Day Three and Four: Doncaster libraries

Scene of the 2007 floods

Scene of the 2007 floods

Another coincidence

Another coincidence

Memorial plaque, Bentley.

Memorial plaque, Bentley.

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Some mines still working

Some mines still working

Storytelling at Tickhill library

Storytelling at Tickhill library

Over two days, August 14th and August 15th I did four storytelling workshops at four libraries in and around Doncaster – Tickhill, Cantley, Askern and Bentley. The four workshops were the same – the piece for young children and their families called ‘Tales of the Far North’ that I had trialled in Rotherham the on 13th August.

I enjoyed the shows. The children got involved and enjoyed it and I was pleased with their engagement. At several points in the workshop I stop the story telling and I ask the children to guess what might be about to happen and I always say, ‘There’s no wrong answer. Just imagine’ and they come up with some brilliant ideas. One story I tell is called ‘The Poor Hunter’.  It’s about a man who is a poor hunter, meets a polar bear  and helps him and then returns to his community a changed man.  When he returns to his community I say that the people in his village looked at him as if he is a ghost and I ask the children why. They have wonderful ideas and the one I liked most was that he had turned into a polar bear. (In fact, the reason is that he had been gone a month). You can read the story here http://www.astronomy.pomona.edu/archeo/alaska/eskimotale.html

At the end of each session I asked the children if they’d like to write a sentence about the workshop. They could say what they liked, what they learned or a question that they had. Here are some of them:

“Why is the arctic melting?” Ben, Tickhill Library

“I like the caribou story.” Joshua, Askern Library.

“I enjoyed the stories and answering the questions.” Chloe and Evie, Tickhill Library

“Polar bears like to hunt seals on the ice.” Abigail, age 6, Cantley Library.

“I liked the narwhal bit because the grandma turned into a narwhal.” Askern Library.

“We need to walk to school.” Katie, Age 5, Tickhill.

I enjoyed meeting the members of the reading and literacy team in Doncaster who had invited me to perform in their libraries. We had a good discussion about storytelling and its role as a ‘way in’ for many children, a way for them to engage with literature before opening a book.

Of course, the two days were full of experiences apart from the storytelling. On the night of the 14th I’d found a campsite. Unfortunately, they couldn’t take bookings over the phone of less than £10 and the cost of my stay would be less than £10. (‘Not sure if they thought that through,’ the woman said on the phone). Never mind, I thought, I could turn up and pay. I called at about 3pm just to check that everything was alright for the evening. ‘We close at 4.30pm,’ said the woman. I wouldn’t be able to get there till about 6pm. It was OK. There were lots of spaces and I would be able to stay there and pay in the morning. The woman on the phone reeled off all the empty numbered camp places. Was I meant to remember these numbers?

When I arrived, everything seemed to be alright and I set up in an empty space. ‘Just a minute,’ I thought, ‘This has electricity supply. Will I get charged if I use that space even if I don’t use electricity?’ I saw a nearby empty space that didn’t have an electricity supply. Everything was fine. I had something to eat, a much-needed shower and got ready for bed.

I’d just returned to my tent and was about to undress when I heard a voice outside the tent.
“Have you got your stub saying that you’ve booked for this plot?”
“Um, no, I haven’t. I arrived late but the woman at the desk said that it would be OK to pay in the morning. She reeled off a load of numbers but I- is this your space? I can move if-”
“Well, can I see some other ID then?’
By this time I was out of the tent. “Yea, sure.” I showed her my bank card.
“I hope you understand. We’re single women and kids. I mean, you could be an axe murderer for all we know.”
“But surely, you’re at as much risk from an axe murderer who isn’t next to you, who is on the other side of the site,”
“Yes, well, that’s not the point. Anyway, that’s fine. Thanks very much. Goodnight.”

I lay in bed thinking about this. I never did understand whether I’d taken their space. They were a group of adult friends and their children so they’d moved close to each other but maybe one had booked the pitch I was on and my arrival had alarmed them. The next morning I got ready and paid the staff when they arrived. But the women and their kids had long gone. They’d packed and gone by 8.30am. When I offered the money and the lady thanked me for being honest and not disappearing early I thought, ‘Hang on a minute. They- no, they wouldn’t have done that would they?”

