Thanks to Norway’s Embassy, Students Head to Arctic
Alex Thorp and Noah Chutz, from American University (AU) in Washington DC, are heading to the Arctic this summer because of something they have in common with an explorer who spent 1,000 days with Inuits and Greenlanders.
Thorp and Chutz are the winners of an essay contest sponsored by AU and the Royal Norwegian Embassy. The prize: a trip to the Norwegian Polar Institute in the arctic city of Tromsø to learn more about climate change. Their scholarly explorations may not have been quite as icily adventurous as the work of Knut Espen Solberg, who spoke at the climate change symposium where the Norwegian ambassador announced the winners. But all three are motivated by a shared concern for what Solberg calls “the melting Arctic.” The winning essays analyzed the challenges facing the arctic region as a result of climate change. The contest was part of a newly established partnership between AU and the Royal Norwegian Embassy to enhance Norwegian–American cooperation to fight climate change.
Students and faculty at the symposium heard firsthand about the melting Arctic from Solberg, who has conducted research on the arctic seas, tried to sail the Northwest Passage, and published two books on his experiences. The intrepid Norwegian riveted the audience with his tales of traveling by dog sleds, dining on whale blubber, and living among people whose traditional knowledge is being destroyed by the changing climate. The Greenland ice sheet is shrinking at the rate of five centimeters a year, getting taller but narrower as warming ocean currents melt it from beneath. “When you talk to old hunters, they don’t talk about climate change. They complain the ice was different when they were younger,” Solberg said. As the Arctic changes, the value of traditional knowledge also erodes, he said. The caribou no longer come in April as they always did. The fishing places that provided bounty to past generations are no longer safe. “The knowledge you learn is not applicable,” Solberg said. “It ruins the sense of identity and pride, elders aren’t respected as much, and the community starts to fall apart.” Signs of climate change abound in the Arctic for those who know how to decipher it. Instead of the thick, hard ice that filled the Arctic in the past, the polar region is now dotted with more “first-year ice,” thin, friable, and quickly melted. It breaks easily into icebergs, makes fishing difficult and dangerous, and vanishes earlier in the season than the older, harder ice. Or as Thorp put it in his winning essay: “If the trend continues, the Great White North will no longer be white, but blue.”
A new friendship with embassy
The SIS freshman is an international studies major with a concentration in global environmental politics. He is also the winner of a Killam Fellowship to study next year in Canada. Chutz is currently studying in Costa Rica as part of a dual degree program in natural resources and sustainable development. The two students will spend three days at the polar research institute. Norway’s ambassador to the United States, Wegger Chr. Strommen, announced the winners at the event and praised the student essays. “I am impressed by the level of insight, in-depth analysis, and understanding of both the special challenges and opportunities in the High North and of the possible international value of the Norwegian Climate and Forest Initiative’s potential in fighting climate change,” Strommen said. Climate change, international development, natural resource management, and security policies are all interrelated and need to be addressed as a whole, the ambassador said. “This is the beginning of a beautiful friendship between AU and the embassy of Norway,” said professor Judith Shapiro of the School of International Service (SIS), director of the Global Environmental Politics program.