Philip Loring is the President of the Arctic Division and Arrell Chair in Food, Policy, and Society at the University of Guelph
Rapid and disruptive decarbonization was one of the many ideas being discussed at this year’s AAAS Arctic Science Meeting. The theme of the meeting, which was held on October 9, 2018, in Saskatoon, Canada, was “health and shared prosperity,” and participants were all clearly motivated by the recent release of the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The Arctic is experiencing warming at least twice as much as regions further south, and arctic peoples are already being impacted in ways that threaten the very existence of their communities and traditional practices. The question on everyone’s mind — what can people in the North do, both to contribute to the seemingly impossible actions needed to stay at 1.5 C of warming, and to ensure traditional ways of life and prosperity?
Despite this ominous backdrop, the day was full of optimism. Experts from fields as diverse as landscape architecture, conservation biology, and public health convened for the day with stories of and ideas for innovation in the North.
People often worry that the sobering, “bad news” in reports like those put out by the IPCC will demotivate people, and make the problem seem intractable. But the people who joined us at the conference had the opposite response. They were aggressively motivated to change the narrative, and to show that the North, with the right kind of support, can be among the leaders working to rapidly decarbonize global society.
Brett Favaro, author of The Carbon Code and part of the team that won the recent CanInfra challenge, kicked the morning off with a talk about climate, renewable energy, and leading from the North. IceGrid, the project developed by Favaro and his team for the CanInfra challenge, seeks to deploy utility-scale solar and wind in diesel-dependent northern communities. “We hold renewables to much higher standards than business-as-usual megaprojects,” Favaro explained, comparing the relatively lower price-tags and short payoff periods of renewable projects to the high cost and frequent cost overruns of projects like large-scale hydro.
Other keynotes included Doug Clark and David Natcher, both from the University of Saskatchewan.
The meeting marked the first time in nearly two decades that the Arctic Division has held its meeting outside of Alaska. It was held in cooperation with the Canadian Rural Revitalization Foundation, a nonprofit organization celebrating its 30th year. The goal is to revitalize the division, envisioning it as a truly international community of practice within AAAS. The meeting did succeed in engaging new people, including landscape architect George Harris, who said of the meeting, “it was rewarding to hear from a lot of passionate people about what they were doing.”