Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Arctic Experiences

The northern most part of Finland is called Lapland. This is the largest and northernmost region which borders Sweden, Norway and Russia.
Lapland is a must see if you get the chance to visit Finland. My husband and I traveled there by overnight train. After 13 hours we arrived at our destination. The train ride was horrible. The seats were uncomfortable and the bright lights are on all night. However, the destination was worth the trouble.  Our first morning we were picked up and driven north to do a husky tour. Both my husband and I got a chance to drive the dog sled for about an hour each. I have to say it made my top ten list of the most fun things that I have done.

Husky tours are a great way for locals to make money as they are very popular with the tourists. 

Another big tourist draw is Santa's village. You see Santa actually lives in Finland and his work place is in Rovaniemi at Santa's village. Children come from all over Europe for a chance to meet Santa Claus and let him know what they would like for Christmas. Santa actually speaks many different languages. Visitors can write postcards and have them delivered on the next Christmas. Santa's Village is also located right on the arctic circle. So many go here just to say they have crossed the arctic circle.

Lost my reindeer!

This is the building where Santa works.

The other big business in Lapland has to do with reindeer. While there are some wild reindeer, most of the reindeer live on farms. They are raised for meat. During the majority of the year the reindeer are allowed to roam freely. I have been told that it is hard to drive around without coming across reindeer on the road. Unfortunately, since we went during the winter, the reindeer had been rounded up and were kept in enclosed places. We went to a reindeer farm where we could feed them. Some reindeer herders also offer reindeer sled rides.
Reindeer sled at Santa's Village
Me feeding reindeer

I loved Lapland. The area was harsh but beautiful. The sun didn't get high in the sky and the daytime was short, but the air was fresh and crisp. Unfortunately, we didn't get to see the aurora borealis, which was a total bummer, but I have never seen so many stars in the sky.

Unfortunately, climate change may change these arctic regions. NASA research has shown that in the last 166 years the Northern Hemisphere have increased in temperature by .93 degrees C. However, Finland has increased by 2 degrees C. In fact, Finland is the fastest warming country in the world. I know that all winter everyone has been telling me that the weather has been changing. We had a very warm winter here with very little snow. Quite different than what was experienced in New England!

However, change in the arctic regions of our world have many people concerned. Obviously we are worried about animals that live in these cold places, like polar bears. But there are more concerns than that. Ice melting means less light is reflected back into space. Remember the albedo effect? More heat is being absorbed by oceans and land that once was ice. Also permafrost, land which has been frozen for at least two years, is defrosting. All the methane gas in the permafrost gets released into the atmosphere and methane is an even stronger greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Lastly, arctic ice melting means that we are opening up parts of the ocean that have never been accessible before. People are starting to think about the possibility of natural resources, such as oil, that might be recovered in these northern regions and the creation of new shipping routes. 
Increased shipping and drilling for oil will add more environmental pressures, such as oil spills and boat traffic, into this already fragile environment. To try and combat this impact the eight arctic countries, USA, Canada, Russian Federation, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Iceland formed the arctic council. (Question: Why do you think Denmark is one of the countries??) The purpose of this council is to address environmental protection and sustainable development issues in the arctic region. There are also six indigenous groups who hold permanent participant status and other countries who are observers. The council has six active committees and gets together every two years. If you are interested in more information about what they do go to this website:

However, there are several groups who don't feel that the arctic council is doing enough to save the arctic. This became obvious to me when I happened to ride a tram past the harbor and saw a Greenpeace ship moored there. I was very excited and told my husband that we need to come back and get a picture,

Greenpeace ship in Helsinki Harbor
You see Greenpeace is a nonprofit environmental group that started in 1971. I remember news stories about how they would try and get in the way of whaling boats so that the whalers couldn't kill the whales or taking movies of whales being killed and making them public. They are a non-violent group, but may go to places where they aren't allowed to be, so that they can gather information. They made the news a lot in my younger days and I was excited to see one of their ships.

Anyway, when my husband and I came back we found out that they were having an open boat day. We went on a free tour of the boat. It turns out that this boat, "the Arctic Sunrise" was designed as an ice breaker and is now a research boat for Greenpeace collecting data on climate change and the arctic region.  This boat had recently been in Russian waters and was boarded by soldiers with guns. This is a video of that happening.
The crew made the video while they were being boarded and one man quick ran to the computer room to upload the video to youtube. This is the door that was broken down by the soldier to get to him!
The boat was detained for 10 months and much of the equipment and all the small boats were confiscated by the Russian government. They were leaving the next day to try and stop ice breakers from helping oil exploration ships do tests for new oil resources.

Can you imagine being a part of this? It must have been very scary. Anyway, I want you to think about what you are willing to do for things that you believe in. And I am going to leave you with this video that I found on the Greenpeace website. Oh but before that I need to give you a Finnish word. How about "Karhu" it means bear. When I think of arctic issues I always think of polar bears. It breaks my heart to think that they may go extinct in my lifetime. I think they are such beautiful creatures. We may be left with....
These polar bears were on the Greenpeace ship

Please watch this video and think about how you would answer this question.

Greenpeace video, "What Would You Do?"

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