Doncaster, like Barnsley has a rich mining heritage. Everywhere there are relics and memorials to closed mines. On my way to the Tickhill gig I’d passed the site of the Yorkshire Main colliery and Askern and Bentley were both collieries closed after the Miner’s Strike. But here were working mines too. I passed Rossington and Hatfield on my travels and on the way to Askern realised just how close I was to ‘Megawatt valley’. There, in the distance were Drax and Eggborough coal-fired power stations doing what they do best.

All through this trip I experienced interesting coincidences. On my first night one of the staff at Birstall library said it was uncanny that I was doing a piece that related to the composition of the atmosphere just a few metres away from a statue of Joseph Priestley, the scientist who discovered oxygen. http://www.francisfrith.com/birstall,west-yorkshire/photos/the-joseph-priestley-memorial-c1950_b337011/#utmcsr=google.co.uk&utmcmd=referral&utmccn=google.co.uk The thing is, though, once you’re considering energy or the climate, it’s everywhere! So there I was cycling between Askern and Bentley and suddenly there I was at Toll Bar, the site of terrible floods, alongside Sheffield, Barnsley and Hull in 2007. http://www.bbc.co.uk/southyorkshire/content/articles/2007/07/24/flooding_toll_bar_post_office_feature.shtml
I popped in and there was John Jackson, famous from those days. He told me about what had happened, how the flooding was made worse by a reservoir in Rotherham that had to be relieved so it didn’t break its banks and about the more recent improvements to the Ea Beck defences. Now, I’m always keen to be on the side of science and I had read about a report by the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology saying that the 2007 floods were not caused by climate change.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/7287988.stm. I said something along these lines to John but he was clear. “The weather is changing.”

After Bentley, as I approached the centre of Doncaster there was Ed Milliband’s constituency office. Ed Milliband, who was Minister for Energy and Climate Change in the last government and who was widely respected by campaigners for ‘getting’ climate change. He says he considered resigning from the government over the proposed third runway at Heathrow airport and of course, he could be the next Prime Minister, the one who signs key treaties at the Paris Conference of 2015.

Now, I should have been cycling twenty or so miles down the road to West Burton Power station, site of the longest occupation of a power station in November 2012 by the ‘No Dash for Gas’ group http://www.nodashforgas.org.uk/ and now the site of a protest camp, ‘Reclaim the Power’. But ten days earlier a decision had been made to re-locate to Balcombe to support the protests against drilling and (potentially) fracking there. Bit too far to cycle. So I got on the train and after staying the night in London with a friend was in Balcombe the next day.

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Lost in the coalfield: Day three of the tour

Denaby Colliery inscription

Denaby Colliery inscription

A short stop at the Denaby Colliery monument

A short stop at the Denaby Colliery monument

It was somewhere near Wombwell, South Yorkshire that I realised I was lost. I was cycling from Barnsley to Doncaster but because my first Doncaster gig was in Tickhill, around seven miles south of the city I wanted to avoid the busy A635. I would take the A633 to Wombwell then take the A6023 through Mexborough and Conisborough. But somewhere in Wombwell I’d got confused. There were no signs to Mexborough and straight on was Wath-on-Dearne, but that was off my route. I turned around and took a road through Darfield. But that took me onto the A635- the road I’d been trying to avoid. I got off at the next junction.

I’d probably wasted only about three miles but I was beginning to think that I might not make my first gig in time. It was at least fifteen miles away and there was less than ninety minutes left. It was around then that my stitch kicked in. That was the last thing I needed- a little knot of pain which was manageable. My fear was that it would get worse. A few weeks ago I’d had such a bad stitch that I’d had to get off the bike and lie down on the verge. I thought of ‘mind over matter’. Had I really been forced off the bike or could I have managed?

The day had started early. Up at 5am to last minute packing and panicking. Even after that early start I hadn’t left until 9.15am, an hour after I’d planned. Still, that gave me three and a half hours to cycle there and, till Wombwell, everything was going fine. When I saw a road sign for ‘Barnsley 12 miles’ at 9.30am I set myself the target of being in Barnsley by 10.30 and made it. Then I’d got a bit lost in the centre of Barnsley and then there was the Wombwell experience.

When I planned the route I thought of the irony of passing through the Barnsley coalfield on my journey telling stories about the arctic and talking about climate change. On a global scale, coal is still a huge driver of climate change even though coal production in the UK is a fraction of what it was and the UK’s coal fired power stations are being phased out as a result of EU air-quality legislation.

