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Environmental Awakening Fusing of Science, The Arts and Sea Ice

by Randall on January 10, 2018 · 1 comment

Posted in: Arts,Entrepreneurism,Environment,Innovation,Randall Howard,Social Enterprise,Social Innovation,Society

Even though a life-long environmentalist, my transformative experiences up north in Canada’s Arctic regions onboard Canada C3, moved my environmental consciousness to a whole new level.

My own journey began as a teenager in the 1960s. Being a voracious reader with a strong scientific bent, was a perfect fit for me to embrace the fledging environmental consciousness of that era.

Clearly the changes during the last half century have matured my environmental world view. An early focus on simple industrial pollution was followed by the even more serious concerns about depletion of the Ozone Layer and energy conservation, building into today’s crisis of the growing impact of human-induced Climate Change. What this passage of time, accompanied by deepening adverse impacts, has taught me is that small individual actions can have huge collective impact, and that concerted efforts to change can be successful. Sadly, for many, this simple concept is abstract allowing some to pass the buck on personal action, seeing it as someone else’s responsibility. Economists even have a label for this metaphoric “fiddling while Rome burns”, namely the Tragedy of the Commons.

Many despair that our continued procrastination on mobilizing concerted action around Climate Change. whether based on apathy and misinformation, puts the entire human race at risk. For humanity, there is a huge risk we are too late to reverse the escalating levels of carbon in the atmosphere. Although time is short, I remain committed to immediate action. In an inspiring contrast to this societal apathy, I was immensely privileged to experience the Arctic with an unbelievably diverse and passionate group of change makers last summer.

Noel Alfonso, Ichthyologist

Noel Alfonso, Ichthyologist

Ewan Affeck, Medical Informatics

Ewan Affeck, Medical Informatics

Grant Gilchrist, Sea Bird Researcher

Grant Gilchrist, Sea Bird Researcher

The Canada C3 expedition had myriad program elements, including being an ideal platform for science. In all, over 25 major scientific experiments took advantage of circumnavigating Canada’s coastline, the longest in the world, with much of that in Arctic waters. The experiments, a collaboration with major research institutes across Canada, gathered much needed baseline data such as:

  • detailed monitoring of increasing levels of micro-plastics which are becoming a major component of the biomass in all oceans. Consider the micro-plastics you now potentially ingest when you eat seafood.
  • DNA testing to determine the range of various ocean species and examine biodiversity.
  • Sampling plant species range and diversity.
  • Cataloguing Mites and other insect species.
  • Studying the emergence of the Pizzly Bear, or Grolar, an unusual hybrid enabled by habit shifts due to climate change.
  • Studying range and challenges of sea birds, again through climate change and human activity.

While none of these experiments were directly studying atmospheric carbon or climate directly, all exhibit the effects of these huge changes. That the Arctic is disproportionately impacted by climate change was directly visible to all participants. The temperature changes seen in polar regions are 3 times what we experience in the south, with our recent 1°C increase being more like 3°C up north. Thus, the Arctic  is a harbinger of our own unmitigated climate future, making the Inuit ideal spokespeople to warn the rest of the world.

Vicki Sahanatien, Wildlife Ecology

Vicki Sahanatien, Wildlife Ecology

Bianca Perren, Paleoclimatologist

Bianca Perren, Paleoclimatologist

Boris Worm & Heike Lotze, Marine Biologists

Boris Worm&Heike Lotze, Marine Biologists

One of the great challenges faced by scientists is how share their stories in our modern, digital world in which a cacophony of voices clamber for our finite attention. The scientific methodhoned over centuries, demands:

  • A slow and deliberate process of discovery, given to evaluating conjectures — hence it may take years before the findings of the science projects on Canada C3 can be shared.
  • A process favouring the probability of truth over certainty — makes it hard for scientists to metaphorically pound the table, which often puts scientific theories at a disadvantage to the general public who have no issue with asserting the truth of their, clearly less informed or even misinformed, statements.
Mark Graham, Chief Scientist

Mark Graham, Chief Scientist


Jess Jawanda, Ocean Scientist

Jess Jawanda, Ocean Scientist

Thus, in communicating their knowledge, the challenge for scientists isn’t so much that they are the introverts of popular culture nor entirely that the science is perceived as dry and academic. In my many dialogues with scientists, the issue of finding new ways to communicate the important knowledge they possess to a populist audience, was a common lament. Scientists are ever searching to find new ways to help humanity truly understand their most portentous issues, such as Climate Change.

In this video, below, you can see one amazing scientist, Bianca Perren, explaining the tabular iceberg (see photos at the top of this article) that we saw when we came toward land from the Davis Strait. Bianca, being a painter, educator and Zodiac driver on top of her work as a palæoclimatologist and quarternary scientist at the British Antarctic Survey, is sending an emotionally powerful message about the last ice shelfs remaining in the Arctic. By the way, she also makes a cameo appearance in Al Gore’s recent film, An Inconvenient Sequel during work at Swiss Camp in Greenland.

Leveraging the incredible wealth of scientific talent, the wonderfully diverse set of participants helped weave a complex tapestry of knowledge and understanding. For me it was a once in a lifetime chance to participate in a rare melding of scientists working in an environment alive with poets, teachers, journalists, artists, community activists, indigenous and youth ambassadors. The eclectic combination created a magic environment while onboard, but gave some clues as to how to unlock the dilemma about communications with ordinary Canadians, both in planned and chance conversations.

