I’ve just returned from the first day of proceedings at the International Polar Year 2012 conference in Montreal. Entitled “From Knowledge to Action,” the conference features panels, plenaries, action forums, indigenous exchange forums, and poster sessions about the current state of the poles. Reflecting the conference’s title, speakers are emphasizing how to implement the knowledge that scientists and researchers learned during the last IPY, which ran from March 2007 to March 2009. As a start, research and results should be made easily accessible to the public. This has been done with cartographic data on http://map.arcticportal.org, for instance. Working with indigenous peoples to combine their knowledge and experience in the Arctic with scientific observations is another approach that many IPY participants are taking, too.
Finally, polar experts are trying to determine how to communicate the critical nature of climate change and its consequences to the public and politicians, for many see the Arctic and Antarctic as desolate, uninhabited, and above all, disconnected from the rest of the world. But as Ronald Jumeau, the Seychelles’ Roving Ambassador for Climate Change and Small Island Developing States, stressed during his talk, “As the poles melt, we drown.” He added, “Global linkages indeed: if I, a Seychellois islander of the Indian Ocean, feel it important to be with you here to add my few remarks on the global linkages of what climate change is doing to the North and South poles — I could have easily been a Pacific, Atlantic or Caribbean islander — it means these linkages stretch to every corner of the planet.”
The full text of his moving speech is available here, and it pretty much sums up my main takeaway from the conference. The poles may be some of the most remote places on earth, but they’re at the forefront of climate change. Without a doubt, what happens there will first impact the people who live there, but the rest of the world will feel the consequences soon. Ironically, it’s those who are the farthest away from the ends of the earth, in the low-lying islands around the equator, that are most vulnerable.
I’ll be writing more about the talks I attended in the coming days. In the meantime, if you’re not at the conference, you can watch webcasts from IPY 2012 here simply by creating an account.