FRAM – High North Research Center for Climate and Environment

Digital edition 2023

If you want to go far, go together

It takes a village to raise a child. It will take engaged communities working together to bring about the changes we must make to mitigate global heating and adapt to those of its effects that can no longer be avoided.

By: Janet Holmén, editor Fram Forum

Disasters come in all shapes and sizes. When something bad happens, empathetic humans react. If your three-year-old hurts her fin- ger, you blow on it and give her a hug. If a tourist unused to Arctic winter sidewalks slips and falls, you hurry to ask if he is all right. If you see thick clouds of smoke rising from the house across the street, you call the fire department.

These are all small disasters close to home. As the scale or remoteness of the disaster increases, you begin to react differently. An earthquake may prompt you to give to the Red Cross. Reports of famine in the Horn of Africa prompt donations to Save the Children. News updates from the war in Ukraine make you sad and angry and… well, what can you do?

Earthquakes, famines, wars: these are huge catastrophes, yet for most of us they remain some- what abstract, snippets on the nightly news. And then there’s climate change – the most abstract catastrophe of them all because it lies so far in the future. Or does it?

Earthquakes aren’t caused by climate change, and the role of human-induced climate change in famines and wars can be debated. But many other recent disasters – cyclones and torrential rains, droughts and wildfires – have clear links to global heating.

After a disaster, people deal with the devastation; houses are repaired, infrastructure rebuilt, lost loved ones mourned. The insidious thing is that as we scramble to minimise the effects of climate-related disasters, we risk losing sight of the need to address the root cause.

Human nature is to react immediately and “fix things”. But huge, slow-moving disasters like climate change call upon us to be proactive, rather than reactive. Only then can we hope to reduce their destructive power.

The first step in being proactive is to acknowledge the problem. Apart from a few stubborn climate skeptics, most of us have now acknowledged that global heating is indeed a problem.

Then we must figure out what can be done to mitigate it. This requires the type of knowledge that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has been compiling since 1988. Scientists at the Fram Centre in Tromsø have contributed to the IPCC’s work both through their research and as members of its working groups. But simply having access to knowledge is not enough.

Science, society, you and I – we must all act together

Scientific knowledge needs to be communicated in ways that change not just our behaviour, but our attitudes. Taking good care of the planet should become second nature, like caring for our own families. Stopping climate change will re- quire perseverance and stamina; our actions must be sustainable in the sense that we do not become overwhelmed and give up. Deep-seated values will help us act, and continue to act even when progress toward reducing carbon emissions seems agonisingly slow.

It takes a village to raise a child. It will take engaged communities working together to bring about the changes we must make to mitigate global heating and adapt to those of its effects that can no longer be avoided.

Fram Centre institutions are active in the crucial role of knowledge creation, but also contribute towards engaging the broader community. Projects at the Fram Centre now emphasise collaboration not only between natural and social sciences, but also across diverse stakeholders, interest groups, and sectors of society (see for example the articles by Paul Dodd et al on the SUDARCO project, Zina Kebir and co-workers on the Coastshift project, Paul Renaud et al on the Nansen Legacy project, and Amanda Poste et al on the Catchment to Coast project).

Increasingly, societal stakeholders are being recruited into the early stages of research planning and decision-making. Their personal involvement generates commitment and helps ensure community support. Projects aimed at problem-solving benefit from working with community members, whose deep knowledge of local conditions or specific sectors will help tailor practical, effective solutions. The larger the groups of people who feel invested in societal decisions, the stronger the forward momentum. That will stand us in good stead when the going gets tough. And it will get tough!

Building a resilient society is a gargantuan task – one that must probably continue indefinitely, as conditions on Earth change and humanity itself evolves. There is an old saying: “If you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together.”

The road we must travel is long. Let’s go together.

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