Here is a brief rundown of a few of the remarkable participants just on Leg 7 of Canada C3:

Lorna Crozier, Poet

Lorna Crozier, Poet

Phil Irish, Artist

Phil Irish, Artist

Paul Rogalski, Chef

Paul Rogalski, Chef

Lorna Crozier is a Governor-General Award winning poet, and Officer of the Order of Canada, living in Victoria. I was soo impressed by Lorna’s magic ability to help all of us  “break through the ice” and reach new levels of understanding, for example with her poem, Polar, uniquely capturing our experience onboard. Phil Irish is a visual artist and teacher based in Elora who was selected to be one of 15 artists, one per Leg, through a fiercely competitive, Canada Council led selection process. Phil, constantly sketching and painting, inspired all of us with his visual perspective on our Leg 7 experience and built on his own environmentally driven recent practice. Likewise, Paul Rogalsi of Rouge Restaurant in Calgary, was one of 15 chefs, selected for Leg 7 from Food Day Canada chefs from coast to coast to coast. Paul was a thoughtful contributor not just gastronomically, but also as an avid environmentalist keen on sustainable living.

Peter Pool, Changemaker

Peter Pool, Changemaker

Tony Dekker, Musician

Tony Dekker, Musician

Benoit Dupras, Youth Activist

Benoit Dupras, Youth Activist

Peter Poole is a renaissance man who is deeply involved in his community of Banff, Alberta and the larger world. He is a change maker with a deep commitment to conservation and honouring indigenous elders which shine through in all of his endeavours. Through other projects, he is also a very good friend. Tony Dekker is the lead singer and songwriter for Canadian indie-folk group Great Lake Swimmers. Tony is a thoughtful and down to earth musician with a strong interest in nature and relationships. Even at 19 years of age, Benoit Dupras, a Youth Ambassador on Leg 7 from northern Québec, is on a course to change the world. He is indicative of a new generation of Francophone Canadian leaders and, in his case, he aims to be a major force to move Canada, and the world, away from fossil fuels to a green energy future.

Taivitii (David) Lawson, Inuk Activist

Taivitii (David) Lawson, Inuk Leader

Joshua Stribbell, Urban Inuk

Joshua Stribbell, Urban Inuk

Tyler Waboose, Youth Ambassador

Tyler Waboose, Youth Ambassador

This last group represented Leg 7 participants from Canada’s Indigenous peoples, collectively, First Nations, Métis, and Inuit. In a later post, I will more fully explore some of the Reconciliation dialogue from Canada C3.

Taivitii (David) Lawson is an emerging Canadian Inuit leader originally from traditional lands near Pangnirtung and now living in Iqaluit. David was in the RCMP for 15 years and just prior to the Expedition, was about to embark on training to be a lawyer to “be an advocate for the Inuit people.” David has been an activist in a number of community issues, including suicide prevention through Embrace Life Council. Because David was a last minute replacement, there isn’t a bio on the C3 website. Joshua Stribbell is President, National Urban Inuit Youth Council and runs a program for Inuit youth in Toronto called Torontomiutaujugut. He grew up in Southern Ontario because his mother was adopted out in the Sixties Scoop. He has only recently started to re-connect with his Inuit heritage. A Youth Ambassador and member of the Matawa First Nation, born and raised in the urban setting of Thunder Bay, Tyler Waboose also aimed to re-connect with his ancestral heritage in the northern Canadian Arctic. Tyler is active in Roots to Harvestengaging youth with agriculture and cultivating heathy communities.

Our onboard dialogues were both planned and an by chance encounter. We had an onboard, Hollywood level “Comms Team” of 6 people constantly shooting and producing amazing content to share with Canada and the world. As mentioned, the goal was to reach over 20 million Canadians, which I believe was handily achieved in channels as diverse as Facebook Live to traditional print journalism. As a result, even thought the participant base was limited, the majority of Canadian participated to greater or lesser degrees in the education and conversation about our future. I also committed to share in various ways, including writing a series of blog posts (like this one!).

One particularly important session was organized by very thoughtful participant Peter Poole. He had several scientists, youth, artists, indigenous people and other present their thoughts on what Climate Change meant to them both personally and professionally. Being involved in my own work to “reboot the narrative around climate change”, this particular session inspired and motivated me to carry on the conversations that Peter started. While there will be more on my initiative as it evolves, it was clear that this session got many to commit to being ongoing ambassadors and champions of the unique Climate Change perspectives from the north. Also, now in 2018, watch out for various more formalized Canada C3 Legacy Projects as they are unveiled during this year.

While I could go on endlessly about Canada C3 and the environment, hopefully this does give you a taste. Collectively, I can only give a small glimpse of how the Canada C3 expedition was a life-changing one for me and all participants. The learnings weren’t so much the hard science, but instead the storytelling and narrative challenges standing in the way of getting us all onboard.

To wrap up, just as Chef Paul Rogalski always reminded us that “The foundation of great food starts with the ingredients…’, so too does making the world better start with great people. I will leave the last word to none other than that master of words, Lorna Crozier. I love the picture she paints tying in so well, and viscerally, to the earlier words of scientists like Bianca Perren who has dedicated her life to Polar Climate Science. What action will you take in response.

About Randall

Randall Howard is a serial entrepreneur and long term technologist with a passion for social innovation.

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