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Climate Change and the Inuit

Olivia Ortleib

Despite the constant reminders about climate change in the news and other forms of media, it is often all too easy to forget about it due to the relatively small impact it currently has on our daily lives. However, for many Inuit people in Canada, climate change is threatening not only their Arctic home, but by extension, their culture, communities, and even their lives. As described in the book “The Right to be Cold” by Sheila Watt-Cloutier, an Inuit activist, those who dwell in the Canadian Arctic have already witnessed the immense damage that climate change can deal to both the land and the people who live on it.

While Inuit people contribute to an extremely small portion of the greenhouse gasses emitted in Canada, they are impacted much more by the changing climate than other Canadians.

The Arctic is warming at roughly double the speed of the rest of the world, and as such, the changes occurring there serve as an indication of the problems that the rest of the world may be faced with in the future. The rapidly warming climate of the Arctic has made it more difficult and dangerous for Inuit people to connect with their culture and carry out their traditions. Animal populations are declining and their migration patterns are changing due to the shifting melting and freezing patterns of the Arctic, which means that hunters have to travel much further to find food. Hunting is also becoming a far more dangerous endeavour as hunters have trouble travelling on the mushy ground, the weather is more unpredictable, and the thinner ice means that it’s more common for people to fall through. Additionally, the lack of proper snow in many Inuit communities means that some Inuit children have not even had the opportunity to learn how to make igloos, a valuable cultural practise. Due to the greater difficulties involved with carrying out these cultural activities, many Inuit children are not able to connect with their traditions in the way that their ancestors were and some aspects of their culture are consequently in danger of disappearing entirely. This has contributed to a rise in mental health issues in Inuit communities.

These devastating environmental changes and cultural losses experienced by the Inuit people of Canada serve as a warning of the immense impact that climate change will eventually have on the rest of the world as well. As Sheila Watt-Cloutier put it, the Arctic is the barometer of the health of the planet, and if the Arctic is poisoned, so are we all.

You’ve probably already learned a lot about how to reduce your carbon footprint in the past, but I’ll reiterate that making small lifestyle changes like walking or biking to school instead of driving do make a difference. Making a conscious effort to reduce our impacts on the environment as a society can help us ensure that the Earth will be a better place for those who will come after us.

If you’re interested in learning more about Sheila’s life and her fight to stop climate change, check out her book, “The Right to be Cold”, which is available at the Milton Public Library.

“Making small lifestyle changes...does make a difference, and by making a conscious effort to reduce our impacts on the environment as a society, we can ensure that the Earth will be a better place for those who will come after us.”

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