s start with Firooza.

Firooza:

The region is really at the forefront of the climate struggle as Paul mentioned. This is the best case study that we have and I think working in Greenland and in Iceland and elsewhere in the Arctic, we can see firsthand the impact of climate change on these landscapes and we’ll also be able to study their adaptation, the people and how they adapt to these changes. So I think being there, studying it, and allowing our students to similarly experience that landscape and the changes that are ongoing, will be in really instructive as we move forward.

Charles:

Whatever occurs in the Arctic, in a rapidly changing Arctic, will have an impact on the greater common interest, the common interest of peoples nations all over the planet, geo-strategy, geopolitics, resources, climate, et cetera, much of which is driven by climate. So it is vital to the common interest.

Paul:

Maine is a resource rich state but not a wealthy state. And Greenland is a resource rich country and not a wealthy country. So we have a lot in common because of resources, because of changing climate. Both of these places, Maine and Greenland, will without a doubt have an increase in population. There’ll be a lot of attention drawn to these two places. So that alone makes Greenland and Maine common partners. From the point of view of the disciplines that I’m involved in climate science, if the entire Greenland ice sheet were to melt, which it won’t but if even portions of it melt, there could be several meters of sea level rise as that melting continues. And it’s not that Maine is going to in any way be flooded in the near future, but ultimately within a couple of hundred years, 300 years, the melting of Greenland will have a significant impact. That melting creates water, fresh water that goes into the ocean, and that fresh water coming off Greenland makes its way all the way to the Gulf of Maine and has an impact on whether or not the Gulf of Maine will continue or not to warm. The likelihood is without a doubt, it will continue to warm because it will probably receive less of that water. It’ll change, that fresh water will change ocean circulation. If you think about the atmosphere as the Arctic continues to warm, it changes the pattern of the jet stream [and] the edge of the polar vortex, which is a term that has become common in the last few years and the shape of that polar vortex. So the jet stream determines which parts of the Northern Hemisphere are going to be slightly colder perhaps than usual for some period of time, even though the rest of the hemisphere is warming, which parts will warm more dramatically. We know already Eastern North America, for the last few years, has in general been cooler than the rest of the Northern Hemisphere while the rest of the Northern Hemisphere is warming considerably. And when I say cooler, I don’t mean necessarily constantly, but we have had cool waves that have lasted. In the last few years, the North Pole in the middle of winter when it’s absolutely dark, has actually been about freezing because warm air masses can make their way that far north. So we have the exchange of warm and cold air being significantly magnified compared to where it was before. These long tongues of cold air that come down into Eastern North America, because they are long and stretched out, they tend to move very slowly. So this has a lot to do with what our weather will be like throughout the year. And it just goes on and on. A hundred years ago, people assumed that the Arctic was valuable because it had seals and whales. 40 years ago, 50 years ago, it became a place that many scientists went to. And I’m speaking only from the North American side of the story or the U.S. side of the story. It became a place that scientists went to because there were records captured in the ice that told us about past climate. And now all of a sudden it turns out that the Arctic is integrally involved in the way we live [in Maine]. And the people who live in those areas have an awful lot in common with the situations that we have today. So it’s a perfect association. We have a lot to learn from each other, from the Arctic to Maine and back and forth, and our disciplines, no matter what they are, are all firmly embedded in what will happen to the climate in the future. If we get together as we have been doing and continue to do this and continue to do it successfully, we will be able to make better predictions for future climate. And this is not just for the Arctic, but better predictions for climate in Maine too. We live in a world which is, not only has the global economy, but it obviously has a global climate system too. So for my discipline, glaciology, climate science, working in the Arctic, and at the same time making predictions for future climate in Maine are hand in hand.

Carrie:

So with this rush to this new frontier that’s emerging, it seems like a critical time to get it right. For the people that currently live there and for the entire planet. Do any of you have a vision for how we move forward in the right way around this?

Paul:

Obviously we think that what we’re trying to do is a good model.

Carrie:

Raising students in that light as well.

Paul:

Yes. So it’s critically important that we get as many attributes together as possible to come up with the best understanding and the best solutions for the future. And in the process, obviously training the next generation. It’s sad that the change is happening so fast and so dramatically, but it’s a reality. Learning to deal with this thing and looking for ways to resolve it and better solutions is a really important thing to do. It’s essential that we think positively about what’s going to happen in the future. Humans by nature have a lot of hope. If you didn’t, you probably wouldn’t continue to do what you do. And so I’m very hopeful and I’m sure everybody else is here too as well, all 16 of us [that went on the trip] that we could make a change. And the only way we’ll do that is not by doing it by ourselves, not by rediscovering the wheel, but by working together and understanding what’s going on.

Carrie: Thank you so much. I appreciate all of you for coming today.

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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.