Climate action in the Arctic

*Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund, recently returned from a trip to the Arctic with a group of environmental, political, and business leaders concerned about global climate change. The Arctic Expedition for Climate Action was sponsored by the Aspen Institute, the National Geographic Society, and Lindblad Expeditions. In this guest post, Fred reflects on the trip.*

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Perhaps the most inspiring moment occurred when a bearded seal swam right up to my kayak. When its large dark eye looked up into my eyes, I felt a deep desire to be part of efforts to make certain that these creatures aren’t decimated by climate change and the other all too prevalent threats.

We set out by ship from Svalbard, a three-hour plane flight from Oslo, Norway — almost the closest land to the North Pole. There are no trees or bushes, even grasses on Svalbard — just lichens, mosses, and low-to-the-ground flowering plants. Plants raise their heads at their own peril given the Arctic winds and temperatures. We were there at the optimum time to see them flower. We saw many in bloom including the Svalbard poppy and the Compass plant. The top few inches of the tundra were unfrozen in July, though I don’t think the temperatures ever reached 40 degrees during our stay. The ground was a wonderful spongy carpet of brilliant colors.

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We saw many polar bears that depend on summer sea ice, which is vanishing. One bear, having gorged a seal, was in a food coma, seemingly oblivious to the ship’s presence, sprawled out with his bear-belly hanging off him and onto the ice. We heard about another bear that was starving and weighed less than 200 pounds at one point. Luckily, she was caught months later and is now up to 1,000 pounds. We saw many caribou (also called reindeer). We saw cliffs with thousands of sea birds, seemingly all talking in unison. The sun never set on our entire exploration, which made for many late night discussions — helped along by a midnight feeding provided by the crew.

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One day we toured an old whaling site which had gigantic Bowhead whalebones. Bowhead whales, which Melville called the “Monarchs of the Seas,” are now extinct in the area. At one time, Bowhead whales numbered in the tens of thousands (or more). Now only a tiny remnant of the former population survives, mostly near Greenland. For me, this was a grim reminder of how we humans are fully capable of harming our natural world in ways which impoverish and threaten our own survival.

Another day we hiked with Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter. Jimmy’s perseverance in climbing a hill at age 81 was remarkable. The Carters also kayaked twice, including one outing with freezing wind blowing off the glacier. They are an amazing couple.

At the conclusion of the trip, the participants released this climate action statement.

Photos by Lindblad Expeditions/Ralph Lee Hopkins.

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