I thought of a lot of things. I thought of some of the statements made about coal by Dr James Hansen, climate scientist and until-recently Director of the NASA Institute for Space Studies: “Coal is the single greatest threat to civilisation and all life on our planet” and “Coal-fired power stations are death factories. Close them.” In book ‘Storms of My Grandchildren’ James Hansen has produced a graph showing the cumulative emissions of different countries- in other words, the total emissions per person since the 1750s. Guess which country comes top and guess which was its primary fuel source? You can see the graph on http://www.campaigncc.org/climatejustice. Duncan Clark, recently more famous as co-author of ‘The Burning Question’ has slightly different, but similar findings on
http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2011/apr/21/countries-responsible-climate-change

I thought of the way in which many of these soon-to-be-phased-out coal fired power stations are converting to burning biomass on a vast industrial scale and how a number of organisations, including Biofuelwatch are warning of the dangers of this.http://www.biofuelwatch.org.uk/uk-campaign/coal-biomass-conversions/
Last year the RSPB produced a report on this subject, asking if large scale biomass was ‘dirtier than coal?’www.rspb.org.uk/images/biomass_report_tcm9-326672.pdf‎

I thought of people researching into ‘Carbon Capture and Storage’ (the as-yet-incomplete project to find ways of capturing carbon dioxide which is emitted from power stations and storing it underground in places like exhausted oil fields).I thought of the very recent and successful campaigns against a new generation of coal-fired power stations and open-cast mining in the UK. I’d attended the Climate Camp at Kingsnorth in 2008 and read about the development of a new wave of open cast coal mines such as Fos-y-Fran in South Wales.

I also thought of the way in which the UK is financing coal projects around the world. I’d recently been supporting the World Development Movement’s ‘Carbon Capital’ campaign (http://www.wdm.org.uk/carbon-capital ), which is highlighting the ways in which the UK finance sector is bankrolling (through shares and loans) massive fossil fuel projects around the word. One of these projects is the Cerrejon coal mine in Columbia. Cerrejon is mega project: If they are successful in burning all the known coal reserves at Cerrejon, the resulting carbon emissions at over 13 billion tonnes of CO2 would be equivalent to Columbia’s domestic emissions for over 184 years. It has destroyed communities, seen many human rights abuses and provided very little energy for the local people. Since 2009 it has been loaned £7 billion by HSBC, Barclays, Lloyds and RBS. http://www.wdm.org.uk/sites/default/files/cerrejon_media_briefing.pdf‎

I had recently met Richard Solly, who is the Co-ordinator of the London Mining Network which supports people around the world in resisting mining developments -like Cerrejon- in their lands (http://londonminingnetwork.org/) Ten days later I would be doing a walking tour of the City of London with Richard Solly and others, telling stories of the arctic and visiting banks and pension companies that are financing climate change that is altering the arctic so drastically.

Perhaps more than anything, of course, I thought of the Miner’s Strike. Today, I cycled by, or near the ghost-sites of collieries closed after the Miner’s Strike during the Thatcher and Major years: Cortonwood, Cadeby, Kinsley, Silverwood, Manvers Complex, Royston, Barnsley Main, Dearne Valley, Grimethorpe, Houghton/Darfield and Goldthorpe/Hickleton. I was twelve and thirteen when the Miner’s Strike was on and remember watching the news reports – of pickets, clashes with the police and the return to work. Many people now regard it as the defining political episode of the 1980s and it still hangs over us. I passed a couple of miles south of Goldthorpe, the site of the Thatcher ‘mock funeral’ that had taken place in April (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-south-yorkshire-22183736). It’s less than a year since the former Home Secretary, Jack Straw spoke of the ‘culture of impunity’ that Thatcher’s government created in the police because they needed them to act as a partisan force during the Miner’s Strike and suggested that this led indirectly to the Hillsborough cover-up. http://news.bbc.co.uk/today/hi/today/newsid_9751000/9751530.stm Recently, I’d listened to the ‘Reflections’ series of interviews with politicians on Radio 4. Both Neil Kinnock (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b037jfmg) and Norman Tebbit (http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b0376x76/Reflections_Lord_Tebbit/) had spent some time talking about the Strike, Norman Tebbit expressing regret at the damage done to working class culture and communities by the pit closures.

