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Explore Arctic Climate Conservation Issues with Frances Ulmer of the Nature Conservancy

5 min read

To say it's an interesting time for climate change scientists and policymakers may be the understatement of the decade. The Badlands National Park Service account on Twitter went rogue shortly after the inauguration of U.S. President Donald Trump, tweeting out a series of climate change facts in defiance his administration. A new account that claims it's operated by the unofficial “Resistance team of NASA” has attracted over 350,000 Twitter followers in mere days and is sounding the alarm over science-denial, as well as promoting the upcoming Science March on Washington.

We certainly live in a fascinating and fearsome time where social media sites and search engines struggle to combat the proliferation of fake news; where too many scientific facts are met with earnest statements like, “Well, you're entitled to your opinion.”

Now more than ever, our most brilliant minds and influential voices are needed to raise awareness of the very real threats to our planet's most pristine environments. I was thrilled to learn that Quark Expeditions is hosting The North Pole Summit this summer, and even more excited when asked to speak with special guest speaker Frances Ulmer about her commitment to join this incredible voyage. A respected policy adviser and public servant, she's lived in Alaska making conservation her career and personal mission since her first visit in 1973.

Frances Ulmer in the Arctic, near Lemesurier Island near Glacier BayFrances on Lemesurier Island near Glacier Bay- Photo Courtesy: Frances Ulmer

Appointed Chair of the U.S. Arctic Research Commission by former President Barack Obama in 2011, Ulmer advises on domestic and international Arctic research. She also shares information with the public on how Arctic climate change is impacting not only the polar landscape, but animals, birds, fish, people, communities and cultures, as well. In short, she is the most accomplished and respected Arctic policy maker and expert in the United States.

As part of North Pole Summit this summer, expedition passengers have an incredibly unique opportunity to learn from and become inspired by Ulmer and six other polar and environmental conservation thought leaders. Here's a little taste of what she has in store for attendees.

How Frances Ulmer Connects the Dots to Save the Arctic

A great challenge in polar conservation is making the connection for people outside of the Arctic, Ulmer shared. For many, the idea of climate change is abstract and needs context, which she accomplishes by sharing research, images, and benchmarks to demonstrate how the changes we're seeing today are really exceptional.

“It gives people a grounding… a much more tangible sense of what is happening now, not in some future century,” she said. “Rapid change is actually happening today; it's affecting people right now.”

And it's not only those in the Arctic regions affected, she emphasized. “It's important to learn about how the changes in the Arctic really affect everyone on the planet and the ways in which a warmer Arctic is changing the climate of other areas. The relationship between the Arctic and mid-latitude climate is becoming clearer as the jet stream weakens and as weather becomes much more unpredictable, in part because a much warmer Arctic destabilizes the jet stream,” Ulmer explained.

“So when people think, ‘Maybe what's happening in the Arctic doesn't affect me?' Wrong. It does, even if you live in Florida or further south.” That aspect of the issue of the rapidly changing Arctic climate and ecosystem is something that surprises people who haven't been exposed to either the science or the stories, Ulmer said.

The Makings of an Environmental Conservation Advocate

Growing up in Wisconsin, Ulmer spent a great deal of time outdoors with her father, who taught her to canoe, camp, fish and hunt. She said that it was then that she began to develop great respect for conservation efforts, adding that “being in the out-of-doors really makes you feel completely whole in a way that being constantly surrounded by concrete and steel can never quite deliver.”

Frances Ulmer makes a great catch while halibut fishing in the Arctic.Halibut Fishing- Photo Courtesy: Frances Ulmer

After graduating from the University of Wisconsin Law School, Fran moved to Alaska and worked as a lawyer for the Alaska Legislature. Her first assignment was to travel to the villages of Kivalina, Noatak, Kiana and Kotzebue in Alaska's Arctic with a legislative committee to hear the concerns of people in the region. She fell in love with Alaska and its many unique places, people, cultures and challenges. Her decision to continue on living in Alaska over the past decades enabled Ulmer to explore and visit different areas of the Arctic at length, an experience that just isn't compatible with a life spent in the lower 48. “It would be very different if I lived in Chicago, for example,” she said. “But I've lived in Alaska for a long time and have traveled in the Arctic countries. It's definitely brought me closer to the sense of the community in the Arctic; to the people and what they care about.”

That perspective is unique, but becomes truly powerful when translated into knowledge that inspires other citizens of the United States--and the world at large--to take action. In the course of her career, Ulmer has served in a dizzying collection of impressive and challenging roles. She was Special Advisor on Arctic Science and Policy at the request of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. She served on the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling when appointed by Obama in 2010. She's served as Chancellor, Distinguished Visiting Professor of Public Policy, and Director of the Institute of Social and Economic Research at University of Alaska Anchorage. She served for 18 years as the mayor of Juneau, a state representative and as Lieutenant Governor of Alaska. She was the First Chair of the Alaska Coastal Policy Council and for more than 10 years, served on the North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission. Today, she chairs the National Parks Conservation Association board and is on the Global Board of The Nature Conservancy.

I was privileged to speak with her by phone for just a short time, and came away inspired by her dedication to positive change on climate issues. Just imagine the conversations you could have with Ulmer over dinner. What I enjoyed most about Ulmer was her innate ability to translate complex scientific and political concepts into engaging, interesting food for thought.

Join Frances Ulmer for the North Pole Summit

At North Pole Summit 2017, Ulmer plans to speak on Arctic climate change, but also to share her knowledge of Arctic cultures. “The indigenous people of the north--whether in Alaska, Canada, Norway, Sweden, Finland or elsewhere--and how their lives are being impacted by climate change is a piece of the story that's really important,” she said.

Quark passengers gather on the ice at the top of the world to celebrate reaching the North Pole.

She'll help passengers understand the challenges facing the Arctic from a political point of view, as well. “I'll discuss the international politics of the Arctic and how the changing access to this region is potentially enabling economic development opportunities, both small and large,” she promised.

This Summer Only: 7 Polar Thought-Leaders on a 14-Day Expedition to 90° North

This summer, Quark Expeditions passengers have an unprecedented opportunity to travel alongside Fran Ulmer and other expert speakers including Paul Nicklen, Cristina Mittermeier and J.R. Raffan on a 14-day special sailing of our classic North Pole: The Ultimate Arctic Adventure expedition. North Pole Summit will follow the itinerary of that iconic voyage from Helsinki, Finland, to 90° North and back again, while offering the exceptional and inspiring summit programming.

Want to learn more? Meet our Summit Leaders, then contact a Polar Travel Adviser to learn all about North Pole Summit 2017!

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