By: Bruce Vaughn- Fellow at University of Colorado/ Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research

Often these days we hear that we live in interesting times.  Indeed we do, but this is also a truly critical time.  Never before has it been more obvious that our current actions will most certainly determine our fate in the future. Today our species faces at least three enormous challenges: the global pandemic, widespread racial injustice, and climate change, with the latter arguably presenting the biggest problem that humans have ever collectively faced.  Interestingly, these three challenges are linked, because solutions to each of them carry the important element of simple compassion.  Transformations that will pull us through all of these problems begin with compassion for each other, and for the planet we live on. With the pandemic, we choose to wear a face covering or socially distance ourselves in the hope that we can protect not just ourselves, but those around us.  We do this out of knowledge that it will help, but also out of compassion for people more vulnerable to the disease.  Likewise, the continued and unconscionable presence of racism in our culture calls so loudly for us to treat each other with the respect and compassion that every human deserves, regardless of skin color, and to banish racist behaviors in all facets of our society. We do this too from a place of compassion.  And finally, the alarm of our rapidly changing climate calls on all of us to change the very way we live, work, eat, travel and use energy so that we might make life on this planet sustainable for each other as well as our children.  And it is compassion for the Earth and all its creatures, including future generations, that drives our willingness to change. These are all acts of kindness that are calling us to our best selves to act as individuals, in the interest of the many.

Because these problems are interlinked, we can begin to see small glimmers of transformation and hope.  In Paris, because of the pandemic, people are inclined to avoid public transportation that compromises social distancing are taking to bicycles like never before.  Busy streets are being closed to vehicles. Bike lanes are being created and bicycles are flying out of stores.  This works as part of a solution for both the pandemic and climate change.  Likewise in London, streets are returning to pedestrian use on scale unimaginable before COVID-19. People all over are spending more time with family and out in Nature.  As the Black Lives Matters movement gains momentum across the globe, people of all colors are speaking up and acting against racist cultures and attitudes that have long been in need of transformation. These are good things.

As our economy rebalances from the pandemic, corporations are part of the transformation too.  With falling oil prices, oil and gas companies like Exxon have had to rethink the viability of some of their holdings, and in this last year have sought to pull out of their North Sea assets. Renewable energy production is on the rise.  You can feel the change that we are so capable of, and every day we see a little bit more of what a transformation might look like

As summer temperatures north of the Arctic circle sore above 100°F, setting new records, we cannot deny that the planet is warming at an alarming rate. The Arctic Arts Project has a special role to play in this transformation, by bringing the stark and stunning realities of the rapid change we see in the Arctic, to the eyes of the many. That we might reach a deeper understanding of the peril we all face through the magic of the imagery and the power of words that document this astonishing alteration of the planet that sustains us.  That we might be empowered to ponder how our own actions can work towards either accelerating that change, or slowing it.   Whether we realize it or not, we are all part of a big experiment where all humans will experience climate change in many forms, and we must learn to adapt on every continent, at every scale.

The pandemic has served as a great equalizer in some respects, reminding us that we really are all in this together.  COVID-19 knows no borders, and it does not matter how much money you have, or how you vote.  You are still subject to a more contained lifestyle because of the pandemic. It reminds us that we all live on the same planet, and we must take care of it, and each other. During the COVID-19 lock down, CO2 emissions were reduced by as much as 17%, mostly from the transportation sector ,as a result in changes in personal behavior, according to atmospheric scientist Corinne Le Que´re´ and her colleagues in the May 19 article in Nature Climate Change . This demonstrates that our individual behavior matters.  Sadly, this measureable change was very short lived, and will not make a substantial change in the overall CO2 emissions this year. We still emit over 37 gigatons of CO2 annually and that number needs to get a lot closer to zero.

As we move through this crisis, we need to solidify the behavior changes that COVID19 has helped us begin.  Can we build on the new habits we’ve developed, to drive less, fly less and work from home more?  Will we respond with vision and strategy? Will we take the Green New Deal seriously? Will we cease to invest in practices that will lock us into fossil fuels and condemn our planet to climate chaos?

In her speech at the University of East Anglia, Le Que´re stated that “The deeper, chronic, insidious, persistent and growing inequalities that plague our societies are coming to bite us in times of crisis. Inequalities mean vulnerable people are impacted more than others once again.  Inequalities mean measures with good intentions become unacceptable because anything extra is unbearable when your day-to-day life is already on the edge. “  She went on to say, “The unbearable pressure we put on the environment and the unacceptable burden of inequality needs to be addressed as part of the same path forward that we set as we come out of the current crises.   Are we ready?  Are we ready to do what it takes to tackle climate change fairly, peacefully?  Has the time finally arrived? “  This is the question we should all be asking ourselves. Just exactly how this big experiment will turn out, is clearly up to us.


Corinne Le Que´re´ et al., May 19,2020 Nature Climate Change

COVID-19: Carbon emissions and climate change (UEA London Lectures 2020)