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Arctic activist offers warning for all Earth

She says climate change is very real up north.

Published May 20, 2007


ST. PETERSBURG - Nobel Peace Prize nominee Sheila Watt-Cloutier, a longtime activist for the Inuit people of the Arctic Circle, is scheduled to speak at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Mahaffey Theater

Global warming and climate change are among the issues Watt-Cloutier, 53, has spent her career addressing, and the counselor, educator and human development specialist has received numerous international awards.

Born in northern Quebec, Canada, she has led several international environmental organizations, and was the spokeswoman for a coalition of northern indigenous peoples. The coalition persuaded some nations to sign the 2001 Stockholm Convention, which bans organic pollutants that contaminate the Arctic food chain.

Watt-Cloutier's lecture is the third in a four-part series entitled "Speak! St. Pete - A Celebration of United Nations International Days." Her speech marks Biodiversity Day

The series is presented by the new St. Petersburg Environmental Research Center, whose goals are to confront, raise awareness, stimulate public dialogue and inspire action regarding world environmental and social issues that affect the Tampa Bay community.

Neighborhood Times caught up with Watt-Cloutier via e-mail last week for a short question-and-answer session.


Why should people in St. Petersburg, Florida, be concerned about global climate change?

The people of St. Petersburg, Fla., should be concerned about global climate change because we are all experiencing dramatic changes already, which now is well understood to be caused by greenhouse gases heating up the atmosphere as a result of human activity. The Arctic is the early warning for the rest of the world and whatever is happening to the planet is happening first in the Arctic. As the people and planet are one, we must come to understand that we are all connected and however we live can impact negatively on others who live far from the source of pollutants and GHGs. Such is the case for us here in the Arctic.


Many believe climate change is exaggerated, perhaps nothing to be overly concerned about. What do you tell them?

I wish climate change was being exaggerated so we can just deal with that rather then the reality. As (the Inuit) are a hunting culture which is based on the cold, ice and snow, every minute change is observed and felt here in the Arctic. Nowhere else in the world does the ice and snow represent mobility and transportation, as we use the land and ice as our highways, our highways to the environment which is our supermarket.


What are you seeing in the Arctic that suggests climate change is happening right now?

We witness many, many changes from the later formation of the sea ice and shorter sea ice seasons, the thinning of the sea ice, permafrost melting, beach slumping, coastal erosion, infrastructure collapse, new species unknown to the Arctic arriving, less snow in some areas, too much in others, severe weather patterns such as stronger storms, blizzards, the unhealthiness of some of our wildlife.


How long before the rest of the world begins to see effects?

I think the world is already starting to see the effects. We have been signaling the warning for some time now and the global community is starting to catch up in getting educated and witnessing themselves climate change. More and more intense hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, droughts are showing themselves all over the world now. Snow where one has never seen snow, heat where one has never experienced heat. The planet is certainly trying to get our attention.


How can people best get involved in learning about climate change, and what can they do about it?

Whether we do small things at home to change how we live, or change what we drive or change how we vote makes a big difference in the long run for the well-being of the Arctic as well as the planet as a whole. I always say by protecting the Arctic you save the planet.

Fast Facts:

Sheila Watt-Cloutier speech

When: 7 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Mahaffey Theater at the Progress Energy Center for the Arts, 400 First St. S.

Tickets: $15. Special discounts for groups, students, and seniors are available. Tickets can be purchased at the Mahaffey Theater at the Progress Energy Center for the Arts box office, all Ticketmaster outlets, online at, or call (727) 898-2100 in St. Petersburg, or (813) 287-8844 in Tampa to charge by phone.

[Last modified May 19, 2007, 20:53:38]

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