Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Nancy Lord- "The North" as Teacher?

Lord quotes Lara Hansen, an ecologist, who said: "The north is a very useful place from which to learn" (7-8).  What does the north, specifically, have to teach that other places don't?  What are we learning from the north?  Is "the north" a useful "geographical imaginary" for understanding and responding to climate change? Respond to your own take on this notion of the 'north' as a teacher, as developed in Lord's book.


  1. The title of the book itself, Early Warming, is indicative of the North being a useful place in which to learn. The subject is that of climate change. On a side note, while reading this book I kept misreading the title as early warning which was actually synonymous to the material.

    The North has and will continue to act as a foreshadowing of what the entire planet will be subject to if present trends continue. Whether the topics of concern be ocean acidification, deforestation, ice melt, or biological population declines; the North is already experiencing what was believed to still be coming. As a result the North can be used as a study guide for how to react in Southern regions. If prevention is not an option, preparations can begin to be made to lessen the effects on regions not yet affected by warming.

  2. I also had to look twice at the title to make sure it was Early Warming and not Early Warning. Nancy Lord uses specific examples in the north to blend together an overall image of the effects of climate change on our lands, food sources and people. She starts locally with her own region on the Kenai Peninsula and expands out from there. The relocation of Shishmaref is especially powerful, illustrating the difficulties of indigenous peoples literally watching their island erode away due to the loss of protective sea ice that used to block winter storms.

    Lord's specific examples put names and faces to local events and changes. That is especially important when educating the public. The successful protection of the Boreal Forest in Canada is encouraging.

  3. Jen Smith
    Throughout Nancy Lord's book, Early Warming, the driving message seems to be that because northern lands are the first to experience the effects of climate change so directly, we as northern inhabitants may feel pushed to act as leaders, to address these issues as they pertain to us tangibly and directly. Our precarious situation can allow us to not be the first victims to climate change, but to be the first to start the battle against it. Lord quotes former Department of the Interior, "Alaska…should not just be the poster child for global warming but set an example by reducing its own carbon footprint" (3). This is one general way we can learn from the north.

    More specifically, Lord spends a large portion of Early Warming in interest of the Bering Sea Elders Advisory Group. The inclusion of this meeting of elders is a perfect example of the unique situation of groups of peoples in the north, and a deep cultural significance that does not go unrecognized. However, what is particularly informative about this section is how intensely regulated the waters of the north are, and how border/boundary obsessed we have become in our politics. It shows the utmost control of political discourse that trumps anything else. Lord takes a specific example of this meeting and uses it to shed light upon our system of law that has become to represent the farthest thing from a consideration of wholeness. Where the only way to consider a wellbeing outside of human life forces individuals to "identify, in a way that resource managers and policy makers could understand and quantify, exactly what areas they and the animals depended on for their lives" (190). The notion of quantifiable resource as the single way to make policy can be seen as one red flag to learn from.

  4. Kahle Ess

    After reading Early Warming I learned so much about the area that I’ve lived in for my entire life. First I gained a better understanding of the people and resources, along with a better sense of the surrounding geography. In part one I was familiar with the Kenai and Homer area, but had never been informed of the rising temperatures and disappearing lakes. Then Lord went into how the changing climate is influencing the boreal forest, sea ice, sea resources, and entire villages.

    The north is a region that is becoming the front runner in climate change effects and adaptations. It can teach others how to respond, adapt, and survive through this global crisis. Because of the situation of the north becoming the first area to see direct effects of a changing climate, the region is being looked at as an example. Others globally will look to us to see how we respond. One key element of Lord’s book that was emphasized was a sense of community and working together. I think the importance of combined efforts and working with different specialists and groups is something that people will notice. In each aspect of responding to climate change in the north--whether it be better management practices, changes in land use and boundaries, or reduction in emissions—must be done collaboratively and that is what the north is showing others. Indigenous groups must work with scientists even if they need translations. Corporations must work in unison with tribal and city councils. Scholars must listen to other scholars, and take the information for what it is. Being open is the first step, and embracing help and information sharing is the next, at least that is what seems to be happening in the situations that Lord experienced.

