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Environment and Outdoors

Arctic Council Meetings in Portland Draw Climate Change Protesters

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Susan Sharon
/
Arctic Council protesters in Portland Wednesday.

This week, representatives from eight Arctic nations are meeting in Portland to discuss environmental issues and promote sustainable development in the Arctic region. Representatives of indigenous groups are also at the table. But the meetings are being held in private.

Today, a small group of mostly retirees protested what they say is too much emphasis on the economic opportunities of a melting region and not enough on the fundamental issue: addressing climate change.

Cynthia Howard of Biddeford Pool borrowed a polar bear suit to wear to the gathering of about two dozen protesters outside the Portland Museum of Art at lunchtime.

“The Arctic is heating up much faster than the rest of the world and we already know what’s happening locally. So, I’m speaking for them. We need to stop the ice melting,” she says.

Inside, the Verrill Dana law firm was putting on a seminar called “Marine Technology and the North,” billed as a discussion about developing industry in the region. It’s a sidebar to the actual meeting of the Arctic Council at the Westin Hotel across the street.

That’s why Howard and others are holding signs and speaking out — her sign reads “Arctic Warming Equals Extinction.”

“I can’t turn away and say, ‘No, I’m just gonna cook and make wonderful food and invite my friends over and live happy till I die,’ because this is too damn important,” she says.

At a discussion at the University of Southern Maine earlier this week, speakers such as independent U.S. Sen. Angus King of Maine highlighted the recent journey of the first cruise ship through the Arctic Sea with a stop in Bar Harbor. Others discussed what the opening of northern shipping lanes might mean for Maine.

While the threat of climate change was also raised, Bruce Gagnon of the group Veterans for Peace says he’s dismayed by all the attention being given to the economic potential of melting ice.

“They’re all talking about climate change but what they’re really talking about is exploiting and making money off and benefiting from, and how can Maine and other corporate entities benefit from the melting of the ice? But what are they really talking about really doing? And so that’s really why we’re here to shine a light on that serious lack of attention,” he says.

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Credit Susan Sharon / Maine Public
Arctic Council protesters in Portland Wednesday.

“Let’s not forget that there are people who live in the Arctic and have done so for tens of thousands of years. Our fellow Americans are in Alaska dealing with all of this change day to day.,” says Dr. Adrianna Muir, deputy senior Arctic official at the U.S. Department of State and a member of the Arctic Council.

Appearing on Maine Calling on Maine Public Radio earlier this week, Muir suggested that the rapid warming of the Arctic is not a black-and-white issue — it’s gray.

“if you were to speak to people in Alaska, I think you’d get a lot of different views than we tend to hear down here in the lower 48, where we tend to think of the Arctic as pristine or a beautiful landscape with just polar bears and icebergs,” she says. “For them, it’s home. And they need to find a way to find a good livelihood and they need to do this in spite of this rapid climate change that they’re now facing day to day.”

Efforts by Maine Public Radio to speak with indigenous representatives to the Arctic Council were unsuccessful. But Denise Dreher of Biddeford says everyone has a stake in the future of the Arctic and the planet. At 82, she’s worried that time is running out.

“I have grandchildren and I have children and I just think about all of the children of the world and the fact that in a very short time the Earth may become uninhabitable,” she says.

The Arctic Council’s meetings conclude on Thursday.