During the debate that followed Margaret Thatcher’s death this spring several pundits and politicians gleefully informed us that Harold Wilson had closed more pits than Margaret Thatcher (‘Yea, but I bet he didn’t enjoy it as much as she did,’ I’d thought). Of course, I now think that the UK’s shift away from coal-fired electricity generation was a good thing and resulted in the biggest significant dent in our carbon emissions. George Monbiot has written about how the pit closures saved the left from an ‘internecine war’ over coal. I suppose my issue with Thatcher, at least in hindsight, is not the fact that the pits closed, but the way it was managed, or rather, not managed. There is a positive alternative: it’s called ‘Just Transition’. The idea is about managing the transition from a fossil fuel economy to a low-carbon economy in such a way that workers are re-trained and re-skilled so that they can move from jobs in the former to jobs in the latter. You can read more about it in this TUC document http://www.tuc.org.uk/touchstone/justtransition/greenfuture.pdf. It also informs a lot of thinking behind the wonderful ‘One Million Climate Jobs’ report and campaign (http://www.climate-change-jobs.org/node/14), that I’ve done some work to promote in recent years.

All through the journey I kept seeing monuments to pits that had closed or commemorating pit disasters. At the site of Denaby Colliery there was a huge wheel. Denaby closed in the 1960s but this wheel came from Cadeby, closed in the 1980s.

I picked up speed around Mexborough and thought I might make my 1pm performance on time. I needed to be off the A6023 and onto the B6094 at Conisborough by 12.00pm I told myself. I did it by 12.10pm. Then, I told myself that if I got off the B6094 and onto the little lane leading to Tickhill by 12.30pm I would allow myself to stop and drink the two pints of milk that I’d brought on my panniers from home. I got there in time and that milk wasn’t too warm and tasted good!

I got to Tickhill library -with that stitch still a tight knot of pain in my side- with ten minutes to spare. In the next post, I’ll write about the four gigs that I did for Doncaster libraries in two days. In spite of the Wombwell moment, I’d made it and started the first gig on time.

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Day Two: Yorkshire Story Centre, Rotherham

Good listeners!

Good listeners!

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Telling the stories

Telling the stories

The Yorkshire Story Centre shop front

The Yorkshire Story Centre shop front

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Deborah Bullivant

‘If you don’t know the trees you may be lost in the forest, but if you don’t know the stories you may be lost in life.’ A Siberian Proverb.

This tour is about a number of things. Yes, it’s making a personal creative response to the catastrophic melting of arctic sea ice that occurred in 2012. Yes, it’s about making connections with all sorts of different people. But it is also a way of answering the question, ‘Do stories matter?’  Consequently, I was delighted to be contacted by Deborah Bullivant of Inspire Rotherham (www.inspirerotherham.org) who has opened the Yorkshire Story Centre and Story Shop in Rotherham.

Probably like you, I had never heard of the Yorkshire Story Centre. I made my way along down a ordinary street in Rotherham and came across it- a shop that had been turned into a Story Shop. My first impression was of  the strings of playing cards hanging in the windows- making me think of ‘Alice in Wonderland’. Inside was even more wonderful. There were pieces of art work, ideas about fantasy creatures, shelves full of books, costumes and a pink storytelling throne!

The Yorkshire Story Centre is the work of its director, Deborah Bullivant. Deborah told me about how she had received funding to create this centre to develop children’s creativity and literacy skills. Storytelling is becoming a big thing in a number of primary schools. Strategies like ‘talk for writing’ are emphasising the importance of storytelling and drama as a springboard for literacy.

It was my first ‘outing’ of my storytelling workshop for very young children and their families, ‘Tales of the Far North’. As I said in a previous post ‘Mapping the Arctic’, the main gimmick is that children pick the stories. A large map of the arctic (made out of a damaged shower curtain) is spread on the floor with pictures of different arctic animals on it- a polar bear, a walrus, a ptarmigan, a salmon, a caribou, a goose, an elk, a narwhal, an owl, a raven, a fox and a wolf.  I put the children’s names in a hat (well, actually, there was no hat, but you get the idea) and if a child is picked, they pick an animal and I tell a story featuring that animal.