    Early Warming proves that the north should be an example and teacher for reacting to climate change, and each part showed different ways of working towards changing the situation. The information and steps that were outlined in Lord’s experiences could be used worldwide. Meetings can change policies, and sustainable practices can create stability. If people can find resources and examples of things that work, then they too can respond to the crisis.

  5. Brittney Seavey

    Of all the pieces of writing I've read about climate change, Lord's has been one of my favorites. It was refreshing to get a closer to home perspective on issues such as the salmon population decrease and coastal villages deteriorating and know that Lord has been to or lives near these places and can see the toll climate change is having on our state first hand. She points out very well that the north is the region that is feeling the effects of climate change the most but makes it relatable to almost anybody that would read Early Warming.

    One of the big things I really liked that Lord pointed out more than once is how different ecosystems and their inhabitants are codependant on each other. Lord pointed this out when talking about how the forest provides many different necessities for rivers and the salmon that live in them. I think that pointing out these facts will make people think about how the north is effected by climate change and that everything in nature is codependant. This of course means that when a northern coast is falling away into the ocean, it isn't just a village that needs to be relocated, it effects the natural ecosystem too. I think this aspect of climate change is easily overlooked by people that don't live in the north.

  6. I love how the title of this book uses the play on words. The Early Warning line was toted as one of the first positive uses of the remote north of the “why-did-we-buy-it?” Alaska. It was based on the idea that it would give the US enough of a warning when the Soviet Union had launched a nuclear attack so that we could get our missiles into the air before we were blown to pieces so that we could inflict harm on them while we smoldered in ruin. In this way the region can now be through of as the place where changes are occurring rapidly with measurable and visible effects. If these changes can be learned from before they reach the rest of the world perhaps there is hope to alter our present course.

    The north as a region where there is little direct alteration of the vast landscape by human population offers a controlled environment in which to study the effects of a warming planet and more importantly what humans can change as a result of genuine cooperative effort. For most of the world’s people the north is little more than an unoccupied frozen space. The importance of the north cannot be under valued. Without the colder regions of the higher latitudes the earth’s cycles cannot operate. The global circulation of warming and cooling ocean currents is a major driver in the weather systems of the world. The reflective quality of the albedo effect help to maintain this system. If the people of the rest of the world do not pay attention to the changes in the north until the changes reach them where they live it will be too late to act.

  7. After reading Nancy Lord’s book, especially the chapter on boreal forests and how people living in these forest areas are being affected by changing climate, I think that the north is a good place for understanding the affects of climate change and also a good example of how people facing firsthand the climate change effects are forced to adapt and change the ways they live their lives.

    I was impressed with Fort Yukon’s ideas for making their community more sustainable on a local scale and relying less on the imports from more urban areas, such as frozen chicken, watermelons, and packaged salads, and relying more on things they have grown themselves. That the community was trying to move off of diesel and onto a wood powered boiler system seemed to be a questionable move, although there are claims that the system of wood harvest is sustainable and would limit the carbon footprint. The fact that people are growing their own produce now and trying to import animals that became extinct from the area initially because of changing climate suggests that they are trying to work with the adverse conditions they are faced with.

    Because the north is such a remote place, development has been unable to spread in large scales, allowing a chance for residence of these communities to work with policy makers and scientists to try to prevent environmental degradation in areas that are so important for holding carbon. The actions and measures taken in these communities to live with their changing environment could be studied and applied to communities farther south to limit everyone’s impact on the planet. I think it is worth taking the time to examine because it could offer sensible if not permanent solutions.

