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Northeast Passage: Is climate change real?

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This summer, WWF is helping support two expeditions that will take on some of the world’s most difficult waters, to see first-hand the effects of Arctic climate change. One expedition is sailing across the top of Russia, a journey of 6000 nautical miles through the Northeast Passage, while another is attempting a west to east transit of the Northwest Passage, also by sailing boat, a journey of about 7,000 nautical miles.

Tom Arnbom of Sweden was on the ‘Explorer of Sweden’ though the Northeast Passage, as was WWF Arctic Programme Director Neil Hamilton for much of the trip, replaced near the end by WWF polar bear coordinator Geoff York. On the ‘Silent Sound’ Cameron Dueck of the Open Passage Expedition is filing regular stories from the Northwest passage. Come back for photos and stories throughout the summer, and follow the progress of the boats as they follow in the wake of some of history’s most intrepid explorers.


Navigating through the floating sea iceNavigating through the floating sea ice

We have been sitting waiting for the wind to change for 36 hours now, securely anchored in a bay at Tyrtova Island.  Apart from our usual activities, there has been ample time to talk about many issues including the reason I’m here in the first place: Climate Change.

From my perspective, the past few months has seen an upsurge in misinformation and ‘climate skepticism’ in the world’s media.Perhaps this is just a natural reaction to the increased profile of the issue in the lead up to Copenhagen in December.  We see many of the same simple old arguments raised again, despite having been put firmly to bed over the past decade.  “When Erik the Red went to Greenland, it was warmer than today”, “Climate Change has been happening for millions of years, there is no evidence that it is caused by man”, “CO2 is necessary for plants to grow, how can it be bad?”, and “there are so many other more pressing problems in the world, why is all the emphasis being given to something that isn’t going to affect us for many years?”, and so on.  I’m sure you know the drill.  Some of the crew even noted that there is a lot of ice around us, so maybe the problem isn’t as bad as I make it out to be.

The reality is that the science is very, very clear. Human-induced climate change is real, and dangerous. There is no doubt at all, no necessity for debate.  In the Arctic the evidence is probably clearer than anywhere else, with the loss of almost half the summer sea ice since 1980, changes to the ecology, and really obvious warming: last autumn was 5 degrees warmer than normal!

What is really difficult is to communicate the complexity of the climate system. Many people simply don’t have the time or inclination to delve into answering the questions they legitimately pose.  Science has done its best to communicate the knowledge that has been developed, through institutions like the IPCC.  However, the old saying, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink” is as applicable in this arena as anywhere else.

Organisations like WWF and many others try very hard to present the information in a coherent and easy to understand manner.  There is obviously a need to do better to counter the tide of misinformation, to get across the absolute basics of the problem to vast numbers of people who will be affected.  My part in that is small, but I hope that through expeditions such as this we can make a difference.

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