There are two things that I remember most about the session. The first was talking about climate change in the arctic to very young children and trying to get it right. Obviously, I couldn’t talk to them in the same way as I might talk to adults.  But they took on board that there was a problem: the arctic was warming up because of the gases that get released when we do things like drive cars, use electricity, have a shower.  Talking about the solutions was again different to the conversations I might have with adults. It was entirely about what we can do personally: we talked about switching off lights when we leave a room, walking to school and planting trees.

The other thing I remember came from a child at the end. He asked, ‘But are these stories true? Did they really happen?’ We had a good discussion about the way that stories can contain a sort of truth. A number of these stories are ways of explaining why things are as they are- why narwhals have a tusk, why the raven is black, why the walrus can float and why the ptarmigan has claws. Deborah also talked about Robin Hood – who is truly a local hero for people of Rotherham, Sheffield and Barnsley. She spoke of the way in which there may well have been someone who was called Robin Hood (or maybe was called something else but later acquired that name) and had layer upon layer of legend added to the reality of his life. ‘Like Chinese Whispers,’ I said.

‘I love Chinese Whispers!’ said the boy.

 

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Where have I been all this time?

Where have I been? I’ve been on the tour- taking in Rotherham, Doncaster, Balcombe, Cambridge and several parts of London. There have been many great times and -as my mum warned me- a few not-so-great times.

My hope at one point had been to keep daily updates on what had happened but unfortunately I didn’t really have the level of computer access for this. Time was pretty short too!

Now I’m back. I’ve done my washing, cleaned up my bike and enjoyed sleeping in my own bed again. Now I can update you. So, over the next few days I’ll write up the events of the tour. When did I think I’d miss a gig due to stitch? When was I asked to come out of my tent by a fellow camper asking to see my ID because I ‘might be an axe murderer’? When did I get talking to a man in a café who turned out to be a tidal power enthusiast and expert in puppetry? Which stories went down well and which didn’t and what new things did I learn about the arctic? Well, read on over the next week or so and you’ll find out!

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A great night at Birstall!

With the library team. What a great bunch!

With the library team. What a great bunch!

'Now where was I?'  Just about to start the second half.

‘Now where was I?’
Just about to start the second half.

src=”https://meltingice2013.files.wordpress.com/2013/08/dscn00061.jpg?w=300″ alt=”'Now where was I?' Just about to start the second half.” width=”300″ height=”225″ class=”size-medium wp-image-21″ /> ‘Now where was I?’
Just about to start the second half.[/caption]My proper debut of ‘The Boy Who Dreamed Only Ice’ on Monday 12th August was brilliant! It was a great turn out – around thirty five people and a very supportive audience. It was nice to see a few familiar faces – including a couple of ex-colleagues who had heard on facebook. It works!

Birstall is way up in the far north of Kirklees -right on the border with Leeds so I was quite pleased with the time I made -just over an hour on the bike.

This event had been organised by Diane Green, Reader Development Officer with Kirklees and by the team of librarians at Birstall. Diane is a storytelling fan and helps to organise the Marsden Yarnspinners storytelling group which was where I’d first trialled ‘The Boy Who Dreamed Only Ice’ (then called ‘The Boy And the Big Block Of Ice’). They were a supportive and engaged audience and I changed and edited the piece in a number of ways following their feedback.

The team at Birstall library were great! They’d done this display including coverage or the piece and my tour and they even had a map of England with my route to London marked out and a little picture of me on my bike!

The piece went well. I did it in two halves of -I think- just over forty minutes. There were a few moments where I thought – ‘Aargh! That didn’t go right!’ but generally I was pleased and there were some lovely complimentary comments from people in the audience during the interval and after the show.

And then it was on the bike and a nice ride home to reflect…..

Thanks Diane Green and the Birstall Library team!

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News about the arctic as I pack my bags….

I’m in my last week before I set off on ‘The Boy Who Dreamed Only Ice Tour’ and, as I pack, I keep hearing news about the arctic.

On Tuesday, the world read reports about the polar bear that had starved to death on Svalbard because of the lack of sea ice on which to hunt seals. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/aug/06/starved-polar-bear-record-sea-ice-melt.The bear, who had been previously tracked and examined by scientists was little more than skin and bones. The summer 2012 saw the lowest level of arctic sea ice on record. Prond Robertson, at the Norwegian Meteorological Institute, said: “The sea ice break up around Svalbard in 2013 was both fast and very early.” It’s not just Svalbard. A report in May showed that the loss of sea ice in the Hudson Bay area was affecting the health, breeding success and population of polar bears in Hudson Bay area of Canada. The phrase that hit the headlines was that of Douglas Richardson of the Highland Wildlife Park. He said that ice loss due to climate change is “absolutely, categorically and without question” the cause of falling polar bear populations.

