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Opening still: Inuit Knowledge & Climate Change
Opening still: Inuit Knowledge & Climate Change

"Poles Apart" Winterlude's look at the Arctic and Antarctica

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Winterlude, Ottawa's big winter festival, kicked off last Friday and runs through February 21st.

While the best-know activities center around outdoor fun, there are indoor events too - including a focus on the Arctic and Antarctica.

Margret Brady is the Programs & Communications Manager for The British Council, in Ottawa. Working with a number of co-sponsors, she's helped gather material that explains more about polar regions and why what happens there matters to us all. She spoke by phone with Lucy Martin.

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Margret Brady: “The British Antarctic Survey is very, very active in research in climate change in the Antarctic. And they've accumulated just a tremendous selection of photographs of the Antarctic. We went through those and made a selection of photographs, and WWF (World Wildlife Federation) had already prepared a photo exhibit that represented the Arctic, and they've got really, really spectacular photos, I must say. And we made our selection from the Antarctic Survey photos, so we have these two, big photo exhibits in Confederation Park, across from the Lord Elgin Hotel, where the ice sculptures are being done. Most people want to see the ice sculpture competition over the three weeks. So, we're in a great location. They can come see our exhibit as well. ”

Margret Brady: “That's where we started, and then we decided to do some side events around that. And one of the events is a panel discussion that we're doing in conjunction with the University of Ottawa. We're have a spokesperson coming over from the UK – from British Antarctic survey – we have one of the world's leading permafrost experts, from the University of Ottawa, who is going to be speaking at that as well. We have leader from the Inuit community, and also a representative from WWF Arctic program, their incoming director, who is arrived from Russia. That will be moderated by the President of the Canadian Science Writer's Association.”

Reporter: “Is that geared toward the general audience's level of understanding?”

Margret Brady: “It will definitely be geared toward the general public. We spoke with the organizers of Winterlude, the National Capital Commission, and they were really interested in it. They've always been interested in climate change, partially because climate change can affect their whole festival. And they were really pleased to have a slightly more academic component available for visitors, but it's definitely geared towards the general public.”

Margret Brady: “The weather actually looks really, really good for it, this year. But, quite often, they've had these sudden, sort of warm bursts, in the middle of February. And that's affected the skating on the canal, and things like that. So, it's made them much more conscious of it. And also it means that they want to have some things that people can still enjoy – if something goes wrong with the weather. So if you can't go cross country skiing, and you can't go skating, you can still go to some of these other events.”

Margret Brady: “The component that we didn't talk about yet is the film series. The British Council is working with the Goethe Institute. We've put together, I think, an interesting mixture of films. They received some films from the Alfred-Wegener Institut, in Germany. And the Alfred-Wegener Institut is one that also does research in the Arctic and the Antarctic. We have some selections from Canada, “Beyond Global Warming” and another one that just premiered in Toronto at the end of last year called “Inuit Knowledge and Climate Change”. And that one's actually in Inuktitut, with English sub-titles. The quality of the footage in that film is really stunning.”

Reporter: “I think it's really good to check in with people who actually live in that region, to find out what they're experiencing on this topic.”

Margret Brady: “In the film, this is the Inuit people are telling the story of climate change in a way that scientists can't, really. Things like noticing changes in sunlight and so forth, over many generations. I think it's a very fascinating story that they have to tell, produced by Inuit people.”

Reporter: “It's a really nice, broad mix of films from different countries and even different periods.  I see from the UK, from 1924, “The Great White Silence”?”

Margret Brady: “I'd love to tell you about that. “The Great White Silence” is a film that was filmed and directed by Herbert Ponting, who went with Captain Scott on his ill-fated expedition to the Antarctic, in 1911. The footage is actually from 1911-1912. So, it's the start of the Scott voyage. The quality of the footage is really amazing. And, 1924, it was colorized by Ponting, who was – as a director, was quite actually obsessed by Scott and the whole expedition – as, indeed, was the UK, at the time. He produced this version, and then he produced another one, with his own narration, in 1932, or '33, I believe. But this is a silent film. And it was just restored by the British Film Institute, who have done a wonderful job. It would be a gem of a film for anyone to see, and it's the first time it's being seen in Canada.”

Reporter: “And they are all free, all of these events.”

Margret Brady: “That's correct.”

Reporter: “I'm curious what you think people might learn, from these presentations?”

Margret Brady: “I think they'll probably take away different things. I think they'll become aware, for example, of how the Arctic and Antarctic are affected by climate change. And these are regions that have experienced the greatest rate of climate change – anywhere. Of course, there aren't really people living in the Antarctic, this is a research area. It will affect, though, flora and fauna. In the north, in the  Arctic, though, it is, already affecting people's lives. I think if someone were to see nothing else, they probably should see the Inuit knowledge and climate change film, to see the Inuit perspective on that. For example, it's affecting people's hunting and their ability to take snowmobiles out on the ice. The risk of the ice not being there, to support people. It's a major concern. Another area of concern is the permafrost, which, really, is the buttress to the architecture in the Arctic, and is very, very important for the stability of things like their schools and their homes and so forth. It affects their transportation, and anything that affects their transportation affects the price of their food. So, many Northern communities are extremely dependent on ice roads, for their access. I think these are some of the messages that people will take away.”

Reporter: “As interesting as the Arctic region is – of itself – if you're someone who thinks 'Well, that's very far away, and if change happens there it doesn't affect me', are they missing something? Is there something in this presentation for someone who is thinking about their own life, further south?”

Margret Brady: “Well, they'll probably learn more about that if they go to the panel, on this. And I think a lot of those questions would be answered, as to how that can affect other people's lives. But, even the  last point I was making about the cost of transportation in the Arctic, that can have an affect on us. I mean, for example, pipelines and things like that are also dependent on permafrost. So, anything that affects the underlying structures is going to be very important to people in the south, as well.”

Reporter: “And there might be new shipping lanes, and things that affect the whole world.”

Margret Brady: “Absolutely!  A huge, a huge area. And I know very little about that. But, obviously, if a North-West Passage opens up, that would affect shipping, but it also then affects potential pollution.”

Reporter: “Margret Brady, thank you very much for detailing the presentation that the British Council is sponsoring as part of Winterlude.”

Margret Brady: “Oh, you're very, very welcome!”

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