Finding a degree of hope in the face of climate change.
My heart sank when I saw the story from the New York Times’ science page. Experts, the headline stated, were “unnerved” by the latest reports of this summer’s rapid retreat of sea ice in the Arctic Ocean. The big melt exposed 1.6 million square kilometres of open water above and beyond the average measurement since 1979, when satellites started gathering Arctic ice data.
I tend to notice when experts are rocked by what they observe in nature and by what it means for the future. But there was something more about the story that struck deeper. Permafrost, Polar bears and an ice-packed Northwest Passage are iconic elements of Canadian life. When that entire ecosystem gets so quickly flipped around, when observers begin to speculate about when, not if, summer shipping lanes might open through the Arctic, it is, well, unnerving.
There are different theories about why the floating ice melted this summer in a way that hasn’t been seen in a century or more. The unexpected speed with which the retreat occurred is challenging science’s understanding of the Arctic. It is also providing more support for contentions that civilization’s greenhouse gasses are primary factors behind it all.
Whatever the cause—or combination of causes—what occurred this summer in the Arctic is a reminder of the enormous complexity of our climate system. It can also make a person feel sort of helpless to do much of anything about it.
But there are reasons to be optimistic in the face of climate change.
Take the story of what happened when an Environmental Studies professor and an Engineering professor started talking—about their research interests and about the importance of bring together students from opposite ends of campus to trade ideas and to see climate change from other perspectives. It worked beautifully and you’ll read about their work in our cover feature.
What’s inspiring is that their experiment in interdisciplinary teaching and research provides, not a solution, but a reminder that ingenuity and creative thinking still offer a degree of hope for our future.
This issue marks 10 years since I took the helm of the magazine. With each issue, our contributors have done their best to bring you—in words and pictures—the life and ideas of the university and its alumni. I’m proud of their efforts. And I’m grateful to you for coming along for the read.