The day earlier The Guardian reported on latest setback for the people of Netwok, Alaska. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/aug/05/alaska-newtok-climate-change This community has been dubbed ‘America’s first climate change refugees’ as they seek to relocate. Their land is sinking due to erosion, while some of the other 185 Alaskan communities are under threat due to melting permafrost. This week it turned out that the government has frozen funding for the move over a local political dispute. Have a look at this short film and slide show of the people of Netwok that was produced a few months ago. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/interactive/2013/may/13/newtok-alaska-climate-change-refugees

Also on Tuesday the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration declared that ‘arctic sea ice is disappearing at unprecedented rate.” (headline of article http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/aug/06/noaa-report-arctic-ice-climate-change )The report states that 2012 was among the ten warmest years on record, that it saw record greenhouse gas emissions and that arctic sea ice retreated to its lowest level since satellite records began.

It’s all pretty sobering but it makes me think about a couple of questions.

One is, ‘Which would affect people the most- the statistics, the human story or the polar bear?’ Joseph Stalin said, ‘One death is a tragedy, one million is a statistic” and he was on to something. There does seem to be something about the human brain – or at the least the brains of many humans- that finds it difficult to take in things on a big scale- whether that’s large numbers of people, large carbon dioxide levels, the vast scale of geological time, a large scale problem (the entire fossil fuel based global economy). It seems to prefer individual moments, images or people to latch onto or empathise with, to be able to process a bigger problem. My mind goes back to other ‘iconic’ moments that encapsulated a moment in history and made it accessible for millions: the little girl burning from a napalm attack in the Vietnam War, the young man in front of the tank during the Tiananmen Square clean up, the US and Soviet Union co-operating –in the spirit of glasnost- to save those grey whales trapped in the arctic off Alaska in 1988. I remember reading George Monbiot stating that last year’s melt meant a transformation of the atmospheric physics of this planet. Significantly, the piece began with these words: “There are no comparisons to be made. This is not like war or plague or a stockmarket crash. We are ill-equipped, historically and psychologically, to understand it, which is one of the reasons why so many refuse to accept that it is happening.” http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/aug/27/arctic-ice-rich-world-disaster

The second, more basic question is, ‘What are the key points I need to get across in the most brief and most convincing – and possibly least emotive-way?’ God knows, we live in an era where lack of information is not the problem. It’s reducing and sifting that information.

So here goes:

1) The arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world.

2) Last summer arctic sea ice melted more than any year since satellite records began. (3.5 million square kms) The extent of sea ice in September was less than half the average extent (some put it at only 40%) of the sea ice at the same point in the year during the 1970s. (8 million square kms)

3) In addition to surface area, the ice is getting thinner. It lost 36% of its volume between 2003 and 2012.

4) The loss of arctic sea ice is happening much more quickly than scientists thought. In the last IPCC report (2007) scientists predicted an arctic sea totally ice free in the summer in 2070. The MET office now predicts this will happen by 2030. Professor Peter Wadhams of Cambridge University and the Arctic Methane Emergency Group predicts this will happen by 2015-16. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2012/sep/17/arctic-collapse-sea-ice

5) The land areas of the arctic region are also changing rapidly. 2012 also saw record breaking melting of the Greenland Ice sheet http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2012/jul/24/greenland-ice-sheet-thaw-nasa. Half the rise of sea level is due to melting glaciers and 30% of this comes from Greenland.

6) The rapid loss of ice and snow in the arctic is triggering a tipping point or feedback mechanism or, put more simply, a vicious circle. As more ice melts and is replaced by dark sea, more heat is absorbed. As more heat is absorbed, more ice melts. Furthermore, the melting of the arctic is likely to trigger the release of carbon dioxide and methane deposit-currently frozen- in the permafrost and offshore. Last month a report in Nature warned of an ‘economic timebomb’ of offshore deposits of methane being released by an ice free arctic, possibly over a fifty year period, possibly more rapidly. It would cost the planet £60 trillion. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/jul/24/arctic-thawing-permafrost-climate-change

7) Many people believe that the melting of arctic sea ice has already had major consequences. Scientists are busy looking at the link between the arctic meltdown and the weakening of the jet stream, causing weather in the northern hemisphere to ‘get stuck’ (think about last year’s summer and this year’s winter) and triggering extreme weather events (most spectacularly Superstorm Sandy last October).

