A Visit to the Arctic

November is the month of Remembrance.  This year, in addition to all the previous wars, we now have Ukraine and Russia to grieve. And there is the loss of our Queen. Sometimes, grieving with appropriate support and rituals, is all we can do in the face of certain losses.

And for me coming out of a small ship expedition to the Arctic, I am now acutely aware of some planetary losses to be mourned.  I saw dramatic loss of polar sea ice such that predictions of the North Pole being ice free by 2060 sound absurdly optimistic. Staving it off til 2040 would be an achievement. 

Some glaciers in the Arctic (and in Europe) are already technically dead! Instead of rivers of ice, they are static vestiges of ice. The rivers and lakes and oceans they feed are left to evaporate.

From reports of indigenous people living in the Arctic, it is clear that noticeable and extended increases in temperature, together with aggressive industrial fishing, are impeding patterns of fishing and hunting on which people and animals have depended sustainably for centuries. 

We noted a total absence of walrus, previously abundant. This reflects a wider, more general dwindling of species, not just polar bears but Arctic char and krill in the ocean, hares and foxes on land, many bird species…The effects of human-related climate change are evident today in the Arctic. We even had to shelter from a typhoon for 2.5 days in a deserted rocky bay, and then immediately race another hurricane level storm to make the shelter of a fjiord. These super storms are increasing in ferocity and length. Afterwards, we saw someone’s home jammed under a bridge by the flooded river, and half a burnt hotel that was saved by driving a bulldozer through it, to create an impromptu fire break. Their flood and tidal defences were completely overwhelmed. Imagine that happening here in Padstow.

I am therefore adding to November 2022 a profound grief about our misuse of our planet and its residents, both human and non-human. In particular, I am grieving its disproportionate impact on people who have done least to contribute to our carbon dioxide load in the atmosphere. And as I ring the Padstow Remembrance Sunday bells from St Petrocs Belltower with the rest of the band, I will be tolling for all of those losses alongside our military ones. Grieving is all we can do in the face of certain losses. Grieving with others and sharing in hope through rituals like Remembrance Sunday is some balm for the soul.

Philippa Reid Dalglish and Rev’d Fiona Giorla

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