On January 21, Upper School Technology Integration Mentor Krina Patel boarded the first of three planes to her final destination at the 69th parallel, well within the Arctic Circle. There in Tromso, Norway, for five days, she attended Arctic Frontiers—an international conference that addresses the challenges of achieving environmentally sustainable economic development in the Arctic, its website explains. While Ms. Patel explored Tromso and engaged with Arctic Frontiers, she corresponded with The Vanguard regarding her trip, its purpose, and its takeaways. Here’s what she had to say.
What are your first impressions of Tromso?
In the airport in Tromso, I see an unusual landscape but a typically Arctic landscape. The Arctic, as you know, is a semi-enclosed ocean almost completely surrounded by land. Tromso is the northernmost city in the world on one of the islands in the Arctic, and it’s separated from the mainland by the Tromsøysundet Strait, one of the defining geographic features of the city. Traveling here is very exciting. I am in awe of the human spirit. The capacity to build a city—let alone a simple home—in such a challenging landscape is awe-inspiring.
What moved you to attend Arctic Frontiers?
My goal was to better understand the issue of sustainability and climate change as they relate to technology—and what we can do about it. The words of my former doctoral professor Mary Catherine Bateson stay with me always. In her book With a Daughter’s Eye: Memoir of Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson, she writes, “….we now recognize that no microcosm is completely separate, no tide pool, no forest, no family, no nation. Indeed the knowledge drawn from the life of some single organism or community or from the intimate experience of an individual may prove to be relevant to decisions that affect the health of a city or the peace of the world.”
Catherine always emphasized the interconnectedness of life in the natural world. If we are serious about sustainability, about understanding the impact and role of technology in contemporary society, we need to look as far north as the Arctic, where we see the impact of human civilization in stark ways. Sea ice is melting at a rapid pace in the Arctic because of climate change. Scientists project a rise of temperature of up to 12 degrees Celsius because of changes in our climate.
The tragic irony is that people in the Arctic cannot do a whole lot about this; all of this is happening because of actions being taken further east, west, and south. What we do in one part of the globe affects all the other parts of the globe.
How has the conference been so far?
The conference was very informative and productive. I connected with high school teachers, scientists, and policymakers, all of whom share a passion for sustainability and the environment. Two women scientists who specialize in the science of snow and ice—Jennifer King and Ioanna Merkouriadi—talked about measuring sea ice and snow and gave me and other high school students and teachers what they called “a sneak preview into the secret life of a scientist.” After the talk, the scientists and I connected, and they are willing to get on a future Skype call with us from the Arctic. I hope the Eco-Reps will take the initiative to coordinate this video talk and presentation for the school.
What was your favorite and least favorite experience?
My favorite experience was meeting a Sami reindeer herder and going sleighing. The Sami people are the indigenous community of northern Norway and have a long, fascinating history in the Arctic region. One afternoon, I also had an opportunity to participate in a discussion with the Chair of the Association of World Reindeer Herders, Mr. Mikhail Pogodaev.
My least favorite experience was walking over slippery ice in the city of Tromso. They have had a relatively warm winter (no surprise—after all, we are discussing climate change), so instead of snow, the roads often were slick with ice. Thankfully, I bought a pair of walking cleats designed by a Nordic company. They were awesome! Now you know why I love technology. It makes our life so much easier!
How has this experience influenced your perspective?
The experience confirmed my world view of interdependence and the role each one of us needs to play in living sustainably. Every drop is going to count—literally.
What do you hope to do with this experience?
I hope to continue raising awareness about sustainability issues in the school community. Meeting the two women scientists working in the Arctic was inspiring. Their work confirms my belief in the powerful work women do in so many areas that were traditionally closed to them. I hope to continue encouraging and supporting more girls to work and do innovative projects in the areas of STEAM—Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math.