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VOICES

Arctic Lessons on American Life

Stephanie Spartz on a hike in Finland.

CREDIT: Stephanie Spartz

This summer I had the opportunity to participate in an Arctic research team with a professor from my home institution, the University of Southern California, focusing on ecological security and climate change. It was a trip that changed the way I view the Arctic and the world. As part of this month-long research trip, I traveled throughout Finland, Norway and Iceland meeting with professors, ambassadors, scientists, specialists, non-profits and the Arctic Council. I saw climate change happening firsthand and the impacts were striking. But I also saw something promising—I saw elected officials taking the threats of climate change seriously, regardless of their political ideology.

The Arctic Circle is commonly defined by the Arctic countries as the land and sea located north of 60˚ on the global map. This seemingly small and remote area is comprised of Norway, Sweden, Finland, Greenland, Iceland, Russia, Canada and the United States. In this region of the world, average temperatures are rising drastically, glaciers are melting, and sea levels are rising. I was surprised to find that because climate change is so visible there, it is an acknowledged aspect of their daily lives and is not treated as an issue to be fought against political lines. And although these countries are experiencing these impacts together, there are key differences in how they are tackling the climate crisis. While I was there, I didn’t hear any debates over the existence of climate change, but rather conversations about what can feasibly done to address it.

While talking to locals in the Arctic, I often found myself apologizing on behalf of my country of origin. It felt hypocritical to offer policy recommendations while my home country has recently pulled out of the Paris Agreement and climate change continues to be described as a belief. Ultimately, my trip gave me a new perspective on American environmentalism and politics.

We’re already seeing the impacts of delayed climate action in the Arctic. This summer, the United States got a glimpse of this as well, with record-breaking heat, hurricanes, wildfires, and toxic algae blooms harming millions of Americans. That’s why I know that we need to take action now and to make climate change my top voting priority. Just as in the Arctic, we can’t afford to ignore what’s happening now. But there, political leaders and industry alike are committed to advancing policy solutions. Here at home, I know that to get elected officials to take meaningful action on the climate crisis, we have to use our voting power to hold them accountable.

That’s why I’m joining a national campaign of young people who are pledging to be each climate voters this election. I believe that if young people use their voting power, we can reach the point where climate issues are of bipartisan concern. Though I spent my summer in the Arctic researching climate change and its implications on the Arctic region, I came home with a greater understanding of and hope for the future of environmental advocacy in the United States. That’s why I’m a climate voter this election, and why you should be one, too.

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