Colleen Slebzak

Anthropological Review

The Negative Externalties of Climate Change: Impacts in the Arctic, United States and the Pacific

“Over the last century, the average annual temperature has increased about 1.5°F. The Average annual temperature is projected to rise an additional 2.5-8°F by the end of the century”
        —the Environmental Protection Agency


Far northern and far reaching southern regions of the planet have been experiencing accelerated effects of climate change since the industrialization of First-world countries, and its impacts are causing irreversible damage. Due to time constraints, I will only be discussing the northern or Arctic regions of the planet in detail.


Many areas in northern regions of the planet have seen dramatic changes in sea ice and weather patterns.# For example:
[In] Elim, Alaska, heavy storms are washing up timber onto shorelines; [which has] never been seen before, and the sea ice [is] no longer stable in spring. [In the] Yukon Territory, Canada, [the] summers are getting hotter, [and] the winters are getting warmer [as well. In] Barrow, Alaska, the fast ice retreats early; breaks up and retreats 20 to 30 miles and does not come back. [In the] Bering Strait, [the] winds [are] stronger [and they] change [the] distribution of sea ice. [Huntington and Fox 2005:68-69]


Arctic regions’ ice is not as thick as it once was. Many accounts from Inuit observers claim that the ice in the Arctic is less stable and melting at an accelerated pace. In the film, Qapirangajuq: Inuit Knowledge and Climate Change,  “the elder”, who was interviewed in the film (as I will call him because his name was not legible in the credits of the film), said, “the ice is much thinner. …The warmth is coming from the sea. The ice edge has changed, it used to stay for a long time, but these days, edges of the ice are breaking off”, sharing his recent observations (2010).# Ice volumes per year are shrinking in the Arctic, and each year, the accumulation of ice in the north is less and less. For example, multiyear ice no longer exists in many parts of the Arctic and permafrost is melting at an alarming rate. According to the elder,
It takes a long time for the ice to freeze. …The ice is thinner and it melts a lot faster now. Now there is hardly any [multiyear ice, and]… there seems to be less and less icebergs coming… Today open areas exist where previously there were none. …By observing snow and ice melting, it is clear the warming is happening from beneath by observing snow patches. The land and water are warmer. [Qapirangajuq: Inuit Knowledge and Climate Change 2010]


Glaciers in the northern (Arctic) and southern (Antarctic) hemispheres of the planet are melting at an accelerated pace. The O’Higgins Glacier in Antarctica has retreated nine miles in the past 100 years (Ranco 2013). The elder also recalled;
10 years ago, it was very hot, everything melted. For two straight weeks, it was +35°C…for the first time we were in shorts with no tops walking outside. During that period, most of the glaciers melted. And now they keep melting. There are only a few glaciers left. Those beautiful glaciers seemed they would never melt. But they’ve mostly disappeared. We used to get ice from nearby glaciers for drinking water. All the glaciers by the shore are now gone. [Qapirangajuq: Inuit Knowledge and Climate Change 2010]


Floods from melting glaciers and heat (causing the sea levels to rise), have become a regular event in glacier situated communities. The elder asserted,

On June 8, 2008, at the Duvall River, a flood of biblical proportions occurred. Two bridges were washed out over the river. …It was obvious when the river bursts you could see the exposed permafrost. The Earth collapsed into the river. I worry, thinking if it all melts, we won’t have any land left. Our world is changing. …Resolute Bay is not built on solid rock, it is only mud with gravel on it, if it melts our community will be in danger. [Qapirangajuq: Inuit Knowledge and Climate Change 2010]

Flooding is now a common problem in coastal towns, not only in the Arctic, but for the rest of the planet as well.


Many communities in several parts of the Arctic have noted that “…the weather has become unpredictable, with more extremes, and elders can no longer predict it using their traditional skills” (Huntington and Fox 2005:82). Heavier and more severe weather events can be attributed to climate change, and fluxuations with the patterns of winds, rains, and snowfalls in the Arctic are almost impossible to predict nowadays.
Warming trends in the north (and south) have dramatically accelerated in recent years. For example, the elder recalled a conversation with a child he had: “The younger generations think it’s cold, and I say; you think you know cold? It used to be really cold in the past; we freeze our faces… In 1940, it was seriously cold: the temperature went down to – 90°C”, trying to explain (from a local standpoint) the accelerated warming of the Arctic (Qapirangajuq: Inuit Knowledge and Climate Change 2010). Huntington and Fox described impacts on native individuals of the recent warming in the Arctic. They said, “the sun’s heat seems to have become more intense and northern residents report unusual sunburns, eye irritations, and skin rashes” (Huntington and Fox 2005:63). Huntington and Fox went on to say, “…although the overall temperature may not be warmer, elders claim that the heat of the sun is causing small ponds to be warmer than usual or to dry up altogether. In some places, meat hung out to dry seems to get burned by the sun, and caribou skins seem to rip more easily around the neck area, a new condition elders link to skins becoming too hot from the sun (Fox, 2004)” (Huntington and Fox 2005:63).


