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Parliament may be prorogued, but the opposition parties are keeping busy. I was up on Parliament Hill last week for the Round Table on ‘Improving the Lives of Northerners’. Lots of interesting Arctic policy titbits.

Michael Ignatieff comments:

“An Arctic strategy can’t be only a military strategy.” Spot on. A couple of new icebreakers to keep the rowdy Danes in check would be nice and all, but there’s a lot more to the Arctic than sovereignty issues. As for that: “We have to directly involve Arctic people… we have to reactivate Arctic diplomacy.” The circumpolar region is a culture unto itself and with the ice melting, there’s going to be a lot more marine communication. Let’s keep it friendly.

“We are stewards of the global refrigeration system.” A fascinating line to use, and not all that outrageous, although I had to stop and think about it for a bit. The phrase ‘Global refrigeration system’ appears in An Introduction to Geographical Hydrology, ed. Richard J. Chorley, 1969, so it’s been around a while. Ignatieff first used it in speeches back in 2006. For example:

“The Canadian Arctic is a crucial piece of the global refrigeration system. This system is breaking down. The science is clear. Global warming is happening. Working with other nations in the Arctic Council, we must take leadership in stabilizing the global climate system.

In understanding Canada’s place in the world, we need to think of ourselves not just as defenders of our own sovereignty, but as stewards of the global commons.”

Back to the present: it was gratifying to hear a politician connect the dots on the Arctic. Ignatieff also said: “the Arctic is globally significant. We need to stop going to international conventions on climate change and having nothing to say. We are the stewards of the global refrigeration system. We need to have something to say!” Agreed. At the very least, I would like us to be informed on climate change related perturbations in the Arctic and be in a position to report on them. Permafrost melt, carbon and methane release from land and ocean, changes in boreal forest, tundra, etc. etc.

Also mentioned during discussions:

The Arctic, and Canada, need policies for climate change adaptation. All well and good to offer money for developing countries for adaptation, but the Arctic is already experiencing the effects of climate change. In 2008, a flash flood split the town of Pangnirtung on Baffin Island in two, separating residents from essential services that took days to restore. Tuktoyaktuk is experiencing the fastest rate of coastal erosion in Canada, losing 2m of shoreline every year. The effects of climate change have begun to be felt, and it is the height of irresponsible governance to ignore it right here in our own country.

CFCAS on research in the North:

It is cheaper to get to New Zealand than to Resolute. That poses some logistical problems…

Climate change is significantly affecting the Mackenzie Delta, where there is a lot of infrastructure. We need more knowledge to be able to plan for further changes.

Killer whales will be able to enter the Arctic once the ice barrier is gone. That should make life interesting.

All of CFCAS research ends in 2011, and there’s no more funding in the pipeline.

Food prices:

Food costs a lot more in the North. $10 for a bag of flour, for example. Average price of a basket of food: 44% higher than in Ottawa. Country food remains important in the North, but I think we can count on climate change to bugger up that food supply.

Ghost stations:

As someone mentioned afterwards, lots of infrastructure funding available for building shiny new Arctic research stations, but not a lot of money available for researchers to actually go there and research. Oh well. The ghost stations could be used instead for annual remakes of The Thing.

John England of the University of Alberta had a piece in Nature on Arctic research: we need an overarching research policy, like the States have, and better integration between NSERC and PCSP. Researchers who do get funding to work in the North run into serious logistical problems when it comes to actually conducting their research. Worth a read.

13 Responses to “Improving the Lives of Northerners: LPC Round Table”

  1. Jim Prall says:

    I wonder if the funding shortfall for upkeep or staffing of Arctic research stations is in any way connected with the reported drop in the number of stations reporting current temperature data? You know, the one that Steve McIntyre wants to turn into another “-gate” climate cover-up, because … well, you ask him. He was also convinced there was a big cover-up because of recent trouble getting good weather data out of Bolivia.

  2. CAM says:

    I don’t think there’s a connection. Canada has a pretty good network, it’s just a question of fit for purpose, and the Canadian network does its job. If you are talking about D’Aleo’s histrionics about GISS, Gavin Schmidt had this to say, which I think is relevant:

    NASA: What about the meteorological stations? There have been suggestions that some of the stations are located in the wrong place, are using outdated instrumentation, etc.

    Schmidt: Global weather services gather far more data than we need. To get the structure of the monthly or yearly anomalies over the United States, for example, you’d just need a handful of stations, but there are actually some 1,100 of them. You could throw out 50 percent of the station data or more, and you’d get basically the same answers. Individual stations do get old and break down, since they’re exposed to the elements, but this is just one of things that the NOAA has to deal with. One recent innovation is the set up of a climate reference network alongside the current stations so that they can look for potentially serious issues at the large scale — and they haven’t found any yet.

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