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Northern Communities Hit Hard by Climate Change

By Jamie Li

August 23, 2022

UPDATED 12:00 PM




[Photo Credit: The Guardian]


Did you know that the Arctic is warming three times faster than the entire planet? (Deshayes). Climate change drastically impacts the environment, causing negative effects to the health and safety of northern communities, such as the Inuit, who have lived and survived on the land for thousands of years. Though there are many consequences to climate change, two that are contributing to the worsening conditions are the loss of sea ice and thawing permafrost.


Rising temperatures lead to a reduction of sea ice, which northern communities rely on for traditional travel routes. The melting ice is a safety issue, especially in the spring where it becomes thin and unreliable. Additionally, these routes are necessary for hunting, fishing, and gathering, which many Inuit depend on to support themselves and their local economy and community. The lack of hunting and gathering affects the health of communities as food insecurity increases. In Nunavut, the Food Security Survey Module found in 2017 to 2018 that the rate of food insecurity in households in Nunavut was 57%, nearly 5 times higher than the national rate. Although food insecurity is a complex issue, warming temperatures are undoubtedly a significant contributor. With less access to traditional hunting and gathering, northern communities have shifted from country food to unhealthy, expensive, store-bought food. This change has negative effects on physical health, as obesity and chronic diseases rise, and mental health, since food insecurity is a leading contributor to psychological distress and suicidal behaviours. Less sea ice produced by rising temperatures from global warming, negatively impacts the safety and health of northern communities.


Furthermore, permafrost, ground that freezes for over two years, is melting from rising temperatures. Warming permafrost is especially dangerous to northern communities because many towns are built on it. Structural problems such as shifting, foundation distress, and more will increase, endangering people and costing the government and people for repairs. The reduction of permafrost can also disrupt archaeological sites. The cold climate naturally preserves organic material in permafrost. Some artifacts include sod houses, which hold their form because of permafrost, and historical sites, such as the European exploration of the Arctic. Unfortunately, climate change causes thawing permafrost, threatening infrastructure and archaeological sites.


What can be done to support northern communities and limit the negative impacts of climate change on the Arctic? The Government of Nunavut has a strategy to manage energy use and to respond to climate change, but an audit on their policies found that “both strategies lacked clear and measurable commitments, and timelines'' (Auditor General of Canada). Moreover, the Government of Nunavut had no plan to report on the implementation of its strategies or a target for reducing greenhouse gasses. The government’s response needs improvement, and there must be a focus on involving northern communities with the adaptation strategies. Although climate change is a complex issue, understanding its impacts on communities means the development of comprehensive plans in collaboration with the people and the government.





References

Auditor General of Canada. “Climate Change in Nunavut.” Climate Change in Nunavut, 2018,

https://www.oag-bvg.gc.ca/internet/English/nun_201803_e_42874.html.

“Climate Change Impacts.” Climate Change Impacts | Nunavut Climate Change Centre,

https://www.climatechangenunavut.ca/en/understanding-climate-change/climate-change-

impact.

Deshayes, Pierre-Henry. “Arctic Warming Three Times Faster than the Planet, Report Warns.”

Phys.org, Phys.org, 20 May 2021, https://phys.org/news/2021-05-arctic-faster-planet.html#.

Leblanc-Laurendeau, Olivier. “Food Insecurity in Northern Canada: An Overview.” Parliament

of Canada, Library of Parliament, 1 Apr. 2020,

https://lop.parl.ca/sites/PublicWebsite/default/en_CA/ResearchPublications/202047E#ftn9.

Mercer, Greg. “'Sea, Ice, Snow ... It's All Changing': Inuit Struggle with a Warming World.” The

Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 30 May 2018,

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/may/30/canada-inuits-climate-change-impact-global-warming-melting-ice.


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