The hunting traditions of many native cultures in the north are suffering due to climate change. In many areas, the patterns of the wildlife have changed dramatically, affecting subsistence patterns of Natives, the ecosystem in the north, and most importantly, creating a massive loss in biodiversity.#  For example;

[In the] Arviat, Nunavut, Canada, caribou antlers [are] not as thick [as they once were], polar bears [are] still around in July and August, and in December, [the] harder snow [is] too difficult for ptarmigan, [and] they are seeking out new habitat[s]…[In] Northern Finland, many types of bird[s] have declined in numbers including crows, buzzards, and some falcons. Fish populations have gone into decline in many lakes…[, and] the number of insects has decreased…[In the] Bering Strait, spotted seals declined from the late 1960s/early 1970s to present. [The] walrus[’] physical condition [is] generally poor (animals are skinny)… [and, new insects [are] being seen [that] were never seen before. [Huntington and Fox 2005:70-71]#


The final impact of climate change I will mention (briefly), is the pollution the Inuit people have observed.# The elder recalled,
When I was a child, we woke up and the land was yellow. There was a yellow substance on the ground, we did not know what it was. Later we learned that it was acid rain coming up from southern industries. The toxins were airborne, carried by clouds and wind, and they dropped on our land. …These toxins migrate northward in the air. And because of our cold environment they get locked here. That’s how it is. [Qapirangajuq: Inuit Knowledge and Climate Change 2010]


I want to address several regions of the U.S., so I will briefly discuss them.#


According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “the high elevations of the Rockies have experienced temperature increases three times the global average” (EPA: Southwest Impacts & Adaptation 2012).#
In the lower desert areas of the American Southwest, the “projected increases in drought, wildfire, invasive species, and pests, as well as changes in the geographic ranges of species, will likely threaten native forests and other ecosystems in the southwest”, according to recent trend evaluations (EPA: Southwest Impacts & Adaptation 2012).#


Much like the American southwest and northwest, heat-waves have gotten more intense and more frequent in the Great Plains region of the United States.# The Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming asserted,
Heat waves are expected to intensify, lengthen in duration, and increase in frequency. If emissions go unchecked, heat waves like the one that struck Chicago in 1995, which killed over 700 people, are expected to occur more than 80 times in final three decades of this century, including severe drought in some regions of the Midwest. …Drought, along with flooding, heat waves, and insect infestation, will pose challenges for managing crop production and livestock. [Impact Zone: U.S. Midwest 2012]


Climate change has already altered the Great Lakes in the United States on several levels. The EPA website said,
Climate change is likely to upset these economic activities in the Great Lakes. For instance, in a warmer climate, evaporation from the lakes is projected to increase. Increased evaporation could cause water levels to drop by one to two feet by the end of the century. …[Also] it could adversely affect coastal ecosystems. Lower water levels would also make some key shipping channels too shallow for fully loaded ocean-going ships. [EPA: Midwest Impacts & Adaptation 2012]

Also, “distribution modeling indicates that climate change may result in large increases in the amount of forests dominated by oak and pine, with large decreases in maple/beech/birch forests” (EPA: Midwest Impacts & Adaptation 2012).


Islands in the Pacific are among the most vulnerable to climate change impacts. Some examples of these impacts include:
Higher sea levels, more powerful tropical storms (such as hurricanes in the Atlantic and typhoons in the Pacific), and warmer, more acidic coastal waters. Unique island ecosystems, such as coral reefs and mangrove forests, are already facing stress from human development and pollution, making them particularly sensitive to additional stresses from climate change. Buildings and important infrastructures on the coast could also be particularly sensitive to climate change impacts. (EPA: U.S. Tropical Islands Impacts & Adaptations 2012).

Island communities are experiencing flooding, in coastal and inland, areas due to rising sea levels. This flooding is retiring coastal parks and recreation areas, as well as, destroying areas inland.


I Could go on and on. Climate impacts could dramatically alter the face of the planet in the future. Adaptation strategies are already being implemented in these regions, and continue to improve over time.


Daigle, John and David Putnam.
2009    Indigenous Peoples. The Meaning of a Changed Environment: Initial Assessment     of Climate Change in Maine. In: Jacobson GL, Fernandez IJ, Mayewski PA,     Schmidt CV (eds) Maine’s Climate Future: An Initial Assessment. University of     Maine, Orono, pp 35-38.    w&content_id=_1798180_1&course_id=_79001_1, accessed April 19, 2013.

Dr. Ranco, Darren.
2013    ANT 290: North American Indians and Climate Change: Lecture 2. The University     of Maine, Blackboard.    _1&url=%2Fwebapps%2Fblackboard%2Fexecute%2Flauncher%3Ftype%3DCour    se%26id%3D_79001_1%26url%3D, accessed April 20, 2013.

2012    Midwest Impacts & Adaptation. United States Environmental Protection     Agency.,     accessed April 20, 2013

2012    Northwest Impacts & Adaptation. United States Environmental Protection     Agency.,     accessed April 20, 2013

2012    Southwest Impacts & Adaptation. United States Environmental Protection     Agency.,     accessed April 20, 2013.

2012    U.S. Tropical Islands Impacts & Adaptation. United States Environmental     Protection Agency.    adaptation/islands.html, accessed April 20, 2013

Huntington, Henry, and Shari Fox.
2005     The Changing Arctic: Indigenous Perspectives. Arctic Climate Impact Assessment.     ch. 3.    9821963_1/courses/CSC_0634C_O_132_1/HuntingtonandFoxACIA.pdf,     accessed April 19, 2013.

Koshland Science Museum.
2012    Changes. National Academy of Sciences. https://koshland-science-, accessed     April 18, 2013.

Kunuk, Zacharias and Ian Mauro.
2010    Qapirangajuq: Inuit Knowledge and Climate Change. Igloolik Isuma Productions     & Kunuk Cohn Productions. Lypa Pitsiulak dirs. 120 min.

The Select Committee on Energy Independence and     Global Warming.
2013    Impact Zone: U.S. Midwest. The Select Committee on Energy Independence and     Global Warming., accessed April     20, 2013.

Verbruggue, Lori.
2010    Traditional foods in Alaska: Potential Threats from Contaminants and Climate     Change. State of Alaska Division of Public Health.

One comment on “The Negative Externalties of Climate Change: Impacts in the Arctic, United States and the Pacific

  1. Colin Hughes
    February 7, 2014

    Wow, I didn’t realize how far this situation had gone. Thank you for the update.


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