    1. One of the multitude of reasons that Lord posits as the instructive value of the north is carbon sequestration in forest and tundra environments. In the world of the empirical scientist the north offers an area of study that is unique and prime for ecological study, an environment that is accessible and relatively free from the immediate actions and effects of the western world. Thus for the purely empirical scientist Alaska, Canada and similar Eurasian climes offer a lab like scenario that would be perfect for ecological field study. This lack of human involvement in the region seems somewhat paradoxical if what we want to study is the effects of human actions but makes perfect sense if what we wish to study is the long term effects of human interactions that are not easily perceivable and thus capable of being denied.
      In speaking of climate change we often essentialize the ecological balance as necessarily fragile, as a sort of shock tactic aimed at a complacent public. Lord shies away from this to a good extent in order to show that this particular balance is fragile though fully able to adapt to external pressures. Lord’s opening chapter can give us insight as to how this occurs through how it affects us. In My Salmon Home: Kenai Peninsula Lord adopts a conservationist utilitarian tone as to the importance of salmon to various human enterprises, in doing so she portrays the fragile balance of individual species within an adaptive ecosystem. Even the threat to Alaska’s salmon runs can be mitigated, possibly even adapted to with time, proper management and a good deal of luck.

      Here we come to the crux of Lord’s argument, that the rate of change seen in climates, and subsequently in affected species, far exceeds any historical rate of climate change, that this change is directly correlated with human activity and that many species may be unable to adapt to how rapid the change is occurring. Conservationist, preservationist or utilitarian the observed climate changes are going to affect us all. In understanding this we can both limit our negative, unnecessary interactions with the environment in favor a proactive interdependency wherein we focus on sustainability.

  8. Sammy Becker

    I really enjoyed reading Lord’s book, and I think her approach of addressing the possible impacts of climate change in the North in a narrative where she highlights her personal, and individual experiences in places where these changes of “early warming” are occurring is a really effective way of making these ideas easily accessible to a wide audience. She places a high importance on the ecosystems in the North in not only supporting the people and wildlife that live there, but also the ways in which the north serves as a starting point for observing the impacts that climate change can have in an area that is most vulnerable to it.

    The north is a really effective place to monitor climate change. As Lord presents, Northern Latitudes will be the first place to experience the effects of changes in the climate due to the impacts of warmer temperatures on things such as sea ice, ocean productivity, permafrost, and season lengths. I think it is really interesting how she mentions that the people of the North should be leaders when it comes to human response and mitigation of the effects of climate change, while also highlighting the notion that the people of the North are the least to contribute to anthropogenic causes of climate change. I really enjoyed the perspective that she gained from spending time in the villages that are being impacted by climate changes right now. I was pretty unaware of the willingness and drive for the people of the rural villages to formulate groups, and panels that want to be apart of efforts of sustainability and regulation development. I think that it is always interesting to hear the point of view from indigenous people, and I think that they are a key component of the idea of the North as a place to study climate change. These are the people that have been inhabiting these northern space from “time immemorial” and I think that their traditional and ecological knowledge is very valuable. I think that often times it has a tendency to get overlooked by hard science. For example I though it was interesting to hear about the studies of where the eiders go in the winter that was done by federal science foundation in the Bering Sea and when this information was presented to the group of Yup’ik elders they were completely unaware of it due to their inability to travel that far, yet in the other had they could tell you of the hundreds of different nesting spots of the Eiders in the summer time. I think these comparisons of knowledge from different source are very interesting.

    One thing I felt was missing from the book was perhaps a perspective of the response by people living in the more populated areas of Alaska. I mean of course places such as Wasilla, where I am from, are not being impacted in the same ways as these places such as Shismaref where they are constantly being impacted by erosion and where they rely on subsistence to survive, but I think it would have been really interesting for her to gain some insight from people who were not living in rural areas, and also who were not scientists. I feel as though the people living in these areas make up a large portion of the state population and I think it would have been an interesting perspective to look at.