This might not seem very brief. In comparison with the volume of material out there, it’s pretty brief- and not one mention of a polar bear!

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Mapping the arctic

 

This month I’ll be touring two storytelling shows, ‘The Boy Who Dreamed Only Ice’ which is for adults and young people and ‘Tales from the Far North’ which is accessible to anyone, including young children.

For ‘Tales of the Far North’ I’ve had this idea of creating a map of the arctic region with the North Pole at its centre.  Immediately, you look at the world in a different way. (For the same reasons the UN logo and flag had the North Pole at its centre http://www.un.org/en/). You’re struck by how close the different countries are to each other (less than one hundred miles between Alaska and Siberia, for example). At the centre, of course, is what is most important and what connects everything: the Arctic Ocean.

The idea is that on the map will be photographs of different animals. A child (or adult) will have the chance to pick an animal and if they pick that animal, I will tell them a story that features that animal from the part of the world that that picture was placed on. There are whales in Siberia, Elks in the Saami lands of northern Norway, Sweden and Finland, caribou in Canada, polar bears in Alaska, narwhals on Baffin Island and salmon in Greenland.  Of course, there aren’t just caribou in Canada. There are caribou or reindeer all over the arctic. The picture is placed on Canada because that’s where the story that I’ve chosen comes from.

I needed something white and light and reasonably strong and went into an independent DIY shop for inspiration. After looking at a few things I saw some white shower curtains. Then I saw this trolley full of discarded objects and in it was another white shower curtain. ‘How much is this?’ I asked the shopkeeper. ‘Well, a customer brought that back and it’s not in its packet so you can have that for…. (he looked at me, sizing me up)….£2.50’. I bought it straight away.

Outside the shop I had a closer look. There was a tear in the shower curtain about four inches across. Do I return it and buy a new one?  No, I thought. I’d fix it. Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. So, if you see ‘Tales from the Far North’ and you see a tear that’s been fixed, there’s the story behind it.

The arctic region is defined in various ways. Sometimes it’s defined as everything above the Arctic Circle (66 degrees 33’ North latitude), sometimes by temperature, sometimes by the presence of arctic animals or tundra vegetation or even by the limit of pack ice in the winter.

Every place within the Arctic Circe will have at least one day of total darkness and one day of continual daylight per year. The Arctic region has been calculated as 18 million square miles in size (one sixth of the planet’s landmass) and covers 24 time zones.

The average temperature in winter is -30 degrees Celsius and in the summer it can get as warm as 0 degrees Celsius. The lowest temperature recorded in the arctic was -68 celsius in Siberia.

Within the Arctic region is the Arctic Ocean. The Arctic Ocean covers 5.4 million square miles, which is more than the area of Europe. The Arctic Ocean is the world’s smallest and shallowest, with an average depth of roughly a thousand meters (about 3,450 feet). Vast ledges of subsea land extend from the surrounding continents and underlie nearly two thirds of the ocean.

The Arctic region – land and sea- is a unique ecosystem and home to polar bears, seals, caribou, narwhals, several species of whales, migrating birds, wolves, fish and wolverines.

The planet as a whole and human civilisation has depended on the role of the arctic –particularly the Arctic Ocean in the earth system. One reason is for this is the reflectivity of the white snow and ice which has acted like mirror, bouncing the sun’s energy back into space. This is a phenomenon known as the albedo effect.  Another is the way in which the arctic has absorbed excess heat and has helped to keep the climate stable, keeping weather in the northern hemisphere predictable with winds and rains following regular patterns. 

Of course, the Arctic is in danger. There will be future posts on this. But I wanted to start with the sense of awe and wonder and to recognise how connected we all are to it.

I don’t have a trailer for my show so by way of introduction I’m going to highjack this introduction to the Frozen Planet series by David Attenborough.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/collections/p00kf6hs#p00msnt1

As he says, standing at the North Pole, “it’s a huge privilege to be on top of the world in a place which I have to say is amazingly beautiful.”

 

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