  9. I really like this book because She is really familiar with local issues and put a lot of local people's voices on this book, so this book has really strong messeges from people from North, and showing clearly what is going on and how their land is affected by climate change today. Her ways of writing is also really strong and it makes readers to think about these issues more deeply. At the end of the chapter 4 about Shishmaref, she ended the chapter as "Do we matter? Are we important enough to save? Is anyone going to help?" Here I assume that she is trying to say climate change is also a humanity problems or challenges because people in Arctic North are one of the first victim of the climate change, and I think this is one of her strong message in this book. In the future, more and more people in the north are affected by climate change, and a lot of debates are going on about who is responsible or pay to save people and nature of North? I hope more and more people read this book to know what is actually going on at far North and think what they should do for increasing number of climate change refugees.

  10. Kristie LivingstonMarch 5, 2012 at 2:11 PM

    Kristie Livingston
    Nancy Lord does a fantastic job symbolizing the way Alaska and the north is a great starting point for learning about climate change and possible solutions or adaptations we can make in the face of climate change in Early Warming. People living in the north depend on their immediate environment probably more than the rest of the world because of the harsh climate and the challenge of remoteness. They know their land because they have to, and understand the interconnectedness of place and resources. This book shows how incredibly useful holistic knowledge is in decision making for the benefit of all, instead of compartmentalizing and secluding sectors of knowledge as if they exist independently. Bringing politics, science, and culture together the effects of climate change are brought home and made real, which creates empathy and a better understanding of the situation and what needs to be done about it in the reader. Nancy Lord’s book is a perfect example of why I personally believe that interdisciplinary education is so important and society should value it more. Through systems thinking we can solve problems more completely by having a better understanding of the ecology of the systems that we live in and depend on.

  11. LaTia Jackson
    Early Warming was a great read. I enjoyed it because I learned a few things about Alaska. I have lived here and prided myself because I am an outdoors, camping girl but, Early Warming opened my eyes to the abundant resources. I also like to keep up with the vanishing villages as Kobuk, which is a part of the NANA region is a part of those. In Kiana, AK, the permafrost melts so much each year that many of the houses have to be built on stilts to try to keep the foundation together. I had no idea that Kenai and the Homer area was that badly affected.
    I have always wondered if the rising temperatures were primarily caused my pollution and human consumption.
    Lord stated that Alaska is a place of adaptions because we are seeing the first hits of global warming and we are forced to respond to all of these changes. I personally see people in the villages working together more whenever there is a crisis related to the global warming crisis.

  12. As Nancy Lord demonstrates in Early Warming, the North is a useful teacher when it comes to learning about the complex web of relationships that make up the Earth’s ecology. Climate change and its effects, like the effects on salmon and their habitats in her first chapter, seem to happen there first and worst. This, combined with the fact that ecological relationships are more “obvious” in the North, allows us to figure out what we can fiddle with and what we need to leave alone.

    The North offers a chance for the human species to find ways we can live within nature instead of exploiting it and sectioning off portions of it for preservation. Lord’s chapters on Shishmaref and Kaktovik illuminate the different tactics that Alaskan Natives are employing to attempt to live with nature as the nature they know changes and encroaches. There are no preservation attempts in these villages but there is a unique form of conservationism that we would do well to learn from. Moving from diesel to wood, like one village is considering, might seem like moving sideways instead of forward but it illustrates the mindset of humans within a local nature and is actually a much more sustainable fuel source. Employing more locally relevant survival and living techniques instead of trying to find a one-size-fits-all solution holds the key to real sustainability.

    As the book’s title suggests with its play on words, the North offers an early warning system. By showing us exactly how our actions and practices are affecting the environment with obvious, measurable changes like the melting of the ice caps and dramatic declines in animal populations the North hints at what will happen to other, more subtle ecologies if our current consumption and expansion practices continue. Lord’s second and fifth chapters, on the boreal forest and the Bering Sea respectively, document the effects of climate change in ways blunt enough to actually cause concern from some of us doing the damage. Hopefully the North can teach us how important each aspect of the environment is, both locally and globally. If nothing else, the North teaches us just how much it takes for us to sit up and take notice.

  13. This piece of digital literary art speaks to your work ecologically exploring "north" and will be presented at the conference:

    good luck on a fine course!
    Susan Rowland